At age 32, Georgie Kats had it all: a successful career, a handsome husband, and the news she’d always wanted: she was pregnant with their first child.
The glamorous ad director had ‘always gone through life’ and reached milestones like traveling the world, falling in love, getting married and having a baby one after the other at the perfect time.
Eight months after her pregnancy, her mother saw a small, flesh-colored bump on the side of her left foot while they were at home in Melbourne one evening in August 2019.
She didn’t know it at the time, but that seemingly harmless bump was the first warning sign that a rare cancer was growing in her leg, and only nine months later, doctors would amputate.
Melbourne advertising director Georgie Kats with husband Chris and newborn daughter Antonia in September 2019
Georgie with Antonia in May 2020, three weeks after losing the lower part of her left leg
Her gynecologist dismissed it as an innocent cyst and advised her to “leave it alone” until she had her baby. Georgie agreed and basked in a ‘blissful’ three months with partner Chris, 35, after their daughter Antonia arrived in September.
By December, the chunk had swollen into a big marble, so Georgie sought a second opinion from her primary care doctor, who repeated that it was nothing to worry about.
Reassured but frustrated by the excellent growth that now kept her from slipping into her favorite heels, she made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon to have it removed.
“Who would have thought my vanity would save my life,” Georgia told Daily Mail Australia.
But when the surgeon started draining fluid from the “cyst,” the look on his face told Georgie that something sinister was more wrong.
Georgie and Chris on vacation in Capri, Italy in August 2018, two years before her mom would see the cancer on her foot
Still, cancer felt fitter, healthier and stronger than ever and just wasn’t on her radar, and especially not an aggressive six-centimeter-long tumor.
Doctors immediately ordered a biopsy, and Georgie received the damning news that an exceptionally rare soft tissue sarcoma called myxoid liposarcoma was growing in her foot.
She remembers pain and anxiety that engulfed her body as her mind ran from one overwhelming question to the next, such as what would happen to her husband and beloved girl when she died.
“You never really think it will happen to you, especially at my age,” she said, adding when two medical professionals tell you it’s a cyst, “you believe it’s just a cyst.”
“I would call my sisters and tell them that my brain hurts, my lymph nodes hurt, I think the cancer has spread. Even though I was new, I was ridiculous, I was petrified. I just didn’t want to die. ‘
The new mom with her baby while being treated for a rare form of sarcoma
Georgie is one of only 92 Australian women aged 25 to 39 who are diagnosed with a type of soft tissue sarcoma each year, figures from the Australian Government’s website on cancer research.
Liposarcoma is a cancer that starts in fat cells, usually in the muscles of the arms, legs, or abdomen. It usually affects people ages 40 to 60, but has been known to occur at any age.
It accounts for only one percent of adult cancers worldwide.
Symptoms are vague and easily confused with everyday complaints such as indigestion, stress and general fatigue, often leading to significant delays in diagnosis. They also vary depending on where the cancer grows.
Liposarcoma that forms in the arm or leg, like Georgie’s did, can cause a painless piece of tissue to grow under the skin, swelling, pain, or weakness in the affected limb.
Georgie had no pain or discomfort in the bump or any other part of her foot and said if her mom hadn’t noticed, she probably never would.
Georgie feeds Antonia three weeks after her amputation surgery
Brave Georgie after her surgery on Wednesday, May 6, 2020
Symptoms of liposarcoma
The signs and symptoms of liposarcoma vary depending on the part of the body where the cancer is growing.
Liposarcoma that forms in the arms and legs can cause a growing piece of tissue under your skin, pain, swelling, and weakness of the affected limb.
Liposarcoma that forms in the abdomen can cause abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, feeling full more quickly when eating, constipation or blood in the stool.
Source: Sarcoma Australia
The cause remains largely unclear, but doctors know that liposarcoma starts when a fat cell develops mutations in its genetic code.
The mutations – or “errors” – cause the cell to multiply abnormally, resulting in a malignant tumor.
There are different types of liposarcoma, some that grow slowly and remain in one part of the body, and others that spread quickly, greatly reducing the chances of long-term survival.
In good news for Georgia, tests showed the cancer had not yet spread, and doctors immediately scheduled 28 daily radiation sessions to destroy the disease.
Georgie after the amputation, which reduced the risk of cancer recurrence by up to 30 percent
The treatment was successful, but to give the young mother the best chance of survival, doctors recommended an amputation of the leg below the knee, a difficult pill she boldly swallowed on Wednesday, May 6.
“I just cried all the way to the operating room. Even when they put me to sleep, I remember tears streaming down my cheeks. The grief was overwhelming, “she said.
Amputation has removed all traces of sarcoma, and Georgie has been told she now has a 70 percent survival rate, meaning there is still a 30 percent chance of cancer coming back.
“If I’m completely honest, the amputation was a harder pill for me to swallow than when I was first diagnosed with cancer. I mourned the loss of my limb as a death, “she said.
“But I also understand that there are many cancer patients who do not have such an opportunity to survive, so I am grateful that I can continue to live in a different but more intense, grateful and happy way.
“I may look different physically, but that’s all that has changed. Cancer may have taken half of my leg, but I’ll never let it take my spark. ‘
She says that life with Antonia and Chris is “the best feeling in the world.”
Georgie with Chris and Antonia on the morning of the day her leg was amputated
Georgie shared her story in hopes of encouraging young adults to take control of their health and keep track of changes in their bodies, however insignificant they may seem.
She would also like to raise awareness about rare cancers such as soft tissue sarcoma, which are being investigated for lack of regular funding.
“Every cancer deserves a vote. Cancer is cancer and we all deserve an equal chance to fight and survive, “she said.
For more information about rare cancers in Australia, visit RareCancers.org.
You can follow Georgie Kats’ journey on Instagram here.