Surviving sarcoma

Published 8:00 am Tuesday, August 2, 2022

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I recently read an article in Becker’s Hospital Review entitled, “The Case for Positive Healthcare Leaders.” While the report was clear about not advocating toxic positivity by ignoring or avoiding challenges, it touted the successful healthcare leaders and providers. They can live and lead in difficult times. The article reminds me of a quote by Shawn Achor that relates to the butterfly effect: “Each of us is like that butterfly. And each tiny move toward a more positive mindset can send ripples of positivity through our organizations, our families, and our communities.”


In some people’s minds, the word “cancer” invokes a picture of someone weak or frail. Let me tell you, there is nothing fragile about a person engaged in a journey with cancer. Mental and physical health are closely linked, and a positive mindset could help improve the patient’s outlook, reception to treatment, and recovery. Of course, you can expect emotional and physical ups and downs after a cancer diagnosis. But there’s a reason for hope. Despite the challenges, I encourage you to remain engaged and optimistic, if not for yourself, your family, and your friends.

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This article is about a rare type of cancer called sarcomas. Sarcomas fall into two main groups; soft tissue sarcomas that develop in fat, muscles, blood vessels, nerves, deep skin tissues, and fibrous tissues. And unfortunately, children are where we find most non-soft tissue sarcomas. In all, there are more than 70 types of sarcoma. 


According to the National Cancer Institute, there are only about 12,000 cases of soft tissue sarcomas and 3,000 cases of bone sarcomas diagnosed in the U.S. annually. 




Note: The sarcoma symptoms listed below are shared with many other medical conditions, making it essential to look to your doctor for accurate diagnosis and treatment. 


Symptoms include:


  • A lump felt through the skin that may be pain-free or painful
  • Bone pain
  • Bone breaks for no apparent reason
  • Abdominal pain
  • A limited range of joint motion
  • Weight loss 
  • Fever




Like many medical conditions, what causes most sarcomas is unclear—cancers (when mutations happen at the DNA level in cells). And tumors may result when the mutated cells outnumber normal living cells. And that cancer left untreated can spread to other parts of the body.




Several known risk factors may increase the risk of developing sarcoma:


Inherited genetics – Genetics passed generationally also increase the risks that increase cancer. 


Radiation therapy – Radiation treatment for other cancer increases the risk of developing a sarcoma.


Lymphedema – Lymphedema is swelling caused by a backup of lymph fluid from a blocked or damaged lymphatic system. This chronic swelling increases the risk of developing angiosarcoma.


Chemicals – Exposure to industrial chemicals and herbicides increases the risk of sarcomas that affect the liver.


Viruses – The human herpes virus eight can increase the risk of developing Kaposi’s sarcoma in people with compromised immune systems.




The type, location, size, and cancer stage determine treatment options. These treatments may combine chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery. Radiation may also be used after the surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. In addition, reconstruction of the affected area typically takes at the time of tumor removal.




A cancer journey isn’t just about treating the disease. It’s a journey of physical, mental, and spiritual obstacles. These obstacles pose unique challenges that require much more than medicine. There can be mountains of paperwork from insurance companies and imaging centers. There are doctor visits, hospital rooms, and tests upon tests. With all of this going on, a healthy doctor-patient relationship is essential to the fight. It would help if you had leaders and providers who would choose to see the problem but also choose to help you find hope in the journey. That, to me, is the right kind of positivity!


If you need a medical oncologist, I recommend contacting Dr. Joe Stephenson at St. Luke’s Cancer & Infusion Center at (828) 824-0111. He’s one of the very best, and he and his staff will compassionately guide you through your journey.


If you have a healthcare topic of interest or a question, send me a note at Also, please follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or visit to learn about top-rated St. Luke’s Hospital and our new world-class services.