In the midst of August 2019, Audrey noticed a lump in her right hamstring. At first, she brushed it off thinking her muscle definition was improving as a result of increased exercise. A few months passed and with the colder weather of the fall and winter, the lump was always covered up by clothes. “You don’t really notice the back of your thigh.” Then, just before Christmas, she felt the back of her leg and thought, “this is wrong.” At that point, it was undeniable that one leg was bigger than the other, and she showed it to her husband who agreed that it should be looked at.
Two days before Christmas, Audrey had an appointment with a physician’s assistant (PA). Initially, she felt like it was unnecessary to be going in because of a lump on her leg. The PA, who Audrey knows personally, felt the lump and said that it might be cause for concern. He wanted Audrey to go for an ultrasound the next day.
After going in for her ultrasound the next day, Audrey expected the results to come back a few days later. To her surprise, they called her in about 45 minutes. The speed at which everything was happening slightly alarmed Audrey. “They weren’t taking any chances, and they were making all the appointments for me.” In the follow-up call after her ultrasound, Audrey learned that she had to go in for an MRI. In the meantime, Audrey started searching around on the internet, so she became familiar with the term “sarcoma.” Her MRI was a few days later, and the PA called her with the results: all signs pointed to cancer, “and it’s big.”
The result came a few days before her 50th birthday. “This is 50. I’m getting a diagnosis of cancer for my 50th birthday.” She initially had a big party planned, but that was changed to become a smaller gathering with her family and close friends.
They needed a biopsy to confirm, so the next person she was referred to was Dr. DiCaprio, an orthopaedic oncologist. In January, Audrey was diagnosed with myxoid liposarcoma, a type of sarcoma that begins in fat cells and affects about 2,000 people each year in the U.S.
Audrey was then connected to a radiation oncology team. She went through five weeks of radiation, throughout which, she “felt healthy and had no limitations” to what she could do. After her skin healed, at the end of March, she had a surgical wide resection to remove the lump and some normal muscle tissue surrounding the mass. She spent one night in the hospital, and she was able to walk on it shortly after the surgery. It took a long time for her leg to heal, but she was never in extreme pain and the wound healed nicely.
Audrey is now in a recovery phase, which has been accompanied by its own frustrations and challenges. Canceled birthday parties, family trips and outings, and other celebrations have been the story of her last few months. “I want to be done with this.” As an active person, Audrey is frustrated by the limitations of her compromised hamstring muscle. In the process of trying to get her mobility back, “it’s like two steps forward and one step back.” Every time she tries to push to be more active, another issue seems to arise. Through the process of recovery, her back went into spasm and her IT band has been inflamed. She’s “not bouncing back from this as quickly as I want to”, but she remains confident. “I’ll get through it. I’m an active person, and I feel healthy.”
Audrey will now go through routine monitoring through CT scans of her chest and abdomen every couple of months, as there is a 20-30% chance of recurrence with this type of sarcoma, more likely in the lungs than in a limb. She will also have a scan of her thigh once a year from now on. “I can’t live thinking about what the next scan will show. It’s scary to think about, so for the most part, I don’t!”
Throughout telling her story, Audrey’s gratitude for the care she received is evident. “I am so lucky to have good health insurance. The process was seamless. Everybody should have good healthcare.”
Audrey is passionate that health insurance shouldn’t be a barrier for anyone to go see a doctor. “You should be monitoring your body for lumps or changes. Don’t ignore if something seems a little off.”
Audrey and the rest of Team Douglas will be participating in Sarcoma Strong’s Annual 5k. Join us from August 14-16, 2020 to unite the fight against sarcoma.
Interview and story composed by Priya Nyayapati