I was working for a cellular company in 1993, and was in the midst of dropping off new phones to several orthopedic doctors in town, when my life abruptly changed. During the instruction phase, one of the doctors told me my right knee looked unusually swollen and sent me for an X-Ray immediately. I joked with him that he was trying to trade "service for service", but he wasn’t joking. The X-Ray showed a large tumor in my right distal femur. I had Stage 2 Osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. The doctor was also surprised as I was 31 years old and much older than his teenage patients whom this cancer usually affects. God was definitely looking out for me that day, especially since the doctor who noticed my knee had done his residency in Boston, at Mass General Hospital, with two world renown Orthopedic Surgeons (who specialized in bone cancers), and recognized my cancer when he saw it. Were it not for this fateful visit, I would not be here to tell my story today as I didn’t have any symptoms that would have triggered me to have my knee looked at that point in my life.
I was diagnosed on January 7, 1993. I had biopsy surgery in MGH the following day that originally came back benign. As I was elatedly packing up to go home, my doctor came back and told me that the frozen section biopsy confirmed malignancy instead. I began chemo the following day, devastated and more scared than I had ever been in my life. I continued chemo for a few months, until April 12th, when I had surgery to remove a partial section of my right distal femur, which was replaced with an allograft. They also removed one of my quad muscles that had been lying on top of my tumor. My scar was 60 staples long running from a few inches below my knee to close to the top of my thigh. I continued on chemo after surgery for five days a month for the next twelve months. It was grueling, awful, and scary as heck, but I knew that I had to accept it into my body in order to survive…and I did…every time. I became more and more positive in my attitude with each chemo session down as I knew that I had been given another chance to live and make a much better life for myself. That is what I did when it was all over with and I could refocus on what I had in life, and not what had been taken from me.
Recovery was long and hard, with physical therapy 6 out of 7 days a week for over a year once I was done with chemo. But, it was well worth it! I am still walking well and can run and climb when I have to. I do have swelling in my knee if I overdo it, but nothing that has been so debilitating that I am on the coach recuperating. I am actually two years overdue for a total knee replacement, so I feel even luckier that I am still able to walk without a limp or clue of what I have been through (unless I put on a flirty mini skirt!).
Life is still very good to me, 19 years later! I am now 50 years old, with two children that I was told I had little chance of conceiving after the enormous amounts of chemo that I had to have in order to survive (for 16 months straight). In fact, I still feel that having gone through this incredibly challenging time was one of the best experiences of my life! It allowed me to build on my character, my inner strength, and my ability to forgive myself, and others, for past regrets, because after all, life is very short. My life really got much richer, but if I hadn’t fought to keep a positive attitude, I truly believe that I wouldn’t have come out of this with the wonderful life that I have made for myself now.
Thoughts and Hints for New Patients
Hang in there! It is, no doubt, one of the most scary and awful experiences that you will ever go through in your life. But, you must go through it with both a welcoming attitude (especially when going through chemo) and a very positive one as well. You will get through it, but only if you want to, and are fully committed to completing all you need to do to stay healthy and alive. No one else can make that decision, but you. "Just do it" was my motto throughout the entire time. It helped me a lot, as did my wonderful family and friends to stuck by me through thick and thin.
A final note – pick up a copy of a book called Stronger than Cancer by Connie Payton. When Walter Payton died, she compiled a book of inspiring stories (my story is also featured in this book) that has many wonderful accounts of other people’s struggles with cancer and their triumphs after beating it!!
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Copyright © 2012 Liddy Shriver Sarcoma Initiative.