Something told Aleasha Arthur that the lump growing on her bikini line wasn’t an ingrown hair. The bump turned out to be sarcoma, a rare form of cancer that develops from certain tissues, such as bone or muscle. After undergoing surgery and proton radiation earlier this year, Arthur, 45, of Laurel, Md., says she is now cancer free.
This weekend, Arthur and her Rise Against Cancer nonprofit will raise awareness and money for sarcoma and other rare cancers. The group is holding a fundraiser/comedy event Nov. 5 at the Lake Presidential Golf Course Clubhouse in Upper Marlboro, Md. Arthur is the organization’s founder and executive director.
So far, comedians Kevin Lee and Timmy Hall, and recording artist Lil’ Mo are scheduled to perform. A cash bar, silent auction and awards for cancer survivors are scheduled. Doctors and oncologists are set to speak as well.
Arthur, owner of Next Level Publishing, a Baltimore-based digital publishing house, will use the money from the event toward printing and distributing free pamphlets and other sarcoma-related literature to hospitals and clinics all over the country. “We just want to get it out as much as possible so people will have the resources to be able to get the information,” said Arthur, who hopes to raise $20,000 at this weekend’s festivities.
Doctors diagnosed Arthur with sarcoma in March, nearly two months after she postponed a scheduled bikini wax. At the time of her scheduled wax, Arthur thought the lump was an ingrown hair and canceled her appointment because she didn’t want the wax to infect the bump.
In March, she noticed the lump was getting bigger and scheduled an appointment with her gynecologist. The bump turned out to be a tumor underneath her skin. A subsequent biopsy tested positive for sarcoma. “I was shocked after learning it was cancer,” Arthur said. “I was extremely sad and I thought I was going to die and I was really heartbroken because I could not believe it.”
Luckily, doctors caught the cancer early, and her chances of leading a normal life are high, according to Dr. Pranshu Mohindra, who is treating Arthur.
Doctors removed the cancerous tissue from her pelvic area in May, and five days a week of proton radiation therapy that targeted the cancer followed for three months. She was treated in Baltimore at the Maryland Proton Treatment Center. She completed her radiation treatments in October. Weekly skin treatments are ongoing. She took time off from her publishing company as well as from her real estate and human resources jobs to focus on treatment and recovery.
The American Cancer Society reports that 12,310 new cases of soft-tissue sarcoma will be diagnosed this year. Nearly 5,000 people are expected to die of the disease in 2016. More than half of all sarcoma start in an arm or a leg.
Mohindra, assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, says he’s never seen sarcoma in the bikini area — gynecological cancers are more typical there, he said. “In general, sarcoma is a relatively less known cancer in terms of we don’t understand the biology of what causes a sarcoma as well as we understand what causes some other cancers,” Mohindra said.
Arthur said she started Rise Against Cancer over the summer to raise awareness about sarcoma, because she didn’t have any information about that particular cancer. When she talked about discovering a cancerous lump on her body, the first question people asked her was whether it was on her breast. When she explained that it wasn’t, people got confused. So she decided to do everything in her power to educate people about sarcoma. The first steps are self-checking and seeking medical advice from doctors, not friends.
“I really just want women to get preventative care, get physicals done, and be attuned with their body, all parts of it,” Arthur said. “We need to really take our bodies a lot more seriously and stop putting stuff off for tomorrow.”