When I was diagnosed with probable chondrosarcoma just over five years ago, I madly scanned the internet looking for more information, stories from “survivors”, details of rehab, anything I could find. There was then, and continues to be, pretty much nothing about chondrosarcoma on the internet. It’s a very rare bone cancer (about 2900 adult bone cancers are diagnosed each year in the US, with about 3/5ths of them in men–and chondrosarcoma represents about 1/3rd of those bone cancers, more or less:link here). The only treatment is surgery (the ACS notes that “most cases do not require amputation”). Five year survival is about 80%, although my surgeon told me that all of his patients are cured, an attitude I quite liked then and continue to like now. I think a lot of the survival rate depends on the age of the patient, as I was relatively young, relatively healthy, and my cancer was caught relatively early.
As chondrosarcomas go, I was pretty lucky. It was caught early enough that it could be treated without amputation, just a removal and a bone graft. A plate was used to stabilize the weak bone and I had it removed a year and a half after my surgery. I was determined to do agility at the same pace after the surgery as before the surgery, and to that end, I pursued rehabilitation ruthlessly. I was fortunate to find several physical therapists who believed that running reasonably fast was a reasonable goal. It helped that my surgeon took the time to figure out how to do minimal muscle damage, although I have realized lately that there are still a few things that I’m working around.
This is the part where I thank Elly, my oldest standard poodle, for her role in catching my chondrosarcoma early. When I fell while doing agility–a dog sport to which Elly introduced me and which I immediately adored–and the pain in my knee just didn’t get better, even after weeks of babying it, I didn’t just let it go with the “arthritis” diagnosis of my primary doctor; I went and saw a sports medicine specialist (someone who had fixed the knees of another agility competitor), who did an x-ray and sent me for an MRI. He called me as I was driving home from the MRI to tell me I probably had bone cancer (not something you should tell someone who is driving, but I survived that) and that I had an appointment with the orthopedic oncologist surgeon the next week. Two weeks after that, I had the surgery. Thank you, Elly, and thanks to the entire agility community for helping make my recovery successful.