Wendy's Story

Wendy, Osteosarcoma Survivor

Wendy was 24 when she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the tibia in 2011. She had two lung surgeries, limb salvage surgery and chemotherapy.

My name is Wendy and I am a survivor of osteosarcoma. I was a normal, healthy 23-year-old who stayed active by taking walks and working out from time to time. I hung out with friends, went clubbing, worked full-time in an office, and did something fun once a year like going on a cruise or to a theme park.

In March of 2011 I had excruciating pain in my left leg one day. I limped around and thought maybe I had slept wrong or something. For the next couple of months I noticed my leg would ache sometimes and I wasn't sure why. I began taking Ibuprofen almost daily and thought I should finally see an orthopedic doctor. I thought it was just going to be tendonitis or something minor, but I was wrong.

The doctor noticed my left calf muscle was larger than the right one and he felt it and said there was something in there. His guess was either a hematoma or, at the absolute worst, osteosarcoma. I had an MRI a few days later, and the doctor called me up eight hours after the MRI and told me "the mass had a funny look to it" and he was sending me to an oncology specialist in Tampa. The word "mass" caught me off guard. I just kept calm and decided that I wasn't going to worry about it...I was just going to let my family, friends, and co-workers know so they would pray for me.

The oncology specialist reviewed my MRI films and told me it was cancer, possibly osteosarcoma or Ewing's sarcoma. He did a biopsy the next week and confirmed it was osteosarcoma, but sent the biopsy slides off to Mayo, then from Mayo they were sent to M.D. Anderson. While I was waiting for the final biopsy report to come in, I celebrated my 24th birthday.

I went to two orthopedic doctors, then to two different oncologists and finally ended up at Moffitt Cancer Center. They have a Sarcoma Clinic and they referred me to a local Children's Hospital where my parents and I met with a team of doctors, nurses, a social worker, and a psychologist. The next few days I had all my scans re-done, since it had almost been a month since the previous scans, and the new ones showed that the tumor had grown another 2-3 cm. It was a total of four inches long in my left calf muscle. The doctor said there was also a small 8 mm nodule in my left lung, though he wasn't sure if it was anything to worry about. He said he was going to keep an eye on it during my treatment. After my scans were re-done, I had surgery to insert my port and started chemo all in the same day.

Treatment

Chemo and Lung Surgery

I was on three different chemos at first: Adriamycin, Cisplatin, and Methotrexate. After a few months of being on those chemos, I had my scans re-done and the nodule in my lungs was unchanged. It was week 11 of treatment...surgery time. Since the nodule was still there, the doctor feared it was cancer and said most places wouldn't be concerned since it was under a centimeter in size, but he wanted it removed. I had a thoracotomy of my left lung on September 19, 2011. I had three small lumps removed and two of them were benign, but the one they suspected turned out to be cancerous. I had a chest tube for a couple of days and spent that time in the PICU.

Limb Sparing Surgery

Nine days after the thoracotomy, my mom and I headed up to Moffitt (a two-hour drive) and I had my limb salvage surgery on my left leg. In pre-op, I was told the most recent MRI scans showed the tumor involved two out of three of my major blood vessels from the knee down. They told me they were most likely removing both of those blood vessels which would leave me with the one, and they didn't think that'd be sufficient blood flow for my leg and foot. I signed a waiver for them to amputate my leg if necessary.

I was expecting to have no leg when I woke up, but it was still there...and hurting really bad! They ended up removing most of my tibia and replacing it with cadaver bone. There are metal brackets on either side of the bone that are screwed into what is left of my tibia to hold the cadaver bone in place. Fortunately, they did not have to do a knee replacement, but they have the metal right under my knee. They tested the tumor death rate after my surgery and I was expecting it to be significant--at least over 90%. It was only 20% dead when they removed it, which meant they were going to add 2 more chemos to my regimen and I was going to have to do more treatments.

More Chemotherapy

A month or so after my limb salvage surgery I started chemo again. The new chemos that were added were Etoposide and Ifosfamide. I spent 2-6 days in the hospital per chemo treatment, depending on what I was doing. I ended up having an exploratory thoracotomy on my right lung on 11-30-11, just two months after my other major surgeries. The surgeon found no lumps, thankfully.

I continued chemo treatments for the next several months and finally ended in July of 2012 after multiple blood and platelet transfusions, just over 20 treatments total, and a combined total of four months spent in the hospital. Moffitt assured me that I wouldn't be working at all through the horrible chemo treatments, but I managed to work a total of 320 hours throughout that year which is a total of two months of work time. I was on a few different nausea medications during treatments and only got sick a few times throughout the year. I ended up gaining 30 pounds during the year from the Decadron (Prednasone family steroid) and from being laid up for 10 months in a bed or recliner with very little exercise due to my leg surgery. I was taking close to 16 pills a day and absolutely hated it.

