Hector Hernandez didn’t drink much beer. But that didn’t keep friends from teasing him about his growing beer belly.
As KCAL News reports, the 47-year-old from Downey, California had learned to live with his growing gut. He’d always been a big man, so he assumed that there was nothing particularly strange about the fact that all his weight was building up in his stomach.
Not that the growing beer belly wasn’t a problem. As Hernandez gained weight, he started having issues with constipation and heartburn. And he would get short of breath on occasion.
The weight gain wasn’t exactly even, either. While his stomach was big, his arms and legs seemed thinner. Hernandez told KCAL that his arms got so small, he had, “hanging skin,” on them. However, when he asked a doctor about it, the doctor just reassured him that different people carry weight in different ways.
Hernandez told the Washington Post that he accepted that explanation for a while:
“I just thought I was fat.”
But Hernandez’s stomach was a little unusual. It felt “heavy” and was hard, not soft, to the touch. Prompted by concerned family, Hernandez decided to get a second opinion.
The doctor discovered that Hernandez didn’t have a beer belly at all. The man’s large stomach was the result of a retroperitoneal liposarcoma, a giant tumor. According to HSC News, this particular sarcoma is a rare cancer that begins forming in the fat cells at the back of the abdomen.
The tumor in Hernandez’s stomach had grown to 77 pounds. Dr. William Tseng, the surgical oncologist who would remove the tumor, explained to KCAL that this kind of tumor grows slowly, pushing the organs aside in the process. What’s more, it generally isn’t painful:
“The patient’s body actually kind of adapts to the presence of this slow-growing big tumor.”
This type of sarcoma is usually 20 to 30 pounds, making the tumor in Hernandez’s stomach the biggest one Tseng has ever removed. And removal isn’t a simple process.
Tseng told HSC News that while the standard is to remove the entire cancerous tumor, large sarcomas often touch major blood vessels and organs, making the question of what needs to be removed more complicated:
“You’re working all the way around and on either side of the tumor. You really have to think about the disease, what adjacent organs or vessels you can remove safely and what is best for the patient in terms of long term outcomes and quality of life.”
The surgery to remove Hernandez’s tumor took six hours. Hernandez told the Post that coming to terms with the diagnosis took time:
“I had a lot of support and prayers from family and friends. I finally left it in God’s hands.”
Fortunately, the surgery was a success. Most of Hernandez’s organs were not damaged by the tumor, although one kidney had to be removed. Hernandez won’t have to go through radiation or chemotherapy, though he will need frequent scans to ensure the tumor hasn’t returned.
Hernandez told the Post he was, “really lucky,” to get this result. Friends have started a GoFundMe page to raise funds for his recovery.
When he entered the hospital to get the tumor removed, Hernandez weighed about 300 pounds. After the surgery and a week of recovery, he walked out at 189 — more than 100 pounds lighter.
Hernandez told the Post he feels, “totally different,” after the surgery, with more energy and less weight to carry around. However, he’ll still need time to recover completely. Tseng told HSC News:
“It was very gratifying to see his before and after photos and see him back at the size he was four or five years ago. To be able to take it out safely and see him enjoy a good quality of life after, that’s a big thing.”