Soft tissue sarcoma survivor’s trust in her care team was vital during treatment
After a Mardi Gras parade in February 2019, Taylor Fradella-Doucet noticed some soreness in her thigh, but she chalked it up to evidence of good time and kept going. A few days later, the 23-year-old noticed a lump on the same thigh. As a first-year medical student, Taylor knew a painless lump was something to get checked out.
She had some MRIs and met with a local orthopedic surgeon, who said it may be a fibroid.
“He gave me the option of getting a fine needle aspiration biopsy to determine what the lump was, but I was scared and wanted it out right then,” says Taylor.
After surgically removing the lump, the doctor sent it to a local pathologist, but the results were inconclusive. They then sent it to two larger hospitals, one being MD Anderson. The pathology results from MD Anderson showed that Taylor’s lump was malignant. It was leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of soft tissue sarcoma that grows in the smooth muscles of the body.
Taylor chose to follow up with MD Anderson for her cancer treatment because of how quickly she got her results, and it was close to her hometown of New Orleans.
Finding success with radiation therapy clinical trial
When Taylor first arrived with her parents at MD Anderson, she was overwhelmed by the size of the campus. But she appreciated how kind and helpful everyone was.
Her care team immediately went to work developing a treatment plan for the soft tissue sarcoma. This included radiation therapy, then surgery.
Taylor’s radiation oncologist, B. Ashleigh Guadagnolo, M.D., told her about a clinical trial in which patients received higher daily doses, but a lower total dose of radiation, for three weeks rather than receiving lower daily doses of radiation for five weeks, resulting in a higher total dose. The trial was investigating safely condensing the dose of radiation therapy to a shorter course while maintaining a dose known to be effective for the longer course.
“It was, in part, based on a breast cancer study, in which both methods were shown to have the same efficacy,” says Taylor. “They were trying to see if it was the same for sarcomas, and MD Anderson was very confident that it would be, based on their data with other cancers.”
The trial has since been published in The Lancet Oncology with early results confirming that this shorter course of radiation therapy is safe and effective for soft tissue sarcoma.
Since she was in medical school in New Orleans at the time, Taylor joined the clinical trial to limit the amount of time she’d be away from home.
She received radiation treatments every day for three weeks.
“It was kind of fun living in Houston,” she says. “I even got to go to some Astros games.”
Surgery for soft tissue sarcoma
A month after Taylor completed radiation, orthopedic oncologist Robert Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., performed a radical tumor bed resection. Taylor’s tumor was in her vastus lateralis muscle, so Satcher removed that entire muscle.
“Because the area was contaminated by the first surgery, they had to take all of the skin on top,” says Taylor. “The plastic surgeon gave me the option of doing a skin graft, which would require them to remove skin from my other leg, but I didn’t want to do that.”
Instead, the plastic surgeon just pulled the skin really tight.
“I really appreciate them giving me a say in that procedure,” she says.
Taylor returned to New Orleans with a drain in her leg for two weeks, then came back to MD Anderson to have the drain removed.
She now only comes to MD Anderson every six months for follow-ups, and she’s happy that she has had no evidence of disease for three-and-a-half years.
Learning from her experience and sharing with others
During her treatment at MD Anderson, Taylor tried to focus on medical school and trust that her care team was working hard to help her get better.
“As a medical student, I already had a trust in medicine,” says Taylor. “And after talking to Dr. Satcher and his physician assistant, Chris Mehring, I saw they had a plan. I was confident that they knew what they were doing.”
Now a resident physician in Louisiana State University’s neurology program, Taylor is expecting her first baby with her husband this August. She says her experience with soft tissue sarcoma has helped her connect with her patients. When a patient became frustrated waiting on pathology results, Taylor reassured her that knowing exactly what kind of cancer they were dealing with would help them provide her with the best care.
“Had I moved more slowly and gotten pathology results before my first surgery, I could have avoided a second surgery,” says Taylor. “It’s in our nature to want things done right away because cancer is a scary diagnosis, but coming up with a strategy before beginning treatment is a wiser choice.”