Alyssia O’Malley: Surviving Stage 4 Retroperitoneal Sarcoma

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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

I was a 44-year-old mother of two children when I was diagnosed with Stage 4 retroperitoneal sarcoma. One day when I was working out and training for my physical training certificate, I noticed a tiny bump in the middle of my abdomen. I figured it was probably a hernia from pushing myself too hard.

How I picked Fox Chase

I contacted my primary care doctor, who performed several tests, including a biopsy on the lump. Those results led to a PET scan, which revealed cancerous nodules on my diaphragm. My doctor referred me to the sarcoma team at Fox Chase Cancer Center, where I met with Dr. Margaret von Mehren, a medical oncologist, and Dr. Jeffrey Farma, a surgical oncologist. They recommended chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and then surgery.

During the months of August, September, and October 2014, I spent every weekend at Fox Chase undergoing chemotherapy for my cancer.

Because I live in the Poconos, I would check in to Fox Chase every Thursday and stay to have chemotherapy for three days. After receiving anti-nausea medication, I would be discharged every Monday and return home. In December of that year, I began radiation treatment at a local hospital every Monday through Friday for a total of 42 treatments. After these treatments, I had surgery at Fox Chase.

An Unpredicted Predicament

The treatments worked well and the tumor was considered “dead,” but then there was a problem as I was preparing for surgery when the doctors realized that the tumor and my abdomen had begun rapidly filling with fluid. The surgical procedure took 12 hours. After surgery, Dr. Farma explained that the procedure had been like a puzzle. He was taking pieces, wondering each time if they could take certain pieces so that I could live. In the end, he was successful in getting everything; Dr. Farma basically saved my life.

My family helped me fight

My husband was my rock the entire time. I was never alone. My friends, a group who have been together since we were in fourth grade, would take turns sitting with me each day while another friend decorated my house for the holidays.

The staff, nurses, and doctors at Fox Chase offered me 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. They were very knowledgeable and always offered me words of encouragement. When I had to celebrate a birthday at Fox Chase, the nurses and Dr. Farma each got me a little something and sang to me. Dr. Farma threw confetti in the air. It was truly amazing.

Since that time, my cancer has been in remission, and I continue to return to Fox Chase for periodic check-ups with Dr. von Mehren and Dr. Farma. I work full time in the athletic department at a local high school, and I completed my physical training certificate program. I now teach spin and kickboxing classes.

 I was very blessed to be at Fox Chase. I had been so scared, but I never worried in their care. They made me feel safe, and I knew they would do everything they could.

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