Hector Hernandez, from Downey, California, has always been a big guy so he did not immediately notice he had a serious problem with his belly.
He realized this when his stomach continued to get bigger, His belly swelled big enough it started to catch people's attention.
His friends joked it was a beer belly even though he rarely consumed beer.
The 47-year-old also started to struggle with constipations and heartburn. There were also times when he had a hard time catching his breath.
When he first brought up the issue to a physician, the doctor just brushed off his concern saying that some people just happen to carry weight differently than others.
Hernandez thus thought it was just fat. Nonetheless, he decided to get a second opinion because his stomach felt heavy and hard to the touch.
His decision was a life-saver. It turned out that his swollen stomach was not just caused by fat. Hernandez was diagnosed with retroperitoneal liposarcoma, a rare and cancerous tumor that grows in fat cells.
Hernandez said that he was shocked and confused but he was relieved to finally identify the problem. He finally had the tumor removed last summer.
Hernandez's surgeon, William Tseng, an oncologist at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California who specializes in sarcomas, said that he has removed dozens of similar tumors, which often range between 20 and 30 pounds.
He said that Hernandez's 77-pound tumor is so far the largest he has removed.
"Most patients never suspect they have this," Tseng said. "Typically, they grow in the back of the abdomen. They start out small."
Tseng had to cut out a kidney that had sustained damage but the surgery had spared Hernandez's major blood vessels and other organs. Hernandez luckily did not suffer from complications.
"I was really lucky," Hernandez said.
Tseng said that his patient does not have to undergo radiation or chemotherapy but since liposarcomas tend to return, Hernandez needs to have periodical follow up scans.