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Fri, Sep 20 12:06am · Diagnosed with sarcoma? Let's share in Cancer

I was diagnosed with a Grade 1 Chondrosarcoma in my left humerus in May 2009. Because I hadn't had any symptoms when I received the news I was told that surgery was required as quickly as possible as the humeral head appeared near to collapse. As all of us with these diagnosis know when we first are told these things it is akin to a star imploding, our world closes in, well it did in my case anyway. I couldn't form complete sentences much less make important decisions about my health care. Over the years I've reflected on this incredibly important moment in time that I can never "do over" no matter how much I wish I could with the benefit of hindsight. My surgeon was so confident and told me the surgery he planned to do: remove the cancerous humerus leaving only enough to anchor a prosthetic, cover it with a donor bone to attach muscle, ligaments, etc. to and remove/replace the shoulder as well. If I sound like I understood any of that while in his office, I did not. My father & sister were there as well and told me later what he had said. What's lacking in this conversation is this: choices. He didn't offer any. He told us what he intended to do & that's what was done. There was never a whiff nor a sniff approaching a discussion prior to the surgery of any alternatives. I bring this up for a reason which only became relevant after the deed was done. The surgery was scheduled at the next available date, within 2 weeks from the diagnosis, and done as he had described. When I woke up in recovery the nerve block in the left shoulder was still doing its job. But not long after I arrived in my assigned room I could tell I needed the IV pain meds. My sister is an RN so was keeping a close eye on everything. She monitored the pain pump & we both became concerned when I got no relief. She immediately called for help but by the time the nurses were able to get a doctor's order for a different pain medication I'd passed out. That pain crisis was just the 1st of many such crisis to come. By the end of 2010 I'd had 2 more surgeries, the 1st was to try to stop the prosthetic from moving. That failed so the 3rd surgery removed all the "off the shelf" original prosthetics with custom made prosthetics. The #1 reason my surgeon always gave me for "limb sparing" surgery was to save my hand because despite all the great progress with lower limb prosthetics, the upper limb prosthetics, especially for the hand aren't good. And he was so confident, God love him, he was just so darn confident in himself. And I had to go & screw it all up. That really messed with him for awhile, he was not kind. He dismissed the pain I was in & as my hand got worse & I questioned the wisdom of the limb sparing surgery I stopped wanting to even see him anymore. Eventually we found some common ground but his office never followed up with me once post-ops were done. I had so many questions, about the cancer, about what else could be done to help me, about the pain I am in, so many questions and there was no help from him nor his office. I had never felt so damaged, so angry, so alone. Because after each surgery I'd come home & it was just me in such terrible pain so I mentally detached myself from the arm. It took some time but eventually I got the diagnosis – chronic pain syndrome (CPS). It set into the left shoulder and upper arm & resides there still. I was prescribed opioides for 3 years but because of their side effects I requested alternatives. A spinal cord stimulator was tried but failed so I have been using an intrathecal pain pump for almost 5 years now. By far my greatest frustration after all these years is the lack of information on my sarcoma and any help, therapies, medical equipment, etc. In my area there are only 2 surgeons who will accept patients like me & I've been to both of them. My arm is weak, I cannot raise it to shoulder height, my hand is numb & tingling. I cannot use the arm to drive & because I could no longer do the essential elements of my job I was disability retired in 2011.

I'll stop here to apologize, I am sorry for how this must sound. For the first few years I was angry & depressed, I'm the 1st to admit that. This took away so many things & changed my life forever. It all happened so fast.

But I smile more now. Smiling doesn't cure cancer or pain, turn back the clock or give me my job back. But as someone I admire said recently "pain is mandatory, suffering is optional."