I’ve Survived Cancer – But Not Airport Security
Recently, I had the opportunity to go through airport security. If you have not had this chance yet, be prepared! Those of you who are like me really need to watch out. I have metal in place of bone in my left leg and in case you are unaware, it definitely causes the metal detectors at the airport to beep! I have had to deal with this for the past five years. Why, you might ask? Well, I was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma of the left leg when I was 19 years old. Before that I was a starting soccer player for the Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) Women’s Soccer Team. I am now 24 years old and graduating this year with my Doctorate of Pharmacy degree from VCU.
How common is bone cancer? Osteogenic sarcoma is a type of bone cancer. It happens when cells that are not normal multiply and spread to form tumors. It is the third most common bone cancer and the third most common cancer in children and adolescents in the United States. Cancer is the number one cause of death in children under the age of 14 by a disease. Osteosarcoma most often is seen in patient’s age 10 to 20 years old, but can happen at any age.
The disease can result in death. About 2,500 cases of bone cancers are diagnosed each year in the United States. Twenty years ago, people who had this cancer had a small chance of surviving. Most people died even though they had extensive surgery. Today, treatment is successful in many people and they live to enjoy happy and active lives.
Where will I find bone cancer? Tumors are most often found in the leg bones of children and young adults, but are also frequent in the arms. The affected bones become brittle and may even break. Often, a broken bone is the first sign of the disease. Most of the patients remember having some sort of trauma, injury, sprain or muscle strain in the area where the bone cancer starts.
What are the warning signs of bone cancer? There are several warning signs of this type of bone cancer. It is important to know about them and to see your doctor if you notice any of the following signs that do not go away.
- Pain: Pain in the bone is the most common warning sign of bone cancer. The pain may become worse at night or with activities, such as walking. It may be a dull and aching pain. The pain may happen more often and get worse as the cancer grows.
- Swelling or tenderness around bones or joints: The area around the cancer may swell or become tender. If this swelling or tenderness continues for a week or longer, doesn’t go away, or gets worse it could be a warning sign of cancer.
- Fractures: A fracture or a break in the bone can happen as the cancer grows and weakens the bone. Patients with a fracture usually describe the feeling as a bone that was sore for a few months and then became very painful.
- Other warning signs: As the cancer grows or spreads to other parts of the body, other warning signs could be weight loss, fatigue, pain in other bones, or trouble breathing.
Cancer in children is often difficult to identify. Parents should schedule regular check-ups and should be alert to any unusual symptoms that do not go away. If you notice any of the warning signs in your children or yourself, talk to your doctor.
How do you treat bone cancer? If your doctor thinks you might have cancer, he will probably recommend blood tests, x-rays, bone scans or other imaging techniques. A test called a biopsy will be done to make sure it is cancer, since many of the tumors are not cancerous.
How your doctor will treat the cancer depends on individual characteristics and the size and location of the tumor. Cancer medicines, surgery to save the bone, removal of the cancerous bone, or a combination of these may be required.
Before 1970, the chance of survival was poor. Fortunately today, the majority of patients whose cancer has not spread lead long, cancer-free lives due to modern chemotherapy and surgery to save the limb. The most important goal of treatment is to save the patient’s life. Sparing your limb is the next goal, but with today’s cancer treatments, this is usually possible.
What can I do if I have cancer? If your doctor tells you that you have cancer there are a number of things you can do.
- Seek treatment early. The sooner you get treatment, the better your chances for a full recovery.
- If you are or a loved one is diagnosed with a form of bone cancer, be informed! Educate yourself as much as you can about your disease, medications, and treatment options. There are many resources available.
- Ask questions. If you are not satisfied with the answers, get a second opinion.
- Learn about the side effects of your treatment so you can be prepared. Know what to expect from your medicines and how they work on your body.
- Take your medications as your doctor tells you and listen to their advice. Tell your doctor if you are having any side effects from the medications or chemotherapy. They are the specialists and they can help you.
- Show up for your scheduled appointments and other tests. They are very important in order for the doctor to provide you with the best care.
- Take care of your body:
- Exercise (talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise program)
- Avoid drinking too much alcohol
- Avoid all forms of tobacco
- Eat well-balanced meals that are low in fat and high in fiber.
- Schedule regular appointments with your doctor.
- Join support groups and talk with your doctors. And most importantly, maintain a positive outlook throughout your treatment and recovery.
It is important to listen to your body and to talk with your doctor and family. Make appointments to see your doctor. The earlier you catch the disease the better your chances of survival.
In a few more months, I reach the 5-year mark and am considered cured. It has been a long road to get where I am, but I am almost there. The word “cancer” itself has an unspoken meaning that usually says ‘death’, but I don’t agree. I have been there and it isn’t as bad as you think. Well, I won’t lie, it may be scary at first, but when it is all over, it is a triumph. It is also a bragging right. Not many people have an X-ray of their leg like mine nor do they set off metal detectors for the same reason I do!
Even though it takes me longer than the average person to get through those airport security gates, I still enjoy flying and I hope to continue to fly for many more years. Now that I have survived cancer, I need to find a way to get through airport security without causing any more delays. I am apologizing in advance if I am ahead of you in the security line!
Jacqueline Weisen, PharmD Candidate 2003 Virginia Commonwealth University / Medical College of Virginia School of Pharmacy Prepared during Consumer Health Information Corporation McLean, VA
© 2003 Consumer Health Information Corporation. All rights reserved.