Sarcoma Survivor Stories: Meet Michelle Sorbello
When I was first diagnosed the doctors thought it was either melanoma or clear cell sarcoma. After additional testing the results confirmed that I had clear cell sarcoma. But I am getting ahead of myself, this is how my sarcoma story started. I first noticed a lump on the bottom/side of my left foot during my pregnancy with my daughter. I made an appointment with my podiatrist but did not think that much of it. At the time due to being a high-risk pregnancy there was not much testing that I could safely do, so my podiatrist did an x-ray and concluded that my tendons were pulling against each other. She told me to come back after I had my daughter and we could do cortisone shots and if need be further testing. Three and a half months later the lump had gotten bigger and it was painful to walk distances. So back to the podiatrist I went. She initially wanted to do the cortisone shots and then a MRI, but I insisted on doing the MRI first. The MRI showed that I had a plantar fibroma, which is a non-cancerous mass and typically surgery is the last option as it can cause issues with the foot later down the road. After discussing my options with her we agreed to do a surgery. The thought was so that I could live my life fully, and start to run again even if it was just a 5k. It was not until after my surgery that my pathology results came in and then I was diagnosed. My initial reaction was scared, more than scared, terrified and alone. I looked at my newborn daughter and felt overcome with fear that I would not even make it to her first birthday. Denial crept in and I started convincing myself that the results had to either have been read incorrectly or had been switched. My thoughts began swirling and I landed on ‘how could this happen to me?’ Over the course of a few days I felt any and every reaction and emotion possible.
The first step in my treatment plan was surgery to obtain clear margins this resulted in my foot looking like a shark had attacked it. They put a wound VAC on my wound until I had my reconstructive surgery, which was scheduled for eleven days later. I then had reconstructive surgery, which consisted of a free flap that they constructed using my right thigh. At the time of reconstruction they could not skin graft on my foot, so I had a wound VAC, again, for another four weeks. A month after my skin graft I started radiation therapy. Thirty-three rounds of treatment later, the healthy tissue that was part of my reconstruction was killed and there was significant damage. I did everything I possibly could to try and save my foot and prevent either another free flap surgery or amputation. After four months of debilitating pain, weekly debridement (including surgery debridement), more wound VACs, thirty rounds of hyperbaric chamber therapy, thirty days of daily IV antibiotics, daily dressing changes with expensive creams to promote tissue growth, I was faced with a decision. At that point we opted for a below the knee amputation. Honestly, I wish I had opted for it sooner but I know that my journey was meant to be. It served me by helping me cope with losing my leg with a perspective of acceptance.
Collectively there are a few things that I think are important for anyone that is undergoing cancer treatments. I am a firm believer that for each individual it could be different, but hopefully in my sharing I might be able to help someone even if it is just one person. For me, I know I would not have been able to go through everything in my journey without all the love and support from family and friends. Having a good relationship with your medical team that is filled with trust is essential. Finally, having faith really helped get me through some of the darkest days of treatment. The best advice I could offer someone going through a similar situation is to keep the faith, do not be afraid to ask for help, and follow your gut with your medical treatment. This is not an easy journey it is emotionally and physically strenuous. With that being said, listen to your body, and if you need to rest, you rest. Going through this journey has taught me so much. I do not sweat the small stuff and I do not ever take a day for granted. It is often the small things now that I appreciate that much more. I try and look at life with a clearer, more positive outlook. Yeah, life stinks sometimes, however I do have confidence in that on the other side of the hardship is growth. You must take that experience and not let it break you, but instead make you stronger.