I handled the first six months of treatment pretty well - I was being as strong as possible and stayed positive. I had God, my family, and my friends. I was in a relationship also, and my partner helped me so much. It was long distance, so it was hard. As time progressed it was harder to be the cheerful, silly, upbeat person that I was and I began feeling depressed. I didn't want to really talk to anyone, not even my partner. I really did handle everything well as I went through the treatments and surgeries, but you get to a point towards the end where you just want it to be over. I broke down a lot with my parents and found myself extremely lonely in the hospital when they would leave or when my partner would leave after spending the weekend with me there. It was very lonely spending week days in the hospital since everyone had to work, but most of my treatments were during the weekend. I did my best to use my faith and humor to cope with everything that was going on, but I had my bad days. My mood and lack of communication lost me my relationship with my partner, though there were more factors involved. My true friends stuck by my side, and my family was always there for me through the good days and the bad. I was extremely blessed to have the love of all of those people through my horrible year.

Recovery

I was able to use a walker right after surgery, but I had to start out small with weight bearing exercise and eventually worked my way up to full weight bearing after several months of physical therapy. About a year after my surgery, I was finally able to walk on my own, something I never thought I'd be able to do again. I was able to walk around my office and home, but I couldn't go too far.

I have experienced a lot of pain since my biopsy, but mainly after my limb salvage surgery. My knee and ankle are the two key areas that hurt. I think the muscles, tendons, blood vessels, nerves, and everything else affected by the limb salvage surgery are trying to make up for what was removed. I have been using a shower chair every day since my limb salvage surgery - I still don't trust myself enough to stand in the shower on my own.

I have been cancer-free for six months now and get CT scans of my lungs and left leg every three months. I began working full-time about a month after I finished chemo, and I had a really hard time mentally adjusting to the real world. I found myself feeling very irritable, unable to focus, depressed, and angry. My psychologist told me I had "adjustment disorder." I never knew that existed, but it made sense. Slowly, I have been feeling better mentally. I still hurt every day physically though.

Life Now

Life Now! Wendy in Hawaii on her 'End of Chemo Trip'My pain is not as bad as it was after surgery or while on chemo, but it is still constant and bad. I was taking three 20 mg Oxycontin/day for several months after surgery until I finished chemo. Once I was done with chemo, I immediately weened down to one 20 mg Oxycontin/day thinking that my pain would calm down some. Since I have been able to walk on my own, I have taken my pain pill and four Ibuprofen every morning and by 1 or 2 pm I take four more Ibuprofen. My leg swells up every day (mainly my ankle) since I only have the one blood vessel. I'm about to see a pain management specialist to see what other options I have besides medicine--maybe a tens unit or nerve block. I'll try anything at this point.

Other than the pain in my leg and my physical changes, (scars, stretch marks, weight gain, etc) I'd say my life is mostly back to "normal," though I don't think you ever really have a normal after something like this happens to you. I work full-time, hang out with friends from time to time, and sleep. I still feel tired, mainly in the mornings. I wake up feeling like I have way too much to do and not enough energy, but I just make myself get up and go to work, then I start to feel better.

I feel great that I'm able to walk on my own again, but it is at the cost of hurting, so I don't go too far. I have been trying to exercise more, but it has been hard just to go for a simple walk...anything over 1/2 a mile and I'm ready to die. I'm eating pretty good for the most part and working on losing weight. I lost all of the water weight from the fluids I was on during chemo and my face has thinned out. My short, spikey hair is back and I love it. I have eyebrows again.

I have gone swimming once since surgery...it was very different. I can't swim very well at all anymore; I barely doggy paddle. I definitely can't jump in a pool, or jump at all for that matter. I'm unable to tip toe around too. All those muscles are gone. I have been able to ride a recumbent style stationary bike in therapy and look forward to the day where I can ride a real bike again.

My sister had a baby girl a month and a half after my limb salvage surgery, and I was unable to stand and hold her or walk around with her until she turned 9 months old. It was an amazing feeling being able to carry her in my arms.

I'm extremely proud of the things I have been able to accomplish this past year, and I'm looking forward to being able to do even more! I'm trying not to let cancer define me as a person, but I have to say that it is a big part of who I am now. I am a survivor and I'm proud of it. When people see my leg and ask me what happened, I tell them "I had cancer," and though they look at me with sadness and tell me they're sorry, I tell them that I'm a survivor and they say, "You're such a strong person," like they know me. LOL. If only they knew the half of it!

