Staying Centered Throughout Cancer Treatment

A MedStar Washington Hospital Patient, So Young Switzer, practices yoga after receiving cancer treatment for soft tissue sarcoma.

Yoga Instructor Uses Inner Strength to Aid in Recovery during Cancer Treatment

Calm and centered yoga instructor Youngsun Switzer takes pride in her pursuit of a healthy life. Forty minute walks, meditation,yoga practice and body cleansing liquids are her daily routine. In February 2015, Youngsun Switzer’s reality shifted when the Springfield, Va., woman—who never took an aspirin— was beginning a months-long fight against a rare form
of cancer.

“I literally went to sleep without a problem and woke with a lump the size of a golf ball on my shoulder,” Youngsun says. “At first I thought I injured myself, but when it didn’t go away, I went to see my doctor. He sent me for a CT and MRI, which indicated the lump was a sarcoma. It simply blew my mind.”

Sarcoma is a deadly form of cancer that, left untreated, can rapidly grow and spread. Highly specialized, intensive care is needed as part f the cancer treatment plan to ensure the best possible outcome. Youngsun didn’t waste time dwelling on the negative. Instead, research took her to Robert Henshaw, MD, an internationally respected sarcoma expert close to home at MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

Internationally Recognized Expertise

Dr. Henshaw, an orthopaedic oncologist, leads the hospital’s team of specialists who have expertise treating musculoskeletal cancers, including rare sarcomas.

“These tumors arise in soft tissue, such as nerves, muscles and tendons,” Dr. Henshaw explains. “They are uncommon, less than 1 percent of all cancers, or about 12,000 people in the U.S. annually. Only 2,500 people a year have the specific type of tumor Youngsun had. Very few involve the shoulder. We see more than 750 patients with sarcomas every year, with more than 350 cases treated at Washington Cancer Institute at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. Our group is one of the largest practices of its kind in the country.”

Interdisciplinary Team Approach to Care

Youngsun’s sarcoma developed in her shoulder muscle and had spread to her collarbone. Recommendations for her cancer treatment were made by a team of medical oncologists, interventional radiologists, diagnostic imaging experts, pathologists and surgeons who regularly gather to discuss cases and develop treatment plans. “This strong interdisciplinary clinical approach toward cancer treatment gives patients a real advantage,” says Dr. Henshaw. “For Youngsun, we recommended chemotherapy first to shrink the tumor, which helps make the subsequent
surgery more successful. This is followed by radiation.”

In July, Dr. Henshaw removed the tumor and part of her collarbone using a sophisticated technique to re-route muscles and ensure she wouldn’t lose any range of motion.

“I admit it hasn’t been easy,” says Youngsun. “But I’ve had the strong support of my husband, Warren, my children and friends. I also tried very hard to continue my daily meditation and keep up my normal routine.”

“I was back to yoga within weeks,” a happy Youngsun says. “And in October, I took a break from radiation cancer treatment to attend my daughter’s dream wedding in Majorca, Spain. Two weeks later, my husband and I celebrated the completion of my therapy!” She and her husband are building a home in North Carolina, and she hopes to set up a yoga class specifically geared to cancer patients at a nearby hospital.

“I’m so grateful to Dr. Henshaw and the entire team,” she says. “I hope to inspire others to seek help when they think something may be wrong, and understand with the right treatment, they can have a happily ever after.”

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