Education

After Surgery, Patient with Sarcoma is Dancing Again: ‘I have No Limitations’

When Taryn Castillo Bravo (pictured above) felt a lump in her left thigh, she thought it was cellulite or that she had bumped into something. At 46, the mother of three young adult children just figured it was one of the down sides to aging. An MRI, however, told a different story. The growing mass was sarcoma, a rare cancer that can occur in the soft tissues or bone.

“I neverthought it could be cancer,” Ms. Bravo said. “There is no history of cancer inmy family and It wasn’t even painful.” Located halfway between her knee and hip,the lump grew larger than the size of a golf ball.

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, on April 2, Miami Cancer Institute physicians removed the tumor. Ms. Bravo went home the same day. Limb-salvage surgery saved her leg ― and her life.

“I am sograteful. I love to exercise and dance and now I am able to do those thingsagain. And Zumba. I love Zumba,” the Kendall resident said. She also praisedthe hospital’s coronavirus safety precautions. “They maintained the strictestsafety measures to protect patients. I felt very safe.”

Orthopedic oncologist Cecilia Belzarena, M.D., who performed Ms. Bravo’s surgery, said it’s important that no delays occur when it comes to treating sarcoma. “The longer a patient waits, the higher the chances are of the tumor increasing in size and also spreading to distant sites, becoming what we call metastatic disease,” she said.

Sarcomas canbe found in the abdomen, chest, arms and legs. Soft tissue sarcomas form inmuscle, tendon, fat and skin, while bone cancer most commonly develops in thelong bones of the leg and arm. Bone cancers occur more often in children thanadults. According to the American Cancer Society, some 13,130 patients in theU.S. will be diagnosed with soft tissue sarcoma this year, while another 3,600will be diagnosed with bone cancer.

Dr.Belzarena encourages anyone who finds a lump to go to the doctor quickly, evenif it is not painful. “I wish they would come to us sooner rather than waitingfor a mass to go away,” she said. Often, pain isn’t felt until the tumor growslarge enough to press on nerves, blood vessels or other structures. Inaddition, any lump that is greater than 5 cm (about the size of a golf ball)should be biopsied.

“About 25percent of sarcoma patients seen at specialized cancer centers have alreadyundergone an unplanned resection (removal of the tumor) before seeing anoncology orthopedist,” Dr. Belzarena said. Patients who don’t seek care at aspecialty cancer center often don’t have an MRI. “The problem is that when thereis no biopsy, when a doctor doesn’t know in advance that a lump is cancerous,some cancer may be left behind. The resection can be incomplete. In thesecases, a second surgery is necessary. That of course has higher chances ofcomplications and makes the disease’s local control more difficult.”

Miami Cancer Institute offers personalized, sophisticated treatment for sarcoma, based on the recommendation of an entire team of medical oncologists, surgical oncologists, radiation oncologists, interventional oncologists and orthopedic oncologists.  In Ms. Bravo’s case, the news was good. Because the cancer had not spread, she did not need chemotherapy, radiation or other treatments in addition to surgery. She didn’t even need rehabilitation.

“I was so happy after surgery,” Ms. Bravo said. “Everything was excellent. I can walk perfectly, and I have no limitations. I can dance.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 13 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.