I think being involved in the cancer world is a huge thing. It's like joining another family and I have created a website with all of the blogs I wrote while I was going through treatments and surgeries so I could share how I felt and what I was going through. I enjoy being able to help other people through my experiences and volunteer for different cancer events. To read everything I have gone through and experienced, here is a link to my public Facebook blog site: Please "like" and share with your friends!

Thoughts and Hints for New Patients

Wendy with Denver Bronco Rick Upchurch, a recent survivor of leukemiaThe most important thing is to find a good oncologist. If you have osteosarcoma, find a good pediatric oncologist, age doesn't seem to matter to them when you are diagnosed with this disease. Have your scans and biopsy done immediately, and get that final biopsy report ASAP so you can start chemo! If you don't have your results in a week, start calling the doctor's office and being a pest. Those results are important and vital for you to begin your treatment.

Get a port...it's the best thing you can do for yourself to save your arms from being pricked over and over again. Get a prescription for Emla numbing cream (for your port site) from your doctor if they don't automatically prescribe it for you. If you are nauseous, try eating crackers, toast, drinking Ginger Ale, or eating Ginger chews/hard candies. BE PREPARED TO PEE...A LOT! I was on constant fluids for several days at a time when I was admitted for chemo. I peed 1 liter every 2 hours! It was crazy...I never thought chemo=peeing your brains out. Basically they pump it through you quickly and they want to flush it out just as fast.

Tips

Bring baby wipes to the hospital to wipe your body with since you can't shower with a port in. Bird baths with a washcloth and bucket of soapy water are also helpful.

If the chemo causes you to have body aches where you feel like your skin is on fire or bruised, use a heating pad. It really does relieve the pain...trust me!

Get a massage when you are physically able to. Being in a hospital bed for days at a time sucks.

Bring your laptop, mp3 player, books, or anything else that will occupy your time while you are in the hospital. You will be bored...all the time.

Drink lots of fluids when you are on Methotrexate. It can help lower your blood levels so you can leave the hospital a day earlier sometimes.

Get plenty of rest during and after chemo...you won't have much choice anyway since you will barely make it out of bed some days.

HAVE PEOPLE THERE TO HELP YOU! This is a HUGE thing...you can't go through it alone. You'll need a support system and people to help you take a shower or even eat on the bad days.

Eat good foods to re-gain your strength. Beef stew and other hearty things, good meals, protein, fruits and vegetables, and lots of ice cream lol. Don't change your diet unless your doctor specifically tells you to.

There are a lot of "whack jobs" out there that will tell you to cut this and that out of your diet and that this causes cancer and this cures cancer. Don't listen to them...they have no idea what they are talking about, and they are crazy if they think there is a cure for cancer, but that there is a huge conspiracy to keep it a secret.

Be honest with people and tell them what you are going through. Secrets only lead to rumors and you have enough to deal with. The more people who know about what you are going through, the more people you have to support you and pray for you. If you don't want anyone to feel sorry for you, just tell them that. It's as simple as that.

Try to find other people with the same cancer as you to give you advice.

PRAY! This is the most important tip I can give you. I believe that God will take care of you, no matter what happens. God bless you!

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Caroline 18/01/2013 05:49 pm
hi Wendy!! Such an inspiring story! My hubby lost his left leg to Epitheliod Sarcoma about a year and a half ago and has been cancer free ever since! I'm thankful to have found your story!
Teresa Bell 18/01/2013 04:13 am
Wendy, you have shown such strength of spirit and courage, doing what you knew needed to be done. May you continue to heal, feel less pain and grow stronger. God Bless.
Gina 16/01/2013 02:07 pm
Wow. What an incredible story of survival. I've known your Mother most of my adult life and she did her best to keep many of us posted via email on your journey, but nothing compared to reading your story in your own words. I admire your determination and your desire to share your experience in an effort to help others. I lost my partner of 23 years to pancreatic cancer in 2011. It's a difficult journey. Cancer Sux. Thanks for sharing your personal journey.
Mallory Bailey 15/01/2013 08:37 pm
You have been through so much and are such and inspiration!
Mary 15/01/2013 12:08 pm
Wendy, you sure have been through a lot! It must be hard to believe sometimes...and I know the journey continues. I hope your pain gets better and that the pain management folks will be really caring and thorough. Thank you for sharing your story!

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