I had been in pain all year. The pain sharply accelerated during August. Two different sports orthopedians diagnosed me with a likely torn meniscus. I had assumed my arthritis was getting worse. I had been trying to stabilize my knee with grocery store knee braces.
I was very active, running agility in classes and herding sheep in class and trial competion with my dogs. I loved to be outside in the garden and doing team activities with my dogs.
August 21 while rising from a sitting position I felt a pop in my hip. Combined with the ever increasing pain, foggy thinking and fatigue, I was frightened. We hurried to the ER. The triage nurse said my blood pressure was off the chart (sign of pain) and hurried me to the front of the line. The ER doctor ordered a CT scan. He explained he could see fractures more easily than in the set of x-rays I brought with me.
What he saw was a fracture through abnormal material near the ball of my femur…and the lump I had recently found in my right breast.
The next morning I was in surgery. They removed as much of the tumor as possible and installed a metal brace along my femur to preserve my ability to walk. The surgeon told me I would have to find an orthopedic oncologist in Houston or Dallas who could replace my femur. Later that day an oncologist visited. She was sure that the cancers were related, that perhaps breast cancer had metastasized to the bone. I was on high doses of morphine and kind of loopy, but somethings I was told did sink in and stay with me. While we awaited the results of the two cancer biopsies, I was convinced that the cancers were not related. The hospital’s biopsy showed a high value osteosarcoma in the femur and carcinoma in the breast. This was confirmed by a second opinion from the Mayo clinic and later MD Anderson Cancer Center.
After tests, my right breast and a couple of lymph nodes were removed, and a portacath installed in my chest for future chemotherapy. I was in hospital recovering and getting occupational/physical therapy for 3 weeks. I was pretty sick, fatigued, throwing up and in pain. I had rarely had a sick day in my life before this experience.
Sarcoma is very rare and extremely rare in older women or men. In 1938 my maternal grandfather died of sarcoma when he was 62 years old. This family connection is my only known risk factor for sarcoma.
My oncologist said she was going to hit me hard with chemo. She did. Chemo was a combination of drugs given 4 days (24 hr) in hospital. My hair fell out. My nails turned dark. I had trouble with vision and reading. My white cells crashed. My platelets and red cells were low. I vomited and became very weak. Sometimes my bone marrow did not bounce back and I ran a high fever which sent me back to the ER and isolation in hospital until I could fight infection.
After four chemo treatments I went to MD Anderson Cancer Center for evaluation. CT scans and x-rays showed that the chemo had reduced and confined my bone cancer. It was also clear that my femur was coming apart. The surgery team agreed to replace my femur with a metal “bone.” During the 10-hr surgery they replaced the femur, my aging knee and made my hip socket metal friendly.
I was in hospital for 4 weeks. I had to learn to walk, dress and bath again. Fortunately using a walker after the first surgery made my upper body and arms strong, although I was lacking stamina. My husband stayed with me at the hospital almost the whole time. I soon restarted chemotherapy and will be continuing for another 6 months.
I wish I had not tried to self treat my pain and had a CT scan or MRI much earlier. My friends and family, especially my husband, have been great support. The ones who have had cancer or serious illness understand.
I don’t do any of the things I used to do but I still hope to return to a version of an active life. Although everything has changed, I am often happy. I focus more on maximizing the good times when I am well.
Osteosarcoma at the proximal femur
Date of Diagnosis: August 21, 2008
Age at diagnosis: 61
Surgeons: J. Laverty; P. Linn
Oncologist: S. Santhanam; R.Benjamin