I had ignored the soft mass of tissue on the back of my knee for more than two years. Sometimes I would lie in bed with my knee bent, and my leg would fall asleep below the knee. But I convinced myself it was just excess fat and nothing to worry about.
Instead, I decided to lose weight. I started walking, then running, and finally began training for a race. I went from 225 pounds to 155 pounds and felt incredible, but the mass on my leg was much more noticeable. I couldn’t deny that something was wrong. I got scared, stopped sleeping, and started living with an eerie feeling of dread.
When I finally went to the doctor in 2003, I knew by the look on his face that the news wasn’t good. I had an MRI on Friday, the 13th, and spent the rest of the afternoon hounding the poor man for my results. He finally called and told me that it was cancer; more specifically, it was liposarcoma, a rare form of fatty cancer. By the time I got it checked out, the mass had grown to about 6 inches by 4 inches. I then spent three of the longest days of my life thinking I would probably lose my leg and have to endure chemotherapy, but the sarcoma specialist I saw told me he didn’t think that would happen.
Even though my prognosis was as good as it gets -- not only was I going to be able to survive this cancer, but I was also going to keep my leg -- the fear was paralyzing, and my mental health started to suffer. I began having anxiety attacks and became depressed.
To quell the depression, I continued training through treatment, which consisted of six weeks of radiation, followed by two surgeries and eight weeks of physical therapy. When I wasn’t on crutches or in a brace, I was on the treadmill. It wasn’t pretty, but I continued my walking and running routine. The race dream provided a reason to push through the pain and fight to be as normal as possible. And when I was too weak to walk, I spent time online researching the résumé business I would eventually start.
It took me six months longer than I had hoped, but 11 months after my diagnosis, I ran and finished my first-ever 5K. I didn’t officially win the race, but it sure felt like I had come in first.
Cancer was the race of my life. It changed me forever. I had been a mom, a wife, and a friend before cancer, but I now realize I wasn’t being a friend to myself. I had spent most of life walking through a haze, only doing what others expected of me and never quite accomplishing the things I wanted to do. But it took a cancer diagnosis at 37 to shake me to my core and blast that fog away.
Originally published in the January/February 2008 issue ofWebMD the Magazine.