Sarcoma Story – Mel Bassett

Mel Bassett and family

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Type of Sarcoma: Osteosarcoma
Date of Diagnosis: 1993
Location: Distal Femur

On January 7, 1993, while working for a cellular company, I was dropping off some new cell phones to several local orthopedic doctors. One of them, Dr Buckley, noticed that I had some swelling in my right knee (I was wearing a skirt, which I normally never wear) that I had not yet noticed myself. After my sales call was finished, he sent me downstairs to get an x-ray, which unbeknownst to me at that time, would instantly change my life forever.

The x-ray showed a large tumor in my upper right distal femur. Dr Buckley explained that he had just finished his residency the year before at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, under several world-renowned orthopedic oncologists, which enabled him to immediately recognize that the size and shape of that tumor was most likely a cancerous one, called Osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer. Worse, he estimated that it was probably advanced cancer as well.

Wow. Life can certainly change on a dime. To think that if I had not worn a skirt that day, or sat next to a doctor who was very familiar with bone cancers, this wouldn’t even have been on anyone’s radar, including my own. Years later, Dr Buckley would tell me what he didn’t want to say that day…that I most likely would have died within the year had he not noticed something wrong with my knee. Wow, that was certainly a shock to hear. I still thank God (along with the many stars that had to align for that very moment to happen) for looking out for me in every way possible that day. To say that I am one lucky girl, is a huge understatement.

Treatment and Recovery
The very next day, I found myself at MGH, in Boston, having biopsy surgery. Initially, in the recovery room, I was erroneously told that benign results had come. However, that was very short lived, as later that night, my surgeon came into my room, looking very somber, and told me the frozen section actually came back as malignant…and advanced, at stage III already. As a result, I would be moving to the “chemo ward” to start chemotherapy the next day.

I’m still not sure what happened once I saw that needle coming closer and closer to my arm, but I do know that the shock and fear of it all finally had bubbled to the surface with my yelling at her to get out of my room. I just couldn’t process what was happening to me fast enough to “go with the flow” of what needed to be done in order to save my life from this awful disease.

For the next few hours, in the solitude of my hospital room, I cried and cried, until a few hours later, with another defining moment. An older, and clearly much wiser, nurse came into my room, pulled up a chair next to my bed, looked straight into my eyes, and I swear, into my soul, and point blank asked me if I wanted to live or die. I was quiet for a few minutes, and finally blurted out, in tears, that I definitely wanted to live. She then simply said this to me, which has never left me to this day…”if you want to live, then you need to accept help to do that. You need to mentally welcome the chemo into your body because it will single handedly allow you to live.” And then she put the chair back and walked out. Not another word was spoken. It left me very rattled.

That night was tough as my thoughts were all over the place. But, by the next day, I was mentally tougher and definitely more ready than ever to welcome the chemo into my body with all the positivity that I could muster, because….YES, I wanted to live! And so, I welcomed it. Every bit of it, every time from then on.

A few months later, in April, after three rounds of chemo, I had surgery to remove a partial section of my right femur, which was replaced with a cadaver thigh bone (allograft). My scar was 60 staples long running from a few inches below my knee to nearly the top of my thigh. After several weeks of recovery, I continued on chemo for the five days every month, for the next twelve months.

Yes, it was grueling, awful, and very scary, but a funny thing happened as each chemo session was behind me. I became more and more positive in my attitude and grateful that I had another day, another month, and that I was still here, fighting for my life. Being given another chance definitely changes you. It has to. In the end, when it was all behind me, I found myself to be a much more positive, upbeat thinking person, and one who was now very grateful for every day. I can thank osteosarcoma for that.

Life Now
Since then, life has been very good to me (even despite my having been diagnosed with two more primary malignant tumors, one in my right kidney in 2012 and then one in my left kidney in 2017)! I am now happily married, with a wonderful step-daughter and two beautiful daughters of my own, who are also considered to be miracles (I was told that both pregnancies wouldn’t go to full term due to the heavy amounts of chemo that I had). Am I glad that they were wrong! My girls are the true gifts that I gave myself many years ago when I decided to welcome that chemo into my body so that not only I could live, but that they could too someday!

Thoughts and Hints for New Patients
Hang in there! It is, no doubt, one of the scariest and worst experiences you will ever go through. But, you must be fully committed to completing all you need to do to stay healthy and alive. No one else can make that decision, but you. “Just do it” was my motto throughout the entire time. It helped me a lot, as did my wonderful family and friends who stuck by me through thick and thin.

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