Sarcoma and breast cancer survivor gives hope to other patients

Kay Atten’s dreams revolved around her four children. In 2005, her two sons and two daughters were on the edge of adulthood, and she wanted nothing more than to see them graduate from college, develop careers and start their own families. But a desmoid tumor — a type of soft tissue sarcoma — threatened to stop her from ever realizing those dreams. After a mysterious blue bump on her abdomen led to multiple surgeries and biopsies near her hometown of Arlington, Texas, doctors told Kay there was nothing more they could do for her. Kay still didn’t have a definitive diagnosis. “But MD Anderson had other plans,” she says. At the urging of her family, Kay sought a second opinion here. “That changed everything.” Undergoing sarcoma surgery During her first appointment in April 2005, she met with Kelly Hunt, M.D., a breast cancer and sarcoma surgeon. “We clicked right away,” she says. “She made me feel like I was going to be OK.” Hunt conducted two biopsies and diagnosed Kay with a desmoid tumor. The tumor was located in her left breast, and the tumor extended into the muscle surrounding her ribs. A complicated surgery involving teams from different specialties would be required to remove the tumor. On June 8, 2005, Hunt performed surgery and removed the breast tumor. Then, Stephen Swisher, M.D., a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon, removed a portion of Kay’s chest wall, including her sternum and parts of four ribs. Afterwards, a team of plastic surgeons performed a reconstruction surgery. The surgery successfully removed the cancer, but Kay’s recovery wasn’t easy. She experienced a great deal of pain...