Robert Smith: A Long Treatment Road for Soft-Tissue Sarcoma

“I can’t say enough good things about Fox Chase and the doctors that I have had there. It’s a great place.”
‐Robert Smith

I recently ended a long-term relationship with Fox Chase Cancer Center, where I have been receiving treatment on and off for more than a decade.

But years before I came to Fox Chase, in early 2001 to be exact, I felt a lump on my side near my arm. When I visited my doctor to ask about it, he said it was probably a nonmalignant tumor and referred me to a local hospital where the lump was removed and sent away for testing. The testing revealed that it was cancerous, and I was diagnosed with soft-tissue sarcoma. I was 58.

Once the diagnosis was made, my physicians recommended I come back for another surgery to remove more tissue. After that I underwent several rounds of radiation therapy.

“I Don’t Do New York”

We followed the cancer with repeat imaging every six months. About two years after I was first diagnosed, another tumor was detected, and it was recommended that I go to a cancer center in New York City.

“I don’t do New York,” I told them. That is how I was referred to Fox Chase.

My first doctor at Fox Chase has since retired, but at the time, he performed another surgery — my third — to remove another cancerous mass on my side. I was followed with imaging every six months, and about two years later, another mass was found.

It was about the size of a baseball and was in the armpit area. This is when I met Dr. Margaret von Mehren, an oncologist who specializes in sarcoma, and Dr. Jeffrey Farma, a surgical oncologist. There was some concern from others that the repeated sarcomas and surgeries to could result in me having to lose my arm, but Dr. von Mehren told me that she thought my arm could be saved.

Surgeon Saves My Arm

Dr. Farma was willing to attempt a surgery, with the caveat that if he thought it necessary he would remove my arm. He reassured me, however, that he would do everything possible to avoid that outcome.

And he did it! I still have my arm. It is not 100%, but it can still do most of what I want it to do.

That surgery was 12 years ago.

Although the sarcoma has not come back, I have had to deal with some other issues since then. After the surgery I developed lymphedema, which is a build-up of fluids and swelling in the soft tissue. To help deal with it I was referred to Dr. Sameer Patel, a plastic surgeon.

An Experimental Procedure

He did an experimental procedure called a lymphatic bypass that allowed him to move lymph nodes from one part of my body to the affected area to reestablish blood flow. It was an eight-hour surgery. Although I still have some lymphedema today, it is much better. I wear a wrap at night and put a sleeve on during the day to control it.

I can’t say enough good things about Fox Chase and the doctors I have had there. It’s a great place. Everyone is on top of everything, and they all treat you like a human being and not just a number.

About two or three months ago I saw Dr. Farma and he told me that I don’t have to come back anymore. I am 79 now and have been going to Fox Chase on and off for 12 years. Now, I’m happy to say, I am finished!

Learn more about treatment for sarcoma at Fox Chase Cancer Center.