15 Years Free 🎗
This past August was very big for me, not only will I have been a nurse for 10 years on the 17th, but on August 9th, I will have been 15 years cancer free!! Not something I talk about often as it is so commonplace for me now, but I am actually an above knee amputee. I have spent almost half of my life living without a part of me. Let me begin my story...
I grew up in a small town outside Edmonton, AB, Canada. I moved there from the big YEG when I was 9 because my grandparents; whom had custody of me, wanted to get out of the city. When winter started I immediately, without the ability of skating, was signed up for this sport I had never heard of, Ringette. Even though I could not skate, I loved the game. Eventually I grew into a very good player and played for eight years, I played until I couldn't physically play anymore.
December 2005 I was 16 and in grade 12. I had an uneventful practice on night, and I went home, to which was an acreage outside of town, and went to bed. I woke up the next morning with a small, odd, strange burning pain in my left calf about the size of a dime and consistently throbbed. I complained all day and my friends and boyfriend suggested I go see my doctor which I did. She suggested it was a torn muscle from the previous nights practice. I did not remember hurting myself; however, I went with what the doctor diagnosed and went to physiotherapy and rested like I was advised to do. A few days later the pain subsided, and I went back to regular life, at least for now...
A month later I woke up with the same pain, but this time it was the size of a nickel and slightly more intense. I returned to the doctor, and she stated maybe this was the result of not allowing my muscle to heal long enough and advised me to go to therapy again, not play ringette, and wear a knee brace, now at therapy the TENS machine caused excruciating pain, and no one understood why. I however finished therapy and returned to ringette as the pain subsided. Though a few weeks later it returned...then went away, then returned, then went away...every time it came back it was more and more intense and the radius of pain increased to the size of an apple.
After ringette wrapped up and I was done the production of "Fiddler on The Roof" which I was also doing on the side. My pain was so intense I was in a wheelchair most of my days, on good days it was crutches. My doctor sent me for an x-ray, and I went on a Friday, the radiologist came out and asked me if I was seeing my doctor and I said" ya I see her on Monday" to which they replied "good". I didn't know what that meant until I saw her that next week.
Monday came and I was sitting in my doctor's office when she came in and told me that the x-rays showed a dark spot right near my knee in my fibula which is the small supportive bone in your leg next to the tibia, or shin bone. This could mean three things, an infection, cyst, or tumor. At this time, I was absolutely terrified of needles and tests, so this was all very overwhelming. I had to go for an MRI and biopsy where they stuck a giant needle into my bone and snipped part of the bone away and sent it off to pathology.
As I waited for the results to come in, I graduated grade 12 and insisted I not use crutches or a wheelchair for grad which I didn't. I walked, slowly, but I walked in my gown which I had to replace two weeks before grade because I suddenly lost 20 pounds since buying my dress three months before. One week and one day from grad, on a Sunday at 730 a.m. my orthopedic surgeon who did my biopsy called me to tell me the results came in, I had a tumor. The good news was though, this one was benign, or not cancer. it was what was called a giant cell tumor. They planned on removing the tumor and half of my fibula the next day and everything would be fine...which is what happened. That following morning, I was taken to the OR, and they removed the tumor. I woke up in a brace and spent the summer healing.
That September I went back to highs cool, grade 13, to upgrade my marks for university. I got a call a few weeks into the semester and was told I needed to undergo 33 rounds of radiation on my leg due to the fact they found malignant or cancerous cells, inside the tumor after surgery. I started radiation and went every day, Mon-Fri for a month and a half. Radiation, unbeknown to me at the time, causes an extremely painful burn which took me right months to heal, going back and for the hospital for wound care and treatment for infections.
Spring 2007 came, and I was finishing my musical and semester of school which during radiation and post treatment, was too hard to attend both classes and rehearsals due to lethargy and pain. One day I woke up to a very familiar pain...it was a small burning sensation. After a while I realized I wasn't able to point my toes anymore. I relayed this information to my radiologist who suggested the pain was from weening off my Percocet's and the mobility issue was due to swelling from the radiation. I trusted him and we waited to do an MRI when my radiation burn was smaller. I did the MRI and another painful biopsy, and the doctor called me in. When they walked in, I could see it in their face...it was back.
I went to see my orthopedic surgeon at the mid July 2007, he was at the same hospital as my wound care team for my radiation burn so I booked two appointments that day. I saw the surgeon first then my wound care team. My surgeon came in and told me that the tumor is back and is so aggressive then needed to unfortunately remove the leg as soon as possible. He gave me two weeks and on August 9th, 2007, I was taken to the OR, walking by request, and my left leg was removed above the knee. I didn't want to see it; I didn't want to see it because it would make it real. I had to go to the washroom and the nurse came in and wiped the blanket off and I looked down and there it wasn't. So, I decided that since I wasn't a lizard and wasn't growing it back, I would have to just live my new life to the fullest. I never let it stop me, I don't even own a pair of crutches.
Late August I was called by the team of doctors taking care of me and told me I had to add yet another doctor to my care team, an Oncologist because, and I didn't know this at the time, the tumor it was a mix of my old giant cell tumor and Osteosarcoma. The radiation backfired on us and caused the tumor to mutate into a monstrous ball of pain and swelling. My oncologist came in and sat me down and told me I had bone cancer and explained the course of chemo I would need. He was kind, energetic, and most important, he cared, and I am so grateful for him.
That September I had a central venous catheter, or CVC put into my chest, and it was the most painful experience of my life. The woman who went ahead of me told me it was no problem to have it put in, however; I found out later it was to protect me and keep me from being scared. I remember the nurse asking me what I wanted to listen to, and I picked Savage Garden. At one point during the procedure, they have to dilate your skin and vessels and it is one of the most painful moments of my life. I was gripping the nurse's hand so hard I left nail marks in it, and I looked up at the doctor because yes, you are awake during, "Sorry doc, but I really hate you right now!!". Months later I will come to appreciate the line in my chest and see the doctor who put it in, and he had asked, "Do you still hate me?" to which I replied, "No, not anymore".
I started my nine rounds of chemotherapy shortly after the CVC was put in my chest. The line was actually very handy as it was used to take blood samples and to administer the chemo and other medications. It was much better than being poked by needles constantly.
About one month into chemo, I started losing my hair. No one tells you losing your hair to chemo hurts!! It feels like your head is bruised and tender all the time. I decided then that I was going to shave it all off, so I did; wigs are more fun anyways!! The different styles made me feel glamorous in a not so glamorous time.
September to May I completed 9 rounds of chemo, was down to 110 pounds and had no hair and one leg...it wasn't much but I was still here. I beat it. May 18th, I finished my chemo and shortly after I had my CVC removed while my oncologist held my and as I was so fearful of the pain; though I felt nothing when it came out. I left the cancer hospital and never looked back.
It took a few months, but I ended up learning to walk on a prosthetic with the help of an amazing team here at the Glenrose Hospital. It was a challenge learning to walk again that's for sure, but I never let it stop me. As mentioned above, I don't even own crutches.
I met wonderful people through this time in my life, some I am still in touch with, and some are no longer here, but I cherish every one of them. Each person I met impacted me in some way or another and I wouldn't be the same person I am today without them!! I took this opportunity to pay back to the community and take my nursing degree and I work as an LPN at two places here in YEG. I love my job, and I love my life and am grateful for it every single day!!
I know this was a long read but thank you for reading my story!! Much love to you all!!