Michelle Palandro - Patient Story

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“Due to the diligence of my physicians, we were able to conceive our first child.”

— Michelle Palandro, Wife, Mother, Liposarcoma Survivor

In the spring of 2011, I was 27 years old, working, and attending school for my master’s degree. I had recently quit smoking and was trying to get healthier and stay in shape. I noticed a hard bump on my hip and asked my doctor to check it out. The doctor ordered an X-ray, which showed “fatty tissue in normal limits.” I followed my doctor’s recommendation and didn’t worry about it, especially because I was healthier and staying active.

Then in July, after a moderate mountain hike, I developed excruciating pain in my lower leg. I went to a general surgeon to have the growth removed the following month. Tests revealed I had malignant Stage 3 liposarcoma, a type of tumor that grows within the fat cells in deep soft tissue.  

I was in complete shock. My surgeon sent me to see an oncologist at a large teaching hospital. I didn’t feel I was getting clear answers to any of my questions, including the pros and cons of chemotherapy. Still, I met with the facility’s surgical oncologist, who explained that she wanted to cut vertically and around my horizontal scar on both sides in a diamond shape, which meant I would need skin grafts. 

I didn’t understand why they had to take so much tissue when the tumor itself had already been removed, so I decided to seek a second opinion. I’m sure all the doctors I met were very qualified, but I knew there had to be another option. The doctors at the teaching hospital didn’t have great bedside manner, and I felt like a number. If I was going to lose my hair and go through nine months of treatment, I needed a team with a more compassionate approach that wasn’t going to require me to have a skin graft if I had a second surgery.

With the support of my parents, I did some Internet research and asked my uncle, who’s a microbiologist, for advice. He contacted his colleague who was an oncologist. Eventually, I was referred to Dr. Margaret von Mehren, director of Fox Chase Cancer Center’s Sarcoma Program.   

From the start, Dr. von Mehren was phenomenal. She reviewed and explained all my treatment options and suggested I meet with Dr. Jeffrey Farma, a surgical oncologist at Fox Chase. Dr. von Mehren entered my medical information into a database, including my tumor’s location, size, and other criteria, to show me that if I opted for chemotherapy, my chances for recurrence would decrease from 25 percent to 12 percent. I really needed to hear those statistics to make the best decision for me.

Dr. Farma performed a delicate procedure to clear the margins around the original tumor in late October. During surgery, he uncovered several cancerous areas, so I felt confident in my decision to proceed with the treatment plan. Because of my age and knowing I might want to start a family in the future, I wanted to harvest and freeze my eggs before I started chemotherapy and radiation. The first doctor I’d met with at the other facility didn’t feel this step was necessary. But it was important to me, and it came up right away in the conversation with Dr. von Mehren, who sensed my desire to have children one day.

Dr. von Mehren designed an inpatient chemotherapy regimen for me, with each round requiring an 80-hour hospital stay followed by a three-week break. After the first round of treatment, I developed an infection that led to mycloplasma pneumonia over Christmas. Dr. Earl King, a pulmonary specialist at Fox Chase, helped to manage the pain. He was extremely compassionate, and I felt completely confident he would get me on the road to recovery. Even though it was tough for me to spend the holidays in the hospital, the Fox Chase staff made my stay as pleasant as possible. At Fox Chase, every single person I met and every single nurse who took care of me was exceptional.

After my third round of chemotherapy, I developed a blood infection that colonized at my port, requiring its removal. Through these challenges, I stayed focused on keeping a positive attitude. In all, I spent 40 days as an inpatient at Fox Chase within three months and was out of work for nine months.

Once I recovered from surgery and chemotherapy, my next step was radiation therapy. I met with Dr. Penny Anderson, a radiation oncologist at Fox Chase. Dr. Anderson was so kind and explained what I would experience under her care. I started a course of radiation in spring 2012. As is common, I experienced symptoms of radiation therapy, including skin irritation. But I stayed positive, and my belief in my doctors and course of treatment didn’t waiver. I never lost faith in my treatment team. I knew I was in the best possible place and getting the best care.  

My last treatment was in May 2012, and I’m now officially a cancer survivor! With the loving support of my family, my boyfriend, Michael, and friends, I made it through my treatment successfully, with no sign of cancer present in my body five years later. Michael and I have since married and had a healthy, beautiful little boy, Dominic, who is now two. My cancer diagnosis inspired me to go back to school to become a holistic nutritional health coach, personal trainer, and health educator. I’m currently resuming the requirements for my teaching certification, which I started before my diagnosis. I love spending time with my family, cooking and eating healthy, working out, and being outside.

I think my health consciousness helped me fight this disease. I now work out daily and plan all my meals. I try to eat whole foods, nothing processed, and prep meals for me and my family. I also started a company, FitFam Wellness, which offers health counseling, nutritional education, and fitness training geared toward women and children. I still run FitFam Wellness part time. I love to teach families the importance of eating healthy and exercising. My job is to show families that with a little bit of preparation, you can make your health a priority, and make a permanent lifestyle change. 

Similarly, when you’re diagnosed with cancer, the key is to take one step at a time, one appointment at a time. I tell people to be as active as you can, stay positive, believe in your treatment team, and when it’s all over, take care of your body because it’s the only one you have!

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