Photo of Maria Hassan

‘I chose to build my knowledge on what I was dealing with, and my treatment options.’

Maria, 50, is a married mum of three grown up children, aged 26, 22 and 19. She lives in a small village in Suffolk. Before her diagnosis, Maria had worked as a chef, a consultant and at an auction house, all of which she loved.

In March 2020, I was furloughed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the following few weeks, I developed backache and assumed it was just from not moving around as much. Then, in May, I woke up with excruciating pain in my kidney area. The pain was so bad that it made me vomit. I went to A&E, but I was streamed to GP services after a few days rather than admitted as an emergency as different systems had been put in place due to the pandemic.

When I saw the GP, I was told that I had muscle spasms and sent away with pain relief. Fortunately, I have a medical friend who felt this wasn't right and she urged me to follow it up. Some time later, I managed to convince my GP that I needed a scan, so he scheduled me in for an ultrasound. Within a matter of days, I got a call to say they wanted me to have a CT scan. Within two weeks of this I got another call to say I had a vascular mass on my kidney. I underwent lots more tests and scans, and was then referred to Addenbrooke's, for what was thought to be an adrenal cortical cancer (also very rare cancer) surgery.

My surgery revealed that I had a 15cm mass attached to my kidney, and I was officially diagnosed with retroperitoneal leiomyosarcoma in July of 2020. The tumour and my kidney were removed with good margins; however, the cancer had already become metastatic and spread to my liver. 

As the metastases were widespread, I was unable to have more local treatments, so my first line of chemotherapy was six cycles of doxorubicin. I tolerated this reasonably well with just tiredness, nausea controlled with meds, and total hair loss as side effects. Doxorubicin gave me nine months of stability, but in September this year, things in my liver had started to change and grow. I'm now having my second line of chemotherapy - trabectedin. This treatment will continue for the foreseeable future, or until it stops working or the toxicity becomes too much.  

My family and friends would say that I've coped really well, and I have, but what choice did I have? I have had moments of absolute despair and sadness, but I won't let them consume me. The whole diagnosis isn't something I've had any power over, so I've just gotten on with it.

The only thing I have been able to control is how I've responded to my situation. I chose to build my knowledge on what I was dealing with, and my treatment options. Dr Google isn't your friend if you are looking at statistics, so I joined Facebook groups and found other people who are in similar situations. 

My family and friends have wrapped themselves around me, giving me unquestionable support whenever it's needed. Even though my diagnosis is horrible, I don't consider myself unlucky. I class myself as lucky. I'm still here and I've got treatment options. Maggie’s has also been very supportive. 

The message I would like to get across is although I have a cancer diagnosis, no one knows what my future holds. Here and now is what is important. I have faith in my sarcoma team, and I know they'll give me everything they've got in their arsenal to keep me alive. One thing I have struggled with is people's perception of someone with cancer, like not knowing what to say or how to respond. I'm still me and want to be treated the same. If you know anyone that has sarcoma or any type of cancer, ask them if they'd like to talk about it. If they do, then take the opportunity to learn about it.