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Student, 21, who battled cancer, had to have her arm amputated

Student, 21, whose five-year cancer battle left her with a giant Popeye-like arm, made the drastic decision to have it amputated after the disease returned for a fourth time

  • Joy Arcilla first noticed a tiny lump in 2012 but dismissed it as a mosquito bite 
  • As it continued to grow, Ms Arcilla was diagnosed with bone and tissue cancer
  • She underwent surgery in 2013, only for the cancer to return just one year later
  • Facing 17 rounds of chemotherapy, Ms Arcilla was too weak to make it past five
  • After trying ‘every alternative medicine’, the limb was amputated in 2017 
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An agonising five-year cancer battle left a student with a giant arm that resembled the cartoon sailor Popeye.

Joy Arcilla, 21, first noticed a tiny lump on her left bicep in October 2012, which she initially dismissed as a mosquito bite.

After the mark continued to grow, Ms Arcilla, from Batangas, Philippines, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, which is cancer of the bone or soft tissue, at just 16 years old.

She underwent surgery in April 2013, with doctors assuring her the cancer was cured, only for it to return a year later, forcing her to face 17 rounds of grueling chemotherapy.

Unable to cope with chemo’s crippling side effects, Ms Arcilla stopped treatment, which caused the mass to grow bigger than ever.

After trying ‘every alternative medicine’, only for the tumour to return four times, Ms Arcilla made the drastic decision to have her entire left arm amputated in December 2017. 

Student Joy Arcilla’s five-year cancer battle left her with a giant left arm

Ms Arcilla had the limb amputated when the cancer returned for a fourth time 

Ms Arcilla made the drastic decision after the tumour continued to grow despite treatment 


Ewing’s Sarcoma is a cancer of the bone, which usually affects the ribs, pelvis and spine. In rare cases, it also occurs in the soft tissues.

The condition affects less than 30 children a year in the UK. 

Around 225 young people are diagnosed annually in the US.

Ewing’s Sarcoma cause is unclear but may relate to the timing of rapid bone growth.

The most common symptom is pain, which is usually worse at night.

Others may include:

  • Swelling
  • Tenderness
  • Fever
  • Weight loss

Treatment depends on the size and position of the tumour but usually involves chemotherapy, surgery and radiotherapy.  

Amputation may be unavoidable if the cancer affects the surrounding blood vessels and nerves. 

However, this may be avoidable by replacing the bone with a prosthesis or a bone from elsewhere in the body.

Source: Macmillan  

Cancer returned four times 

Ms Arcilla was diagnosed after the initial tiny lump developed into several raised pimples under her skin within months.

She said: ‘I noticed that there was a lump in my left arm but he just thought I was just a bite of mosquito so I ignored it, but after weeks and months I noticed that it was not gone and it seems like it was getting bigger. It was hard but not painful.

‘I found out that I had cancer, I was scared, crying. I thought about the future, everything. I stopped studying so I could focus on my treatment.’ 

During her first attempt at chemotherapy, Ms Arcilla only made it through five rounds before having to stop due to extreme weakness.   

She said: ‘In five cycles or six cycles of my chemo I was upset because it was so physically, emotionally and mentally painful.’ 

This caused the lump to come back in 2015, forcing Ms Arcilla to endure more surgery and chemotherapy.

It then returned for a fourth time in 2017. 

Ms Arcilla initially had surgery to lump the growth, however, it returned just one year later 

She faced 17 rounds of chemotherapy, however, extreme weakness left her unable to cope

Ms Arcilla, who lost her hair during chemotherapy, was too upset to continue treatment 

She added chemotherapy was ‘so physically, emotionally and mentally painful’

Ms Arcilla then had a second operation, with the growth appearing to have gone (pictured)

Despite having surgery, Ms Arcilla’s cancer returned for a third time in 2015 (pictured)

She also underwent an additional operation (picture shows her scar after the third procedure)  

‘It had to be done to stop the cancer spreading’ 

Speaking of her decision to amputate, Ms Arcilla said: ‘I tried every alternative medicine, I became super strict on my diet then, I changed my lifestyle, ate vegetables and fruits.

‘Again the cancer came back and it was so aggressive. 

‘I realised that my left arm would have to be cut off, which we did last year. 

‘Yes, I was sad but this had to be done to stop the cancer spreading to other parts of my body. 

Ms Arcilla dropped out of school during her treatment but is now studying a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. She says she can finally put the illness behind her.

She said: ‘There were times when I was depressed. But with the love and support of family I made it through.

‘The inspiration for me was seeing other children at the hospital, still happy and laughing with smiles on their faces.’

Ms Arcilla (pictured when she was healthy) dismissed the mark as a mosquito bite 

Ms Arcilla (pictured after her third operation) says the amputation allowed her to move on 

She was forced to drop out of school but has since returned (pictured after the third surgery)

Ms Arcilla (pictured after the third surgery) says at times her condition left her depressed 

She adds that the love and support of her family has seen her through (after the third surgery)

Ms Arcilla was motivated to recover by other patients in the hospital (after the third surgery)

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