My name is Elena Del Carmen and I am a mesenchymal chondrosarcoma survivor. At the age of 25, in October 2020, between my son’s fourth birthday party and my daughter’s sixth, I ended up in the ER on the request of my friend’s boss, an ENT doctor. For a couple of months before that, I had been dealing with a mass on the inside of my mouth, on my jaw. I had gone to the dentist with no real answer other than a request to follow up in a year.
After seeing one picture of the mass, Dr. Stephenson met me at the ER within 30 minutes and began the first scans of a long journey. That day Dr. Stephenson saved my life by breaking the news to me that I had a tumor.
Getting laid off earlier in the year meant I had no insurance, and no money. So like any good Lifetime drama, I did the next best thing, I flew to Mexico City. In November 2020, Dr. Marco Antonio Olivares held my hand as we walked into the OR for my first dissection surgery. They were still unsure of what we were going to find, since doing a biopsy without surgery had turned out to be impossible.
He was also the doctor that held my hand to break the news to me that I had cancer, and they had not been able to fully take it out. That day, Dr. Olivares saved my life by taking as much of the cancer as he could, enough to keep me going. The friends and family that helped donate to my trip and surgery expenses in Mexico also saved my life.
After surgery, it took 14 days to get the biopsy results. They had jumped around from pathologist to pathologist to confirm the “strange” findings.” Finally, the results were out: I had mesenchymal chondrosarcoma. I did what any other sane person does in that situation, and ran straight to Google.
Only to find two big problems.. One, I had no clue how to spell either word of my diagnosis. Once I finally typed it correctly, only one website popped up. RareDiseases.org. For someone who likes information, reading, and facts, finding close to nothing on what I was going through was a heartbreak.
In January of 2021 I finally had insurance again, and continued care in Texas. For 3 months I searched for doctors that were willing to take my risky surgery, a sarcoma case, and my insurance; every week leaving a different doctors office with a rejection and well wishes. In March, finally I began my care with Dr. Erich Sturgis and in April I had my second dissection surgery. That day Dr. Sturgis saved my life by taking all of the cancer out of my jaw.
Once the tumor was out, Dr. Andrew Huang reconstructed my face and did an amazing job (or so I like to think). Dr. Huang saved my life and future by giving me a face I could still love and live with.
I am now two years in remission, can type out my diagnosis with no mistakes, and am grateful to know a google search today will give more helpful results, the most recent from just March 20, 2023. Through the whole process, many people saved my life. My kids, my parents, my friends, and every single doctor and nurse and other patients I came into contact with. As well as the Sarcoma FB groups, the online forums and all the cancer associations and networks.
Thank you to all the family members, friends, caregivers, doctors, nurses, and staff that make steps of this journey easier and less lonely. Last night, my daughter helped me go over this speech and practice it over and over. The same routine we got to do 3 weeks ago when she was practicing for her award program speech at school. A speech I got to be there for, with the help of many many people who saved my life. For everyone currently fighting; we are here for you, ready to help.
By: Elena Compean