Surgeons have successfully removed a rapidly ballooning 51-pound cancerous tumor from a woman who was forced to delay treatment for more than a month until she become eligible for health insurance.
The 65-year-old woman, identified only as Evelyn, from New Jersey was "all belly," said Dr. David Dupree, who led the operation to remove the giant tumor, at Riverview Medical Center in Red Bank, New Jersey, according to Reuters.
"She was a skinny lady with a huge belly. I mean it looked like she was literally pregnant with triplets," Dupree said.
Evelyn had started feeling discomfort in her abdomen about six to eight weeks ago and started noticing that her normal 120-pound body was rapidly swelling out of proportion.
Dupree said that she had tried to get medical help on June 4, just days after her 65th birthday when she qualified for Medicare, the country's federally funded healthcare program for seniors.
"The reason she didn't go earlier was because she had no insurance," he said, according to Reuters.
When she finally went to doctors, she had weighed more than 170 pounds, her legs had become swollen with trapped blood and she was severely dehydrated. Her scans showed that the tumor, a malignant sarcoma, was life-threatening since it was crushing the inferior vena cava, one of the main veins responsible for pumping blood to the heart.
Doctors said that Evelyn's body was too weak to be operated on immediately, and they had to schedule her surgery for the following Monday to rehydrate her body and bring her blood pressure back under control.
However, after Evelyn became short of breath, Dupree had to reschedule the surgery for Sunday evening.
"I knew that she wasn't going to make it through the night," Dupree said. "Either she goes now or she dies tonight," he said, remembering what he thought at the time.
While operating on Evelyn, Dupree found that the tumor, which appeared to have formed out of the fatty tissue around her large intestine, had surrounded many of her internal organs, leading surgeons to have to slice away the tumor "millimeter by millimeter" over the course of a grueling five-hour surgery.
Dupree said that Evelyn is still recovering from the operation in a rehabilitation center, and while the threat to her life has passed, she still needs to see an oncologist about treatment for her cancer, which may not have been completely removed by the operation and may require further treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
Dupree advises against what Evelyn did, and recommends that uninsured patients see their doctors immediately if they are feeling unwell, regardless of how close they are to their 65th birthday, according to Reuters.
He said that doctors would still have operated on Evelyn regardless of her insurance status, but noted that he didn't know if it would have cost her more money.