When I was a teenager, I started having pain in my right leg. At first I didn’t even realize how often it bothered me until my friend, Karen, asked me one day, “why do you always rub your leg?” We were sitting on the floor in my bedroom, doing homework after school as we did practically every day. I responded simply by saying, “my leg hurts.” Karen told me that I had been rubbing my leg every day for a while!
This may be hard for some people to believe, but before I got sick, I was an extremely shy and quiet person and didn’t talk that much. So while my leg was bothering me, it was completely normal for me not to complain or say anything about it.
At first the pain would only last for a few days, and it was something I could tolerate. As time went on, the pain started lasting longer and was becoming a constant. I finally said something to my parents and off to the doctor I went.
After seeing my pediatrician, it was determined to be growing pains. I was 13 years old at the time and very athletic as I ran track, played basketball and soccer, so that made sense, I guess. The Mayo Clinic states, “Growing pains are often described as an ache or throb in the legs – often in the front of the thighs, the calves or behind the knees.” My pain was in my femur, so my family and I thought this was the case and it was something I would outgrow.
About six months later, the pain was far worse and I was being sent home from school because it was too difficult to focus. Back to the doctor I went and I started having tests done like x-rays and blood work to see what was going on. The tests were coming back fine and not indicating that there was a concern. I was told to stop playing sports and to stop running, which was a passion of mine.
Six months after this, I started limping because my leg hurt so much. There was a day where I was curled up in a ball on the couch, crying, because I was in so much pain. My stepfather had pulled some ligaments around this time and said he was going to take me to his orthopedic doctor, just to see what his thoughts were.
It was a hot Friday afternoon in August when I saw this doctor, and I was wearing shorts. I was sitting on the table in the doctor’s office and the first question he asked was, “how long has this bump been on your leg?”I looked at my leg and was surprised to see this bump as I didn’t recall having it there that morning when I showered.
I was sent to Boston Children’s Hospital that Sunday evening so I could have a biopsy done in the morning. When I got to my room, my roommate was a girl named Amy. She had a biopsy done as well and we stayed up talking all night. I was very naive – I thought I had pulled ligaments like my stepfather and had no idea what a biopsy was, let alone what it implied.
Amy explained what a biopsy was and how I had a tumor in my leg. WHAT? I will never forget how she said that I want the results to be benign and not malignant. This was very important information! She was going home the next day and I wouldn’t see her after I got back from the biopsy so we exchanged phone numbers and promised to keep in touch.
A few days after my biopsy, my parents and I were taken into a room where we told that I had a malignant tumor and I had Ewing’s Sarcoma bone cancer. I don’t remember hearing anything after that as I kept replaying the conversation with Amy in my head. My mother was crying hysterically and I sat there, stunned. I was 14 years old and had cancer. A rare form of bone cancer!
Things happened pretty quickly after that. I started chemo and was so sick! I practically lived in the hospital. When I went home, I rarely made it two days before I spiked a fever and was back in the hospital. My hair fell out; I had no appetite; I was freezing all of the time; and when I was at home, my parents couldn’t cook in the house as the smells made me vomit.
After having only 4 cycles of chemo, I made the decision to stop. At first my mother begged me not to but ultimately she said the decision was mine. I just felt as though I wanted to live the rest of my days – however many – in peace and not in sickness. This wasn’t the end though, as I had radiation treatments to get through. I agreed to complete those.
My stepfather at the time was a Teamster, and they had a van that would pick me up every weekday to take me on the three-hour round trip to Boston for treatment (which was literally a one minute zap), and then it was back home I went. Because I had stopped chemo, I was given 2.5 additional weeks of radiation.
I finished my radiation treatments and my doctors were not happy with my decision to not pursue further chemotherapy. The outlook was bleak. Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer is a rare form of bone cancer and the percentages of survival or saving the limb were low back in those days.
As silly as it sounds, I knew in my heart that I would survive. There were many deals made with the Big Guy upstairs. I was and have always been very stubborn! My oncologist calls me a pain in the ass. Literally.
I always said that I was going to beat cancer! There was no question in my mind.
Here I am, 32 years later. Cancer free.
As we know, the “radical” radiation I had caused extensive damage to my leg, but I went 30 years on this damaged leg before my bone broke and this journey started. In my heart, I know this too shall pass. I will walk again, get my life back and thrive.
While I met a lot of people during my hospital stays as a teenager, Amy is the only person I kept in contact with. (I told you, I was shy!) I am happy to report that Amy is like family to me and she has been a wonderful, supportive friend. I am blessed to have her in my life.
We never know what life has in store for us, but one thing I do know – never give up, even when the battle seems insurmountable. The human spirit is remarkable and will carry you through the darkest of days.
32 years cancer free!!! This girl is very blessed and knows it.
Until next time, be well and go out and do a random act of kindness.
*Here is a picture of me after treatments and still bald. My parents bought a very expensive wig but it itched too much so I always wore this hat. The other picture is when my hair first grew back.