Elene Heeren

In October 2006, my husband Duane and I moved from southwest to central Iowa to be two and a half hours closer to each of our four children and their families. Coming along with me was a bone on bone right knee needing replacement and two rather large lumps. One lump was on my left shoulder and had been diagnosed at Mayo in 1995 as a lipoma (i.e. fatty tumor). The other lump had subsequently developed on the back of my upper left thigh, and had also been diagnosed by two doctors as another lipoma. The doctors advised that surgery to remove the lumps would only be necessary for cosmetic reasons.

I had knee replacement surgery in Des Moines on August 17, 2007. On Friday, December 3rd, 2007, at a follow-up appointment for my knee, I showed Dr. Davick the lump on my left thigh. I had noticed a change - it was firmer. He immediately remarked, “Have you ever shown me this before? We need to get an MRI.” On Sunday evening, Dr. Davick reached me by phone and recommended I see Dr. Buckwalter, an orthopedic tumor surgeon at University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. I was quickly scheduled an appointment with Dr. Buckwalter on Dec. 18th. The sense of urgency expressed by Dr. Davick made me very apprehensive. It seemed that, at 76 years of age, I was going to be fighting cancer. Our Christmas decorations were put away more neatly than usual that year.

In January 2008, I became “armed” with appointments for biopsies, Dr. Milhelm in oncology, Dr. Bhatia in oncology radiation, several CT scans and MRIs for preparation to fight this rare, painless, high grade metastatic, pleomorphic sarcoma on my leg.

I was so very anxious to get started. It seemed to be taking so long. As I look back with a greater understanding of their team approach, I can see all the planning and caring that went into my diagnosis. Dr. Bhatia and his staff had prepared a “trough like” construction for my leg to lay in for the 25 radiation procedures in late January and February. The radiation treatments shrank the tumor away from the sciatic nerve, allowing Dr. Buckwalter to successfully excise the tumor with plenty of good tissue around it. It was April 2008, and I was so relieved and happy to finally have that horrid tumor out of my body.

A May appointment with Dr. Milhelm outlined the risks and benefits of chemotherapy to help catch any stray cancer cells. I chose to undergo six treatments of chemotherapy, three weeks apart, which were finished in mid September 2008. Though weary and “wigged,” I was the one who got to unpack the Christmas decorations that year!

With routine follow-up CT scans and MRIs, I have now been cancer free for over two years - for which I am so thankful! I would like to express my gratitude for the skill, care, and compassion that my team of doctors, including all the nurses, technicians, and desk staff, has shown to me for the past two and a half years. Thank you all!

To anyone who is undergoing the diagnosis of cancer, there is hope for a better day. Don’t give up. Be strong in your faith. Be thankful and accepting for all the support your family, friends, doctors and staff are ready to give you.