Southmead Hospital patient raises awareness of rare disease

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

Sarcomas are a rare group of cancers that affect connective tissue such as muscle, fat (soft tissues) and bone. If untreated, they can also spread to other parts of the body.

The Bristol Sarcoma Service (BSS) cares for soft tissue sarcoma patients in Bristol and the surrounding region. The BSS is based across both North Bristol NHS Trust and University Hospitals Bristol.

Sarah Baker, from Bath, was diagnosed with sarcoma in May 2016.

Following an MRI scan, Sarah had a biopsy at Royal United Hospitals on her left calf, which was swollen and uncomfortable. This revealed a malignant tumour that was deep in Sarah’s calf, and extremely close to the main nerve that gives sensation to the sole of the foot.

After receiving 25 sessions of radiotherapy at the Bristol Haematology & Oncology Centre, Sarah came to Southmead Hospital in September 2016 to have an excision and plastic surgery on her calf.

“I was lucky to have ended up in the sarcoma team, it’s a small group but the team are amazing. The surgeons at Southmead Hospital are highly skilled. This is unique surgery and the margins for removing the tumour without having to amputate my leg were very fine,” said Sarah.

Sarah Baker in the Brunel building at Southmead Hospital

After the successful surgery, Sarah has now been cancer-free for a year. She will need to return to Southmead Hospital every three months for X-rays or CT scans, and receive MRI scans every six months for the next four years. Sarah will be receiving further reconstructive surgery over the next year.

“The sessions are like reality checks that I have had this life-threatening illness. My nurse, Christine, is excellent; I am able to speak openly to her and she is honest about the care I am receiving,” said Sarah.

Sarah, who is a content writer for small businesses in Bath, uses her blog and social media accounts to raise awareness of sarcoma: “I used my online channels as an awareness-raising platform. I had a new drum to bang when I was diagnosed, and now that I am a year cancer-free, I feel that it is incredibly important to continue some level of conversation. Recently I did a headcount on social media and asked how many people had not known what sarcoma is, and now know about the illness through my messages. Up to 75 people responded saying that they now know about sarcoma through my channels.”

Sarah, who enjoys being physically active, has taken part in numerous physical challenges post-operation to raise money for Sarcoma UK. She is planning to take part in further events and continue fundraising.

Sarah commented: “Exercise massively helps. My ability to recover was in part due to being physically active beforehand and being active in my recovery post-operation. In the dark days leading up to my diagnosis, if I could go to the gym or for a walk I could change my mental state.

“You can look healthy when you are ill, and it doesn’t matter what your age is or if you lead a healthy lifestyle; sarcoma can affect anyone.” 

Plastic surgery consultant at North Bristol NHS Trust, Thomas Wright said: “Sarah has remained extremely positive throughout her sarcoma diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up. Her recovery is a testament to her mental attitude, but has undoubtedly been helped by her high level of physical fitness.

“All the members of the sarcoma service are delighted to have seen her recover so well, and are grateful to her and others like her, for raising public awareness of sarcoma in the South West and beyond. These efforts and her fundraising will benefit other patients and families who find themselves in a similar situation in the future.”