A Ewing’s sarcoma recurrence won’t stop me from living

I recently completed radiation therapy, but I’m still waiting to find out if it was successful in destroying a tumor that spread to my lung nearly five years after my initial Ewing’s sarcoma treatment.

As I wait for my follow-up appointment in August, I’m trying to ignore the what-ifs. I’m 37 years old and a mother of five. That alone helps keep me distracted. But I’m also approaching this summer with a plan.

My first Ewing’s sarcoma diagnosis

First, let me back up to my initial diagnosis in July 2011. After months of living with pain in my left leg, I went to my doctor’s office begging for an answer. Eventually, an MRI showed a type of cancer called Ewing’s sarcoma in my fibula, or calf bone.

At the time, my youngest child was just learning how to walk and my oldest was only 11. I was willing to do anything to get through it. When I asked my local oncologist in Amarillo, Texas what he recommended, he told me that if I were his loved one, he’d send me to MD Anderson for a second opinion. So I left my kids with their father (my husband at the time) and came to Houston. Leaving my family was the hardest decision I’ve ever made, but I knew that it would give me the best chance for survival.

Under Dr. Robert Benjamin’s care, I started a high-dose chemotherapy and remained on it for five months. Then, in January 2012, Dr. Valerae Lewis performed a radical resection, where she removed the top third of my left fibula during a six-hour surgery. To make sure all of the cancer was gone, I then underwent four months of chemotherapy at MD Anderson in Sugar Land, which was much closer to where I was staying.

Getting over my fear of a recurrence

By the time it was over, I’d spent nearly a year in Houston. I was away from my kids and family for most of it, but I knew I needed to heal — physically, spiritually and emotionally.

The emotional healing took the longest. I spent my first two years of remission afraid that I would relapse. I was so focused on my fear that I couldn’t be happy, and I started to become a different person.

Eventually, I gained enough confidence to live normally again. I enrolled in college and studied to become a nuclear medicine technologist.

I returned to MD Anderson annually to get my scans, and everything was great — until February 2017. During my yearly checkup, a PET scan showed a tumor the size of a lemon in my lung, right next to my heart. A biopsy confirmed it was the same cancer that had been in my leg.

My Ewing’s sarcoma relapse

I couldn’t believe that I had to go through it all again. I was only four months from graduating, and this time, I was a single mother, so driving 1,200 miles to Houston for chemotherapy every three weeks was my only option.

Still, I’ve refused to let cancer dictate my happiness. My first diagnosis had shown me that giving into the darkness offers no benefit, so there’s no reason to let my new diagnosis eat away at the time with which I’ve been blessed.

That’s why in the midst of my chemotherapy treatments, I re-enrolled in college, opting for online courses to make it more manageable. I also started seeing a counselor to help me manage my stress, and I receive acupuncture and massages at MD Anderson’s Integrative Medicine Center to cope with anxiety.

In April, I found out my cancer wasn’t responding to the newest chemotherapy cocktail, so I completed two weeks of radiation therapy in May.

As I wait for August, I continue to make every moment count. I’m planning a vacation with my children, and I’m focusing on being the best person and mom I can.

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