“Coming to Penn Medicine was absolutely one of the best things that I ever did. Not only did they have a special sarcoma program, but they really looked at me as a whole person.”
Just two months before her wedding, Arianne noticed a little nerve symptom in her calf every time she sat down or crossed her legs. As a physical therapist, Arianne was eager to find out why this was happening, so she consulted a physician and went for an MRI.
The MRI confirmed her suspicions, it was cancer. Arianne had stage 3 liposarcoma—a rare type of cancer that begins in the fat cells, most often in the muscles of the limbs or in the abdomen. Here, she shares what it was like being diagnosed with cancer and how she held tenaciously to life.
Holding on to Her Happily Ever After
Faced with the devastating news, Arianne knew she had to consult with her fiancé and make a decision about whether or not to move forward with their planned wedding.
“The first thing I thought of was that I had to call my fiancé and ask him if he still wanted to marry me. Although that might seem unusual, I had lost my brother to lung cancer, and I know what it’s like losing someone you love to cancer. It’s a heartbreaking experience, and I didn’t want anybody else to have to go through that. Thankfully, my future husband chose to stay by my side,” Arianne recalls.
Arianne’s brother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease at the age of 11, and he battled it to the age of 29 when lung cancer eventually took his life. He’s been her inspiration on so many levels, so when she was diagnosed she knew she wanted to be like him – she wanted to fight as hard as she could. She wasn’t going to let cancer beat her.
Arianne’s case was very complicated due to the location of her tumor in her leg.
“When my life depended on it, I chose Penn Medicine,” says Arianne.
At Penn Medicine, she met with a team devoted to treating sarcomas, led by Kristy Weber, MD, chief of Orthopaedic Oncology and director of the Sarcoma Program at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center. Dr. Weber worked with the team to plan and manage Arianne’s course of treatment, which was to start immediately and would include a sequencing of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.
After her first three rounds of chemotherapy, Arianne received the good news: Not only would she be able to enjoy her huge wedding celebration, she could go to Costa Rica for a one-week honeymoon.
The Advantages of Proton Therapy
Upon returning from her honeymoon, Arianne began her radiation treatments working with Dr. William Levin, Associate Professor of Clinical Radiation Oncology at Penn Medicine.
Dr. Levin recommended proton therapy at Penn Medicine’s Roberts Proton Therapy Center.
“I recommended proton therapy, because first and foremost, given Arianne’s age, proton therapy potentially has the ability to reduce the risk of a radiation-induced cancer in the future. Proton therapy targets her tumor and greatly reduces any collateral exposure of the radiation to healthy tissue. In a young woman like Arianne, that’s critical to her wellbeing going forward,” Dr. Levin explains.
Arianne has always been passionate about staying active and helping people. She devoted her life to physical therapy and loves exercising, especially physical challenges.
So when she was given the opportunity to train for American Ninja Warrior, she jumped at it.
“Midway through radiation treatment, I felt so good, so strong — I started training for American Ninja Warrior, the country’s toughest obstacle course competition,” Arianne explained.
Arianne started training while she was still having radiation treatments. Thanks to the minimal invasiveness of proton therapy, she felt great and her leg felt strong and she really didn’t feel any symptoms.
By January, Arianne kicked training into full gear and competed on the show in May of 2016, much to the awe of her friends, family and the team at Penn Medicine.
The Strength of a True American Ninja Warrior
Dr. Levin was truly in awe of Arianne’s stamina and strength while she was still in treatment. Arianne changed his perspective on what’s possible and what Penn could do with patients in regards to other integrated therapies beyond conventional cancer therapies.
After five weeks of proton therapy, Arianne underwent limb sparing surgery with Dr. Weber and then finished her treatment with additional chemotherapy under the care of Arthur Staddon, MD, the former Director of the Bone or Soft Tissue Sarcoma Program at Penn.
Arianne Takes on the Rest of Her Life
Today, Arianne is cancer free and stronger than ever. She credits her amazing team at Penn Medicine and the incredible care she received from the Penn sarcoma program for her success.
“Coming to Penn Medicine was absolutely one of the best things that I ever did,” she says. “Not only did they have a special sarcoma program, but they really looked at me as a whole person. They gave me so many different options, and I know I can always count on them for all of my health care needs. I believe that I am stronger mentally and physically than I’ve ever been after going through this.
“At Penn Medicine, I’ve got a team of champions who’ve rallied behind me, and I now I know that I can take on anything that life throws my way.”
Ryan K.Sarcoma Survivor / Read Story
“The opportunity to volunteer at CHOP will also be a healing experience for me too, to show others that there is life after cancer.”
Lou P.Sarcoma Survivor / Read Story
“Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center has been taking care of me for almost two decades. My care team has given me a quality of life that I never dreamed possible.”
Paulette W.Sarcoma Survivor / Read Story
“Dr. Weber has been a blessing to us over and over again. She saved my life.”
Arianne M.Sarcoma Survivor / Read Story
“I’ve always been a fighter, and with Penn by my side I overcame the biggest obstacle in my life.”
Megan D.Sarcoma Survivor / Read Story
“A positive attitude goes an incredibly long way. I was diagnosed with a one in a million cancer, but now I am one more survivor.”
Frank C.Sarcoma Survivor / Read Story
“Live life to the fullest because you never know what life can throw at you.”
Tracey F.Sarcoma Survivor / Read Story
“I felt so supported and so taken care of from the second I walked into Penn, and by every person in my life, from my family to my friends to my employees.”
Lindasy H.Sarcoma Survivor / Read Story
"To be part of Steps to Cure Sarcoma that connects people who are affected by sarcoma and directly raises funds for research to fight the disease is incredible.”