My first appointment at MD Anderson was on my 21st birthday. Happy birthday to me, right?
After being diagnosed with biphasic synovial sarcoma just weeks earlier, I didn't have much time, nor did I feel much like celebrating.
When I first walked in, I found the big hospital building intimidating. I didn't want to be there. I didn't want to start sarcoma treatment. I didn't want to be a cancer patient. I was in denial.
Then I remembered the words of a friend and fellow MD Anderson patient: "Don't let the size of the place intimidate you," he'd said.
As I thought about his words, I began to see MD Anderson's size not as intimidating, but as encouraging. The hospital is so big because they are putting up a big fight against cancer. It's a place of hope.
My sarcoma diagnosis
My sarcoma journey began long before my first appointment at MD Anderson. I had started feeling pain in my hip and the surrounding area in January 2011. But the X-rays didn't show anything out of the ordinary, so I figured I had just hurt myself lifting something heavy. I went through physical therapy, and had been very active, but I found myself getting really tired, sometimes throwing up, and overall, not feeling too well.
I kept running and stayed active, but the pain didn't go away. One morning, I felt the pain in my right hip when I woke up. I looked down and saw a big lump sticking out. It was then that I knew something was really wrong.
I immediately showed my mom, and we scheduled a doctor's appointment. No more putting it off. I didn't have a choice anymore.
My doctor was unable to identify the lump, so he referred me to a surgeon. I scheduled an appointment.
My new doctor suspected that the lump might be cancer, but still wasn't sure, so they performed surgery. Shortly after the surgery, in July 2011, I was diagnosed with sarcoma. Months later, I learned from another physician that during this surgery, the tumor had come open and spilled fluid into my body.
I needed serious help. After receiving a recommendation from a friend and doing some research, my mother scheduled an appointment at MD Anderson.
Coming to MD Anderson for sarcoma treatment
My fears began to subside as soon as I met my care team. They actually listened to me. They knew what I was going through. It wasn't a mystery to them. They were clearly experts.
I underwent 25 rounds of radiation treatments at MD Anderson. Then, in Dec. 2011, I had a surgery that lasted a little more than six hours. Doctors removed the tumor bed, some lymph nodes and some muscle from my leg. My stomach fatty tissue was removed and placed in the area surrounding my right hip to fill in the hole. Then, doctors removed some of my stomach muscle and used it to replace my leg muscle.
The surgery was a success, but the recovery process was difficult. I couldn't walk or drive. I couldn't go hang out with my friends or go to work. I had to take my college classes online. I was not able to lay down flat or sit up perfectly straight. And when I could move around, I had to rely on a walker or wheelchair.
I returned home and began physical therapy, but soon after, I tore some of my leg tissue. It was frustrating to start the whole physical therapy process over, but slowly, I began to walk again.
In May 2012, I was walked across the stage at college and received my college diploma. Eventually, I lost the wheelchair and walker. I finally went back to work, and life seemed to get back to normal.
Through my cancer journey, I have found that there are a number of kind-hearted people in this world. It's been two years since my last treatment, and I still have no evidence of disease. Without MD Anderson, I wouldn't even be alive today, and for that I am truly thankful to be blessed and be a patient there.