At the start of November 2015, I was
finally able to relax after a stressful six
months during which my second child
was born, we moved, I started a new job,
and I took and passed my diagnostic
radiology board certification exams.
I’ve always been an active person, so I
joined a gym and started running again.
That was when the intermittent pain I
had been experiencing in my left ankle
for about a year began to get worse. I
put it down to the running and the fact
that I was getting older; I was 41. X-rays
ordered 6 months earlier by a podiatrist
had shown nothing unusual but after the
pain worsened I had an MRI. It showed
a 5-centimeter mass in my left ankle.
A biopsy revealed that the mass was
leiomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer
arising in smooth muscle cells.
My reaction to the diagnosis would
probably surprise most people. I wasn’t
shocked; I just wanted a plan to deal
with it. Through my job as a radiologist
who specializes in breast imaging, I’ve
diagnosed hundreds of women with
breast cancer, so I’ve seen that cancer
can strike anyone at any time. Not many
people expect cancer but it happens, and
now it had happened to me.
The first part of my plan was to find a
specialist. The orthopedic oncologist I
saw at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer
Center recommended that I have a
below the knee amputation of my left
leg. Before I went ahead with such a life-changing surgery, however, I obtained a
second opinion and had a second biopsy,
this time an open surgery biopsy.
Once the diagnosis was confirmed, I
was at peace with the decision to amputate.
The surgery was February 2, 2016.
I was back in the gym shortly after the
surgery, even before I had my prosthetic
leg fitted in March 2016. Exercise really
helps me. When I exercise, I don’t feel like a
cancer patient; I feel in charge of my body
and that is very important to my mental
well-being. Completing a sprint triathlon
just seven months and one day after the
amputation was a huge achievement for
me, especially as just a month later, in
October 2016, a follow-up surveillance
CT scan showed a growing nodule in
my right lung, the most common site for
During minimally invasive surgery
on the right lung, the surgeon removed
eight nodules, seven of which turned
out to be metastatic disease. So, I started
eight cycles of the chemotherapeutic
doxorubicin and a newly FDA-approved
drug called olaratumab. We know this
has stabilized my disease because the
nodules in my left lung and the nodule
in my hip have stayed the same size and
no new nodules have appeared.
We are hoping that the doxorubicin
and olaratumab have also killed any
remaining leiomyosarcoma cells that
are not visible on scans. To be sure, I’ll
be continuing with olaratumab for at
least six months longer. Because we are
going for a cure, I’ve also just completed
six radiotherapy treatments to eliminate
the nodule in my hip and I’m scheduled
for open surgery to remove the nodules
in my left lung at the end of July 2017.
My hope is that the cancer will not
come back and that I will have a normal
life expectancy for an other wise healthy
43-year-old. I want to keep enjoying life
and doing all the normal things that a
I also hope that if the cancer does come
back, the research currently being done
will have resulted in a clinical tool that
can help me. Before I was a radiologist,
I was a research chemist, so I know
how long it takes before basic research
can change lives. The platelet-derived
growth factor receptor [PDGFR], which
is the target of olaratumab, first had to
be discovered through basic research
before olaratumab could be developed.
This is why funding for basic research
is so important; it give patients hope of
a longer survival.
© AACR/Vera LaMarche
" My hope is that this combination approach
to treatment will allow me to live a normal life. "