Carlos was almost used to the pain in his ankle.
“I would just call it my bad ankle when it acted up,” he says.
Then the AV technician dropped some equipment on the ankle at work, and Carlos’ foot became swollen. When the swelling didn’t go away after a couple of weeks, he went for an X-ray and other tests.
Because the doctors couldn’t find what was causing the persistent pain and swelling, they referred Carlos to the Rothman Institute at Jefferson.
Even when the first Jefferson orthopedic surgeon he saw told him a sarcoma – bone cancer – was a possibility, the 34-year-old father of two young children recalls, “At most I thought it was a ligament that might need surgery to repair.”
That’s when he had an MRI and was sent to orthopedic cancer specialist John Abraham, MD. Dr. Abraham, director of the Jefferson Musculoskeletal Oncology Center, ordered a biopsy. The results revealed that Carlos had a rare bone cancer, synovial sarcoma, and that he would likely need to have a below-the-knee amputation.
The Jefferson Musculoskeletal Oncology Center in Philadelphia takes a multidisciplinary approach that combines the oncology services of the NCI-designated Kimmel Cancer Center at Jefferson and the orthopedic expertise of the Rothman Institute at Jefferson.
“Just hearing cancer, you think of it being terminal,” Carlos says. “That’s the worst-case scenario. I didn’t even know this kind of cancer existed, and then to hear it could be anywhere in my body…”
Before surgery, Dr. Abraham told Carlos he would need to see if the cancer had spread. Carlos then had to undergo chemotherapy in an attempt to shrink the tumor sufficiently for Dr. Abraham to remove it surgically without an amputation.
“At the end of chemo, I was tired, but I was able to walk without crutches,” Carlos recalls. “Then they did one more test to see if the tumor had shrunk enough.”
But the tumor was still too big to ensure the cancer didn’t metastasize. Dr. Abraham told Carlos he would need to perform an amputation and soon, before the cancer could spread beyond his ankle.
“They gave me three weeks or so before the amputation,” he says. “I started to feel normal again. My hair was starting to grow back. I was feeling better.”
So, before his surgery, Carlos and his wife decided to take the kids down to Ocean City, Maryland, an annual tradition the family had started five years earlier. They had delayed the trip until the end of the summer, when Carlos’ chemotherapy was scheduled to end and he would feel well enough to go.
Carlos wanted to stick his toes in the sand one last time. And he wanted his kids – ages six and eight – to have the stability of that tradition even as they saw their dad go through so much as he fought the cancer.
“I have too much life to live to just have given up,” he says. And throughout his care, his family has given him the strength to continue fighting.
After the family returned home to Philadelphia, Carlos came to Jefferson for his surgery. While he was still in the hospital, his rehabilitation began. The 34-year-old had to relearn the basics of movement, such as how to get into the bathtub and in and out of the car.
“Having everything – my surgeon, my oncologist and even the support team handling my care – in a single location definitely made a difficult situation easier,” Carlos says. “Today, I am cancer free and getting around a lot better. I’m glad to have had Jefferson with me every step of the way.”
Now Carlos says, with Jefferson’s help, “I can take the next step.”