Pleiomorphic sarcoma survivor: MD Anderson gave me back my life
When I was diagnosed with an aggressive soft-tissue cancer called undifferentiated pleiomorphic sarcoma at age 74, the tumor in my flank was so large that the surgeons at my local hospital refused to remove it. They said they didn’t feel comfortable performing that procedure because they weren’t sure if they could put me back together again.
Fortunately, they also knew of a place that could. They referred me to MD Anderson.
Thanks to those treatments, I’m healthy, cancer-free and back to living my life again. But MD Anderson gave me back another priceless gift, too: hope. And I am eternally grateful.
Doctors’ confidence and expertise inspire hope
Sometimes, it felt like there was no hope at all near my home in northwest Missouri. Before we came to Houston in November 2022, one of the oncologists in Kansas City took aside my younger son, Jason, and told him: “Your mom cannot pull through this. If she does this surgery, she will be in a nursing home for the rest of her life. Her quality of life will not be very good. Is that really what you want for her?”
Even my regular doctor encouraged me to seek hospice care. He told me, “If I were you, I wouldn’t go through with it.”
But I lost my elder son, Tim, to stage IV bile duct cancer in 2019. And he fought so hard to stay alive. I wanted to do the same, to honor him. If I died during surgery, that was OK. But I wasn’t going to give up.
Fortunately, every person we encountered at MD Anderson had a really positive attitude. They were all so encouraging — from the doctors and nurses to the technicians and parking attendants.
Jason and I cried when my sarcoma surgical oncologist, Dr. Christina Roland, told us, “Mrs. Pollard, we treat people from all over the world here. Cancer is our job and our only job. We do surgery on patients your age and older all the time. And I am very confident we can remove this tumor.”
Life after aggressive soft-tissue sarcoma treatment
As it turns out, Dr. Roland was right.
I had sarcoma surgery on Feb. 21, 2023. Dr. Roland removed the 5-inch tumor, along with three ribs. Thoracic surgeon Dr. Ara Vaporciyan reattached my diaphragm to another part of my rib cage, above the section that was removed. Finally, plastic surgeon Dr. Matthew Hanasono reconstructed my abdominal wall and sewed me back up.
It took several months for me to fully recover. I had some breathing problems right after the surgery and needed to be put on a ventilator and a feeding tube for a few days. At one point, I also developed a blood clot.
But I’m 76 now, and still very active in my church. I play bunco with my friends every week, and root for the Kansas City Chiefs whenever I can. And, aside from some mild lymphedema on my left side, near the surgical site, I have no other side effects.
I feel like a walking miracle. So, I consider that a minor inconvenience — and a very small price to pay for my life.
Why I recommend MD Anderson to everyone
When the doctors close to home told me I wasn’t going to survive my cancer diagnosis, I made funeral arrangements. I believed them — and I didn’t want my son to have to do it. I wanted to live but was preparing to die.
Still, my faith never wavered. Now, I believe God used all of the wonderful people at MD Anderson to save my life. I know for a fact that I would not still be here today if I hadn’t gone there for my sarcoma treatment.
That’s why I tell everyone to go to MD Anderson now. Even if someone else tells you there’s no hope, don’t give up. Get a second opinion.
I’m not sure what I’ll do if the sarcoma ever comes back. But I get checked for it every three months. And Jason keeps reminding me that I’m at the best possible place to be if the cancer does return. That gives me both hope and reassurance. And that’s enough, for now.