Image: Linda Rittenbach
‘My doctor told me I had two choices: I could either live or die,’ said Linda Rittenbach of Redmond, Ore.
By Reporter
NBC News
updated 7/14/2008 7:15:51 PM ET 2008-07-14T23:15:51

Throughout her life, Linda Rittenbach has struggled with her weight.

“You get bigger and bigger and bigger,” said Rittenbach, who has two grown children. “And then you go to your doctor and they tell you, ‘You need to lose weight — you’re fat!’”

Rittenbach had tried every diet, every workout, but the pounds wouldn’t go away. Doctors suggested weight loss surgery.

“But something in my head just said, ‘No, don’t do that,’” Rittenbach said last week.

It wasn’t until Rittenbach went to a different doctor this spring for flu-like symptoms that she found out what was really wrong.

Doctors told her a 140-pound cancerous tumor — a rare kind of liposcarcoma — was growing near her stomach. They said it had likely been growing for 15 to 20 years.

“My doctor told me I had two choices,” she said. “I could either live or die. And I had a 20 percent chance if I had the surgery. And if I didn’t have the surgery, I would die at home where my family would find me, and I didn’t want that.”

It took doctors three operations, over two months, in Redmond and at Oregon Health and Sciences University in Portland to remove the tumor.

Doctors also had to remove both kidneys to complete the surgery, and they were able to put only one back. The other kidney was so damaged in surgery that it couldn’t be saved, doctors told Rittenbach.

But now, said Judy Evanoff, a friend, Rittenbach is back to “driving herself around” as the healing process continues.

Doctor: ‘Don’t stop until you find the answer’
Dr. George Tsai of St. Charles Medical Center-Redmond said he was shocked by the size of the tumor.

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“The type of tumor that wound up being extracted was extremely rare,” he said. “But I think it underscores that when things don’t quite make sense and become a chronic problem, don’t stop until you find the answer.”

Rittenbach agreed: “You should have things checked out, and not just take a diet pill or go on a diet or go through some kind of surgery, because if you don’t, it could be what I had.”

The kind of cancer Rittenbach had doesn’t respond to chemotherapy or radiation. Doctors told her it’s likely that the slow-growing tumor will return, but they can watch for it now.

Amy Easley is a correspondent for NBC affiliate KTVZ of Bend, Ore.

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