In 2016, when Pat Smith first felt a lump on her thigh, she didn't think much about it. But a “just-in-case” MRI led to a biopsy, and then her doctor told her it was a leiomyosarcoma — an aggressive, cancerous tumor.
Smith, who lives in Florida, had never heard of a leiomyosarcoma, and for good reason. They are rare, as are all sarcomas (soft tissue cancers). Leiomyosarcomas grow in the smooth muscles, which are in the hollow organs of the body, such as the intestines, stomach, bladder, and blood vessels.
Smith had gone to the appointment alone because she wasn’t expecting her biopsy results so soon. Stunned, she went home to tell her husband, Randy, and to call her three adult children. Her son impressed upon her that because leiomyosarcomas are so rare, she should get treatment at a center that sees a lot of these types of tumors. Then she remembered that her good friend Andrea Erwin is retired from Duke University and volunteers at Duke Cancer Center. Erwin arranged for someone from Duke to call her that same afternoon.
As it turned out, Duke has a team of 25 specialists focused on sarcomas. Smith had an appointment scheduled in two weeks with David Kirsch, MD, Barbara Levine University Distinguished Professor, and Brian Brigman, MD, professor of orthopaedic surgery, and other providers.
“The greatest thing is that when I met each one of them, no one rushed me,” Smith said. “And they all said, ‘What do you know about your particular type of tumor?’ And they all explained it, and it was like they had all the time in the world,” Smith said.
When she was first diagnosed, she remembers thinking “Why me?” Then she prayed about it. “I said to myself, ‘Pat, God has this. You’ve found a great place to go, and they’re going to take care of you, and you’re going to have a positive attitude.’”
Smith started keeping a “blessings list,” naming all the positive things about her cancer experience. “You really can meet a lot of great people,” Smith said. “I’m originally from North Carolina, and I have connected with old friends.”
Smith had radiation every day for several weeks, staying with her friend Andrea. A month later, she had surgery.
She is now considered cancer free, though doctors at Duke watch her closely. Every three months, she has a CT scan of her lungs, because that’s where this tumor tends to spread. She also has a yearly MRI of her leg. Smith prefers to come to Duke for those screenings.
“I chose to come back to Duke because this is the best place to take care of me,” she said during a visit to Duke Cancer Center. “I walk in that front door down there, and I feel this peace wash over me.”
Since her diagnosis, Smith has welcomed two grandchildren, and she enjoys taking them to the beach. In November 2022, she and her husband, Randy, will celebrate 40 years of marriage.