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Alyssia O’Malley - Patient Story

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I was so scared, but I was never worried in their care. They made me feel safe, and I knew they would do everything they could.

— Alyssia O’Malley

Alyssia O’Malley was working out and training for her physical training certificate when she noticed a tiny bump in the middle of her abdomen. “I thought it was a hernia from pushing myself too hard,” said Alyssia.

After numerous tests, Alyssia’s primary care doctor performed a biopsy on the mass in her abdomen. The biopsy results led to a PET scan that revealed cancerous nodules on her diaphragm in June 2014. At age 44, Alyssia was diagnosed with stage 4 retroperitoneal sarcoma.

Alyssia was referred to Fox Chase Cancer Center’s sarcoma team, led by Margaret von Mehren, MD, a medical oncologist and Jeffrey Farma, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist. They recommended Alyssia undergo chemotherapy and radiation treatments before surgery. Because she lived in the Poconos, Alyssia came to Fox Chase every Thursday in the months of August, September, and October to undergo chemotherapy for three days. After receiving antinausea medicine, she was discharged on the following Monday. She began receiving radiation treatments at her local hospital in December from Monday through Friday, with a total of 42 treatments.

The treatments worked and the tumor was considered “dead.” However, the tumor and Alyssia’s abdomen were rapidly filling with fluid by the time she was prepared for surgery. Farma performed surgery for nearly 12 hours. “He basically saved my life,” said Alyssia. “He explained that it was like a puzzle. He was taking pieces, wondering each time if we could take this and I could live. In the end he got everything; he got it all.”

Now with her cancer in remission, Alyssia follows up with von Mehren and Farma every three months. She works full time in the athletic department for a local high school and also returned her focus to her true passion: she completed her physical training certificate program and now teaches spin and kickboxing classes.

When she is not working, Alyssia spends time with her husband, her two children, and a group of friends who have been together since fourth grade. “My husband was my rock the entire time, and we will be married for 20 years in September,” said Alyssia. “I was never alone. My friends would be sitting with me each day while another simultaneously decorated my house for the holidays.”

Alyssia explained that the staff, nurses, and doctors at Fox Chase also offered their incredible support.

“Everyone, from the staff who would escort me in my wheelchair to testing to the nurses I encountered throughout my treatments, was so friendly,” said Alyssia. “They always offered me words of encouragement and were very knowledgeable. I was very blessed to be at Fox Chase Cancer Center.”

Alyssia also celebrated a birthday in the hospital and the staff, nurses, and Farma celebrated with her. “They each got me a little something and sang to me,” said Alyssia. “Dr. Farma threw confetti in the air; it was truly amazing. I was so scared, but I was never worried in their care. They made me feel safe, and I knew they would do everything they could.” 

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