Victor and her fiancé, Jonathan Berg, were eagerly anticipating their
trip to Las Vegas to celebrate his 30th birthday. But it was only one
week to departure, and Victor could no longer ignore the shooting pain
from her right shin to her hip.
"I was in
perfect health, but I had this lingering problem," she says.
"I had felt the first pain about a year and a half before then,
but it was intermittent. I thought it was a pulled muscle."
Victor had spent
five months in physical therapy, but instead of improving, the pain
was becoming constant. Her doctor thought it was sciatica, and she was
intending to have back surgery to relieve the irritated nerve. An
orthopaedic surgeon took preliminary X-rays, and detected a tumor
above her femur (thigh bone).
cancelled their vacation and put their wedding plans on hold. "I
was devastated and in disbelief," Victor says. "At the age
of 26, I never expected it to be cancer."
Her case was
referred to Dr. Donald Hackbarth Jr., an orthopaedic surgeon with
Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin Clinical Cancer
Center. He is part of an interdisciplinary team of physicians who are
experts in the complexities of musculoskeletal cancers, or sarcomas.
These malignant tumors compress and destroy bone tissue as they grow,
causing pain and swelling. Development of a sarcoma is currently
believed to be a random event.
evaluated Victor’s bone scans, which revealed a large destructive
tumor and mass outside the femur. A pathologist processed the biopsy,
which showed a particular gene rearrangement, or fingerprint, of a
rare form of cancer. On Nov. 2, 2010, Victor was diagnosed with Ewing’s
sarcoma, which represents 1 percent of all childhood cancers.
majority of cases occur before age 20. Stacy was at the upper limit of
the age group, but 10 percent of patients with Ewing’s sarcoma are
between 20 and 30 years old," Hackbarth says.
This type of
sarcoma has a high propensity for metastasis (spread), usually to the
lungs, but responds well to chemotherapy. "Surgery is the
mainstay, but chemotherapy takes an important role in the treatment of
Ewing’s sarcoma," says Dr. John Charlson, Victor’s
oncologist. "It is another weapon against cancer that is helping
to improve survival rates."
treatment plan originally included 14 rounds of chemotherapy, limb
salvage surgery and radiation therapy. She began chemotherapy
immediately, but suffered greatly from the side effects and could
withstand only 11 rounds.
At one point,
Victor had severe damage to her digestive system and was unable to eat
or drink. She was readmitted to the hospital and administered an IV.
"That was when I lost the most weight; I was down to 89
pounds," she says.
explained that Victor’s case necessitated a vigorous chemotherapy
regimen. "It was very arduous but it had to be done. Chemotherapy
was an ‘insurance policy’ for Stacy’s long-term wellness and
staying cancer-free," he says.
surgery, or the practice of replacing bones and joints affected by
cancer instead of amputation, was performed by Hackbarth in March
2011. Victor required a complete resection to remove the tumor, and
thanks to the chemotherapy, there were no live cancer cells. A
metallic implant reconstructed her entire knee, femur and hip.
Radiation therapy was not required. In September 2011, a second
surgery removed scar tissue in her knee to elevate her mobility.
described the resection as "rather formidable surgery," but
says, "Stacy is doing very well. She wants to use the
reconstruction to maximize her abilities and do everyday activities.
She motivates us."
therapy has helped Victor advance to walking with a cane, with a
barely noticeable limp. She says, "I’m getting faster. I have
to keep pushing the leg, pushing myself to walk without
pushes herself with a weekly sand volleyball game. She used to play in
high school, and has been with this team for five years. "It is
quite difficult, but to me this is the best therapy," she says.
"I’m doing something I love around people who are very
encouraging and willing to let me test myself."
acknowledged Victor’s athleticism. "We don’t like our
patients to run, but we want them to be as normal as possible."
volleyball, a normal life for Victor includes her bank job, which she
returned to in January 2012. Her wedding to Berg is back on schedule,
set for Dec. 8. Additionally, the couple recently moved to Cedarburg,
where they purchased a home.
summer, when I had chemotherapy, I promised myself to go out and live
when it was over. It’s catching up to me now," Victor says with
a laugh. "After this year, hopefully things will calm down."
Now age 28,
Victor admits that some days still get her down, that she can be
disappointed by the limits of her lifestyle. But then she remembers
her huge support network. "It’s great to have so many people
includes her team of physicians, who will continue to monitor her.
"We never say goodbye to our patients," Hackbarth says.
At nearly two
years from Victor’s diagnosis, "We’re in surveillance
mode," says Charlson. Every three months, CT and PET scans verify
that the cancer hasn’t returned to the initial site or metastasized
to another location. At three and four years after her diagnosis, the
scans will be scheduled every four to six months. By year five, Victor’s
visits will be on an annual basis. "By then, there are slim odds
of recurrence," Charlson explains.
proud of myself for getting through this," Victor says. "My
medical team is the best. I am very grateful."
however, feels fortunate that Victor chose to work with them.
"Stacy is the center of this team. She is doing the hardest work,
and she is doing a fantastic job."