Young adult chondrosarcoma survivor: MD Anderson helped me avoid amputation
At age 21, most people are still discovering who they are. But I was being treated at MD Anderson for osteochondroma-associated de-differentiated chondrosarcoma. That’s a rare type of bone cancer originating in the cartilage. It’s usually found in much older men.
I’d never heard of MD Anderson before my diagnosis in 2015. But one of my mom’s friends in the Rio Grande Valley insisted that we go there.
I am eternally grateful today that my mom listened. Even though it meant many trips from Brownsville to Houston, I know now that MD Anderson does exceptional things, routinely. It’s where people — including me — go for miracles.
My bone cancer symptoms
My first bone cancer symptom appeared when I was 12 or 13. When I was in the seventh grade, I noticed a very hard lump on my left thigh bone. A local orthopedic surgeon ran tests to see what it was, and diagnosed it as osteochondroma, a benign type of bone tumor. He said to come back if it ever started hurting or hindering my movements.
That day finally arrived when I was 21. I was working at a retail store then, and noticed that the lump was making it painful to go up and down a ladder in the stockroom. It was also hurting me during my daily run. A local surgeon sent me to San Antonio, the nearest large city, for additional tests. Doctors there said the growth was probably benign, but agreed to remove it since it was causing me problems.
When the biopsy results came back after surgery, I learned I had cancer. The doctor referred to the type I had as “a beast.” The good news was it hadn’t spread yet and could be treated. The bad news was one of the options was amputation.
My bone cancer treatment: chemotherapy, then limb salvage surgery
At MD Anderson, we met first with orthopedic surgeon Dr. Robert Satcher. He and medical oncologist Dr. Anthony Conley didn’t think I needed amputation. Instead, they recommended eight rounds of chemotherapy, followed by limb salvage surgery. During that operation, the diseased portion of my bone would be removed and replaced with a donor bone from a cadaver, then secured with a metal plate and nine screws.
Because I was so young, they also wanted me to meet with Dr. Terri Woodard, to discuss my fertility preservation options. I’d felt from a pretty early age that I didn’t want kids. But I ended up freezing some of my eggs anyway, because you never know. What if five years down the road, I meet someone special who does want children, and realize I’ve changed my mind? I’m glad now that I did it.
Once that was done, we could move forward with chemotherapy. It was brutal. And not just because I was having to do it while my friends were all going to the beach at Padre Island. I was nauseous, bald and exhausted all the time.
I was so uncomfortable in my own skin that I asked Dr. Satcher if we could postpone the surgery. I really wanted to pump the brakes after my final round. He insisted it was crucial to get the diseased bone out as quickly as possible. So, we went ahead with the surgery as planned.
My life today, after a bone cancer diagnosis
Today, I’m really glad we did. After six months of physical therapy, I was also able to get back my full range of motion. I couldn’t bend my left knee at all after surgery. But within 18 months, I was running again, and still able to work out at the gym about five times a week.
The scar on my left leg is pretty big, but I don’t really mind. I think of it as my “shark bite.” It’s very rare now that I’m in pain. And, most importantly, I’ve been cancer-free since my surgery in September 2016.
I did have to pause my education during cancer treatment. But I finally earned my bachelor’s degree in communications last summer. Now, I’m working toward a teaching certificate and considering master’s degree programs.
I am so grateful. When you’re first diagnosed with cancer, it can seem like the future is filled with darkness. After I went to MD Anderson, all of that changed. And I started seeing the light again.
Jackie is the 2022 campaign ambassador for IBC Bank’s Give Cancer the Boot campaign, benefitting MD Anderson. IBC Bank will match donations to MD Anderson dollar-for-dollar up to $1 million throughAug. 15. 100% of the funds will go towards patient programs and research. Make a donation online.