Young desmoid tumor survivor gets life back with 17-hour surgery

On the back of Alicia Bennett’s favorite T-shirt is her design of a tree with the words, “Go out on a limb.” The shirt honors the 17-hour cancer operation that removed the 23-year-old college student’s watermelon-sized tumor, along with her right arm and breast, chest wall, sternum and six ribs. “I use lots of humor to cope,” says Alicia, who has been coping with a desmoid tumor – a type of soft tissue sarcoma – since she was 16. Repeated desmoid tumor recurrences Alicia’s local New Hampshire doctor first diagnosed her with a benign, slow-growing tumor near her right arm pit in 2010. Because it wasn’t life-threatening, the busy teenager didn’t worry about it. But six months later, the tumor had grown to the size of an apple. So, she had surgery on Nov. 25, 2010, in Massachusetts, to remove it. Less than a year later, doctors discovered three golf-ball sized tumors in different spots on the right side of her body. Alicia had surgery again, followed by 25 days of radiation therapy. “At this point, my doctors were certain the tumors wouldn’t come back,” says Alicia, who then moved to Texas to attend Texas A&M University in College Station. Finding MD Anderson and a desmoid tumor diagnosis During her first semester, Alicia felt another lump. “I totally broke down,” she says. When she returned to New Hampshire for Christmas break, her doctor started her on the drugs Sulindac and Tamoxifen for one month. They didn’t shrink the tumor. Frustrated, she returned to Texas, where she met another young cancer patient. He told her to go to MD Anderson....