Strong Will Finds a Way

Wichita woman refuses defeat from rare cancer

During 2010, Maria Reyes of Wichita, Kansas, was unusually tired and experiencing pain while walking and sitting. She also felt a lump in her abdomen. She thought she was just overdoing it. But when the lump continued to grow, Reyes went to her doctor.

An ultrasound and CT scan showed a large mass in her abdomen. She was referred to a surgeon, who performed a biopsy and sent Reyes to a cancer specialist.

Rare cancer

The cancer specialist in Wichita diagnosed Reyes with liposarcoma, a rare fatty-tissue tumor found in the arms, legs or abdomen. It typically doesn’t invade other tissue but can send satellite tumors to surrounding areas. Liposarcomas affect less than 1 percent of the population.

Reyes’ cancer specialist didn’t offer much hope. She remembers him saying that she had a very tough cancer that doesn’t usually respond to chemotherapy or radiation. He also said that her tumor was inoperable because of its size and the organs affected.

Rare cancers are often difficult to successfully treat because fewer treatment options are available.

In a desperate attempt, Reyes began chemotherapy. After completing half the rounds of chemotherapy prescribed, the mass had doubled in size.

As a last resort, Reyes’ primary care doctor researched clinical trials she might be eligible for, but her case did not fit any of the trial criteria. Her hope was dwindling.

Restored hope
Reyes refused to accept that nothing more could be done. She called the American Cancer Society and was referred to Joshua Mammen, MD, PhD, a sarcoma surgeon at The University of Kansas Cancer Center in Kansas City. Dr. Mammen is one of a team of surgeons who is specially trained and certified in the removal of soft-tissue sarcomas.

Reyes was reassured by Dr. Mammen’s confidence. He told her that her type of cancer was, in fact, surgically treatable. And when Reyes told the surgeon that her faith did not allow her to have blood transfusions, Dr. Mammen said he would work with a specialist to manage blood loss during surgery. She would not require a transfusion.

As Reyes was wheeled to the operating room, the physician who would be assisting Dr. Mammen assured her she was in good hands. “I view it as a special blessing that in Spanish (Maria’s first language) he said, ‘Vamos a mantener a salvo’ – which means ‘we will keep you safe,’” Reyes recalled. “It filled me with peace and gave me hope.”

Special expertise and follow-up
During the 11-hour surgery, Dr. Mammen removed a 10-pound liposarcoma and an affected kidney. Because this type of cancer frequently recurs, Dr. Mammen follows Reyes’ case closely. Over the past four years, she has had three additional surgeries to remove abdominal liposarcomas.

“When no one else could offer a solution, The University of Kansas Cancer Center did,” Reyes said. “The experts there allowed me to meet and enjoy my 10th grandchild, Aaron, who is now two. La vida es buena, life is good.”

As with all treatments, individual patient results vary. It is important to discuss your treatment options with your healthcare provider.