Wednesday Warrior – Jean

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Jean Marie Berenschot - WarriorThe summer of 2012 was uneventful except for the painless lump that surfaced on my inner left calf muscle. I knew that it was a tumor, but how could it be malignant with no family history of cancer? I thought it was a bump that might go away by applying an ice pack. When it remained the same size for about five months, I saw my physician, who ordered an MRI which revealed “a tumor of some concern.” Cancer?

I was referred to the Aurora Cancer Center in Grafton, where doctors performed a biopsy diagnosing the lump as a pleomorphic sarcoma or muscle cancer. This was shocking news to me as both of my parents lived healthy lives into their 80s and 90s. It seemed like a terrible Halloween trick had been played on me. How could I possibly have a disease that I couldn’t even spell? The shock that I felt was emotionally numbing.

My treatment began the week of Thanksgiving, celebrating the holiday with my family in the hospital community room. We named the tumor “Mavis” as a way to ease the tension and fear on this uncharted journey.

Treatment consisted of five days of hospitalization with 24-hour drip chemotherapy followed by a three-week stay at home. There were four weeks of such treatments with daily radiation added to the last eight weeks. The hospital stay was somewhat confining since I felt well but was there receiving treatment. The daily stream of visitors and e-mails helped to pass the time. I particularly looked forward to the take-out meals brought in from area restaurants by my family, as hospital food is not four-star rated.

During my first hospital stay, I felt tingling sensations in the tumor area. Was Mavis dying? In January 2013, I received a blood transfusion because of low blood cell count. In March, radiation burn surfaced along with a blood clot. It was difficult to distinguish the singeing sensation of the burn from the hot feeling of the clot. The combination made my calf look and feel as if it were on fire. Although my calf was swollen, Mavis appeared somewhat smaller. Daily Warfarin injections broke up the blood clot so the surgery I was so looking forward to could be done on schedule in March.

Surgery and recovery went well, although it was emotionally and mentally difficult adjusting to using a walker and crutches. Relying on others to perform my everyday tasks was a humbling experience. Having to use a “grabber” to pick items off the floor made me feel like an invalid. Not being able to drive my car was devastating. I stretched my dear husband’s patience until it nearly snapped.

The incision healed well with my daily routine becoming almost normal. Rolling my left foot and climbing stairs became easier with each passing day. In the sixth week following the surgery, an infection set in requiring a second surgery. This was followed by two weeks of daily antibiotic infusions and eight weeks of hyperbaric wound care. Spending two hours a day in a hyperbaric chamber gives one ample time to give thanks for past good health, as well as an appreciation for mobility. The wound was completely closed by Thanksgiving 2013, a year after treatment began.

Now, 12 months after the initial surgery, my daily activities are back to normal. I enjoyed a winter of cross country skiing and snowshoeing. I’ve resumed Pilates, spinning, golf and hiking. It feels wonderful to have back the life I enjoyed before. In June, I’ll be participating in the Vince Lombardi Run/Walk for cancer.

I’m eternally grateful for the love and support of my family and friends, as well as the team of medical professionals who have given my story a very happy ending!

Life is good!

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If you or a loved one has been impacted by sarcoma cancer, we encourage you to share your story. Sharing your story can be such an inspiration to others who are dealing with sarcoma in their own life and remind us all of the urgency to find better treatments in order to make an impact on the devastation that sarcoma cancer brings. Let your experiences help others become involved with raising awareness!