Shining a spotlight on sarcoma

24 July 2023

Maree Sarcoma patient standing in front of waterfall with her husband

In March this year Maree Tower was in an aqua fitness class when she tripped and fell hurting her shoulder, the seemingly simple injury uncovered she had bone cancer.

In March this year Maree Tower was in an aqua fitness class when she tripped and fell hurting her shoulder, the seemingly simple injury uncovered she had bone cancer.

She explained the diagnosis came as a complete shock as she was an otherwise healthy and active 69-year-old.

“When I fell, the pain was so severe and I also began feeling unwell so I took myself to the emergency department to have it checked out,” Maree said.

“While in emergency I had scans, which showed the bones were not broken and I was sent home and told to follow up with my GP.

“However, the next morning, I received a call from the doctor in the emergency department, telling me he had seen something abnormal on my scan and I needed to have an MRI and CT scan right away.”

Maree explained her shoulder had been sore for a number of years and she put this down to old age and general wear and tear.

She had previously noticed a lump on her shoulder and had planned to see her GP to get it checked out, but she still didn’t think anything of it at the time.

“I had the scans done right away and my GP called me that afternoon telling me I needed to see a specialist,” Maree said.

“The next morning, I receive a phone call from Orthopaedic Surgeon Dr Martin Lowe, he was about to leave the country for a medical conference but wanted to see me before he left.

“He explained to me I had bone cancer which had been detected on my shoulder, despite the fact that it was terrible news, he was so calm and measured in his explanation he made me feel at ease.”

Dr Lowe specialises in the management and removal sarcomas (bone cancer) and said Maree had a rare chondrosarcoma.

“Most chondrosarcomas grow slowly and may not cause any signs or symptoms at first and it can take patients up to six months to receive an accurate diagnosis,” Dr Lowe said.

“It is important to raise awareness of sarcomas as we find the length of time to received an accurate diagnosis is too long, the average sarcoma patient will need at least three GP visits before an appropriate referral to a specialist is made.

“Symptoms of sarcoma include a growing lump on a bone or near a joint which increases in pain, the area may also swell and become weak. Patients may also experience bowel and bladder control problems, if the cancer is near to the spinal cord.”

Fortunately, Maree’s cancer was classified as a Level Two which is operable and does not require chemotherapy or radiation.

“Martin immediately booked me in for surgery where he and Plastic Surgeon Dr Christopher Jardim took the cancer out,” Maree said.

“I was in a sling for several weeks and I will need to do some physiotherapy to rehabilitate my shoulder as I can’t lift my arm over my head at this stage.

“I feel very lucky the cancer was caught before it spread to the rest of my body, I will still need to have follow up with Martin for the next 10 years to ensure it does not return.”

Maree is looking forward to travelling to Portugal at the end of the year with her husband and is happily back doing her aqua-fitness classes.

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