In April 2005, after finishing up an 8th month yoga teacher training program, I saw an orthopedic doctor about a lump on my outer left thigh that had started to cause pain above my knee. The doctor told me I had a tumor and needed to see a specialist in orthopedic oncology. A few weeks later I had scans and an open biopsy at Memorial Sloan Kettering. I had a very large (23cm) low-grade chondrosarcoma that took up ¾ of my femur. The tumor had also bowed my femur. Dr. Morris said my case was unusual and she took it in front of the tumor board at MSKCC. She reported that there were as many opinions on the best course of treatment as there were doctors in the room. Eventually I was given a list of seven options for surgery and the choice felt impossible. After many second opinions and tons of research I decided to go with Dr. Healey, Chief of Orthopedic Oncology at MSKCC, and the unorthodox procedure he'd suggested. One of the best choices I ever made!
Dr. Healey removed ¾ of my femur, treated the bone with cryosurgery, and re-implanted it into my leg. He took bone proteins from my hip bone to create a kind of putty which they used to fill in the bone to inspire re-growth on the ends. He also specially designed a titanium plate to match the exact curve of my femur which was inserted along the outside of my femur to keep it in place. Another, smaller plate was inserted on the distal section of the inside of my femur.
Dr. Healey is an amazing doctor–never rushing our appointments and having almost a Zen presence. Best of all, he performed what I consider to be a miracle. After ten-hours of surgery he was able to save all the ligaments of my knee and only removed a small portion of muscle. While in surgery he’d found another small tumor under my patella, which hadn't showed up on any scans, and removed that as well. The day after surgery he had me start on the CPM (continuous passive motion machine), bending my leg from 0-60 degrees for 12-14 hours a day for many weeks.
I had my surgery on December 15th, 2005 and I've made an excellent recovery. I was on crutches for a year and a cane for a few months after that. The bottom and top portions of the bone, where it was cut, have grown back and healed. I have regained full rotation in my knee (0-135 degrees) when they said I may never fully straighten my leg again and wouldn't be able to bend it past 90°-110°. I attribute this to an excellent surgeon, a great physical therapist, an intuitive massage therapist, and having started a gentle yoga as soon as I was out of the hospital. As soon as I got off my cane in April 2007, I also started training for the Team Sarcoma Bike Ride through Vermont that July and that really helped me regain the strength in my leg fast!
Since the surgery, Brian (my then fiancé, now husband) moved from New York City back to Denver. I am performing improv comedy again, and teaching yoga. There is still weakness in my left leg and knee, but my scans continue to be clear and I continue an active life…which now includes keeping up with my beautiful one-year-old daughter!
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Copyright © October 2012 Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative.