My adventure with cancer began six years ago in 2007 when I was just 25. I had just got married eight months before my first diagnosis, we were settling into our first home that we purchased and had all the hopes and dreams of starting a family. I am a long distance runner and had done my first marathon in 2005. I was extremely active in martial arts also.
On Good Friday in April 2007, I went to my dentist for a standard cleaning and exam & he took x-rays twice and both of them showed a small dark area under my left molar and the root was gone. He sent me to an oral surgeon for further investigation thinking I may need a root canal, but also find out what caused it to disappear. The oral surgeon took a biopsy the first time he drilled. The pathology came back with atypical cells and found that there was bone growing in my gums which was very strange. So he recommended going back in and removing the tooth it was under and removing the bad tissue.
When the pathology came back, there were actual cancer cells in it. It was Osteosarcoma. The surgeon was happy that it was such a small area and he told me about his plan to do a surgery. He referred to a local oncologist about chemotherapy and radiation. I went to a hospital for a bone scan to make sure it was nowhere else and everything was clear. Osteosarcoma goes from bone to bone, or bone to lung so I was at ease. It is also a cancer that is seen in growing children, usually in the limbs of the leg or arm.
The oncologist at the local hospital told me that my oral surgeon has good intentions but what I have is beyond his expertise and I need to be at a University hospital. He sent me to the University of Chicago Hospitals. None of the Dr.’s there had ever seen of Osteosarcoma in the jaw, let alone at 25 year old adult. So they have had a hard time deciding the best way treat this.
They decided that surgery to remove the bone in my jaw was the best way to start. The surgery happened in August 2007. They removed the right side jaw bone, then a plastic surgeon stepped in and took the non-weight bearing bone from my left leg and reconstructed my jaw bone so I will not have a disfigured face. The surgery was twelve hours long and I spent four days in ICU and 3 more in a regular room. My husband and I celebrated our one year anniversary in the hospital.
After a few weeks of recovery, I started 5 rounds of inpatient chemotherapy with a concoction of drugs. Half-way through the chemo they did a CT scan that showed a spot in my lung. My Dr. was not worried because it resembled scar tissue. By Thanksgiving that year, I started to run again. I was surprised that I did not have pain at all. I finished up with chemo before Christmas and was free to move on with my life but under close watch. I always kept that spot in my lung on the back of my mind. The chemotherapy didn’t kill it so it probably was not a metastasis of the osteosarcoma. At each follow up CT scan, I would ask about it. It always remained stable so there was never any alarm. At my scans in the Spring of 2009, my Dr. looked at them and said everything looked good. But he called me at work two days later. He said that the radiologist noted that it changed over the last six months from 4 mm to 6 mm. He said it definitely needs to be biopsied.
I went back to meet a thoracic surgeon to perform a wedge resection on the left lower lobe of my lung to diagnose this spot. The surgery was supposed to be a video assisted, non-invasive procedure but it did not go that way because of the location and I had a huge incision and lots of pain from it. I spent 3 nights in the hospital. I waited a week for the results. He called me at home to tell me that the spot is lung cancer. It was not a recurrence or metastasis, but a new cancer called adenocarcinoma. I don’t smoke. Lung cancer is a smoker’s disease, or so I thought. I couldn’t understand at the time why my doctors were happy about that but I do now. The adenocarcinoma was an extremely slow growing cancer that was caught so early. Most go undetected until they are stage 4 and incurable. My prognosis was excellent and it is curable. He just went back in and removed the lobe of the lung affected. No chemo, no radiation, that was it. I spent 2 more days in the hospital and the surgeon used the same incision from the biopsy.
My life was forever changed that day. Running was my livelihood. I would get up early in the morning to run before work. I would take vacation time to participate in running events and leave work early if it was dead, just to get a longer run in. Running before that surgery seemed effortless. After the surgery, it was a struggle. Wheezing and coughing plagued my runs and hearing myself struggle made it miserable. An inhaler helped but did not give me the lung capacity that I had lost. I still run, but not nearly as much as I like or how I would like.
In May of 2012 I went back in for my yearly routine CT scan of the chest. It had been three years since the lobectomy of the lung. I got more news that I was not expecting from the scans. There appeared to be another nodule in the right lung now. My thoracic surgeon in Chicago said to wait six months and then rescan to see if it gets bigger. So I asked him what will happen if it does. He just told me he would do another lobectomy surgery to find out what it is. I was not happy with that answer. I did not want him to take another lung out not even knowing what it is.
So I waited 6 months and right before my appointment, I came to the University of Iowa for a second opinion on the lung, plus it is only an hour away from my new home. They did a CT scan and said that the nodule does need to be biopsied. They happened to know a skilled doctor back in Chicago that could perform a Navigational Bronchoscopy. They sent me back to University of Chicago and I did that procedure in December 2012. The results were what I expected, adenocarcinoma of the lung cancer again. I went in for my surgery consultation and my very first ever PET scan.
At that time, I had just started experiencing a pain in my back and my hip area. I told the nurse about it before the Dr. saw me. She examined the area and I could see she was concerned. As soon as the Dr. walked in, he informed me that the lung surgery was cancelled because the spot on my hip lit up during the PET scan and we need to find out what it is. He could see bone and tissue damage already. So I came back a week later for CT guided needle biopsy on the pelvis.
The results of the hip biopsy came back as Osteosarcoma. It is another new primary cancer. My oncologist called me right away when he got the results. He was very optimistic about treating it. He knew that I had moved to Iowa and heard of the University of Iowa and asked if I would prefer to get treated closer to home. Without hesitating, I said yes. He gave me the types of Dr.’s I need to find and get started right away because it is aggressive.
That is how I found Dr. Mo at the University of Iowa. I started chemotherapy at the end February to kill the cancer in the bone. It must be working because I had a very hard time walking and getting in and out of a car before treatment started. I have returned to jogging a little bit at a time and it doesn’t hurt.
I am scheduled to have part of my pelvic bone removed that was affected by the cancer in June of 2013. Shortly after, they have to go and get the lung cancer out too. The lung cancer is slow growing so it was not a top priority. After my surgeries, I hope to recover 100% and continue to be active.
After battling cancer for six years, Jessica’s fight ended on November 1, 2013.