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Patient Testimonial: Monica’s Story with Rare Soft Tissue Cancer

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Monica with Dr. Chong

Queen’s Cancer Center patient Monica Clark lived an active and fun-filled life, but a rare cancer diagnosis halted her workouts and put her life on pause. Thanks to Monica’s ‘dream team’ of Queen’s physicians, nurses, and a patient-forward-focused approach, she is now cancer-free and starting to enjoy her favorite hobbies again. 

The Honolulu resident grew up as an outdoorsy individual and loves the beach, fishing, and off-roading with her significant other. Her on-the-go personality also led her to participate in challenging workouts, like high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Monica started to notice during her HIIT exercise sessions that something was off with her body. Her ankle felt sore, and it was consistently swollen after her workouts. Wearing shoes became more difficult and she was no longer able to keep up with her colleagues in the sessions. Monica eventually spotted a bump on her ankle.

As the bump continued to grow, Monica knew she needed more information and was referred to her orthopedic surgeon. Based on the size and shape of the bump on her ankle, the physician told Monica that she would need surgery so they could better assess the condition. Her results were shared with additional healthcare experts for confirmation, and less than two months later, Monica received the devastating news that she had cancer. She was diagnosed with a pleomorphic sarcoma of the left foot, a rare cancer that affects the soft tissues of the body. Her orthopedic surgeon then referred Monica to Dr. Sean Kelly, The Queen’s Health System’s first Orthopedic Oncologist.

As Monica discussed next steps and treatment options with her Queen’s healthcare team, she emphasized the importance of living an active lifestyle. She was focused on finding a way that would allow her to do most of the physical activities she did before cancer. Monica’s ‘dream team’ of physicians was committed to helping her achieve that goal. 

Monica and her ‘dream team’ came to the consensus that she was going to have her foot amputated. This surgery would allow her to maintain her active lifestyle once she was fully recovered. Just minutes before her surgery, Dr. Sean Kelly, the Queen’s Orthopedic Oncologist came in and gave her an alternative that didn’t involve an amputation and would change her trajectory. He referred her to Dr. Chong, a former Medical Oncologist at The Queen’s Health System who told her that he wanted her to try chemotherapy first. 

Monica’s cancer treatment included four rounds of chemotherapy, radiation therapy and a radical resection surgery. Over the course of the first few days, she felt tired, but still felt like herself. Following those early days, Monica remembers being weak and nauseated and due to the pandemic, she also often felt isolated.

While it was the one of the most difficult seasons of her life, Monica shares with other cancer patients that, ‘you have it inside to push through.’ She maintained a positive attitude throughout her journey, finding the courage to share about it on social media and developing new friendships during her chemo treatments. 

Monica credits Queen’s Medical Oncologist Dr. Clayton Chong with saving her life. She says, “he was my advocate, an amazing physician, and I feel so lucky to have been treated by him. He always spoke in a straight-forward, but compassionate manner.” 

Her Queen’s Cancer Care ‘dream team’ also included: Orthopedic Oncologist Dr. Sean Kelly, Radiation Oncologist Dr. Anthony Michaud, Otolaryngologist Dr. Daniel Alam, Dr. Yvonne Tatsumura, and the rest of her Pacific Anesthesia ‘ohana.   

Monica has a new perspective on life after undergoing her cancer journey and she shares that positive mindset with others. She is excited to start the next chapter of her life, cancer free!

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