When soft tissue sarcoma survivor Apreal Cloutier first noticed a lump on the back of her thigh in late 2015, she had no idea it might be cancer. It didn’t hurt, it didn’t bother her, and she assumed she’d somehow injured her leg while working out in the gym. Later, when her husband pointed out a large bruise and broken blood vessels behind her knee, she still assumed it was no big deal.
Even so, Cloutier had it checked out by her primary health care provider. He said it was most likely varicose veins. Even though Cloutier was only 34, she was a busy mother to 2 teenagers and spent all day on her feet working as a manager and server at a restaurant in Carson City, Nevada. It took about a month for the bruise to go away, and Cloutier says she didn’t think too much about it.
In August 2016, Cloutier went to a vein clinic to treat what she still thought was varicose veins. As part of her exam, she underwent an ultrasound test. It showed a mass between her hamstring muscle and thigh bone. The vein doctor sent her to an orthopedist, who ordered an MRI, which showed the mass was pressing on her sciatic nerve, which runs from the lower back down the back of each leg. The orthopedist referred her to a neurologist.
While Cloutier was waiting for her neurologist appointment, she began trying to get more information and more help for her problem. She showed her MRI results to a couple of doctors who were customers at her restaurant, called around to local medical offices, and did some searching online. She was met with a lot of fear and a lot of frustration because every source indicated her problem could be serious, but none of them told her what to do next.
Finally, she called the UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, about 2 ½ hours from her home. Staff there asked for emails of her scans. Then they scheduled her for an appointment with a surgical oncologist, a type of doctor who treats cancer.
Cloutier was relieved when UC Davis took her case and began managing her care. But she was alarmed to hear the word “oncologist.” She underwent a biopsy on November 3, 2016 and the surgeon called her 2 days later, a Saturday. At first impressed that her doctor would call her on a Saturday, she quickly realized that likely meant something serious. She was right; he told her she had cancer.
“When he said it, it didn’t register, I was in such shock,” said Cloutier. “When I got off the phone, my husband asked me what happened and I said, ‘I don’t know.’”
Cloutier learned she had a type of soft tissue sarcoma called myxoid liposarcoma. This is a cancer of fat tissue that can start anywhere in the body, but most often starts in the thigh, behind the knee, or in the abdomen. Liposarcomas are not common tumors, and when they do occur, they usually occur in adults older than Cloutier, mostly ages 50 – 65.
Her treatment included radiation treatments 5 days a week for 5 weeks followed by surgery to remove the tumor. She stayed in the hospital for a few days, then began slowly using her leg a little bit at first, and then more and more. She returned to work at the end of March 2017.
I want to share my story with others hopefully to help someone through and give them some hope during a very difficult and scary time.
Cloutier’s last PET scan showed no signs of cancer. “I told my kids if it comes back, we’ll just do it again. We’ll take it day by day,” she said.
“I feel great. I feel amazing,” said Cloutier. She says she thinks her recovery was made easier because she was in good physical shape before the surgery. “I worked out as much as I could while I could to get my body ready for it,” she said.
Cloutier says waiting for test results was the scariest part of her whole ordeal. “I want to share my story with others hopefully to help someone through and give them some hope during a very difficult and scary time,” she said. One way she deals with stress is hiking. “Hiking for me is therapeutic. I can see the beauty of being outside and away from everything and stay centered.”
She says, “I'm going to keep being checked every year, keep working out and being healthy and spending time with my family and friends. What got me through this was having great doctors and a very patient and loving support system.”
The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team
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