“I wasn’t shocked that it was cancer. I was shocked that the results weren’t what I thought.” This is the first thought that came to mind when Jackie Freese, senior English and communication major, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an extremely rare form of bone cancer.
It all began last April when Freese was running on a treadmill. For days after running, she experienced pain in her lower left leg. Freese didn’t think much of the pain and chalked it up to the uncommonly strenuous exercise. She took some aspirin and moved on. The pain persisted and actually worsened through until the end of the school year.
Jackie turned 21 that June and decided to hold on a doctor’s appointment until after her birthday festivities. “That was the biggest mistake I made. I should have never waited that long,” Freese said. By this point, the pain was keeping her awake at night and made it difficult to walk.
Late June, Freese made an appointment with her orthopedic doctor. X-rays showed nothing unusual but after a week of still living with pain, Freese called the doctor again. This time an MRI was performed that showed an abnormality in her leg. The abnormality could have been caused by radiation that Freese had done on her leg in high school, but doctors wanted to take no risks.
The following week the doctors did a bone biopsy on her leg. This was Freese’s third bone biopsy in seven years, so she didn’t think anything of it; she thought that she merely pulled a muscle. Later that week, Freese’s mother called the doctor to order more pain medicine. This is when the doctor told Freese’s mother that her daughter had osteosarcoma.
Osteosarcoma is so rare that only 900 new cases develop world wide every year. To put that number into perspective, testicular cancer is considered to be rare and 9,000 new cases develop each year. The disease occurs in children and adolescents, mostly between the ages of 14 and 25.
This was not the first time that Freese was faced with life altering news. When she was a freshman in high school, doctors discovered benign bone tumors all throughout her left leg. She was one of the first cases doctors ever saw of this nature. Her treatment included low dose chemotherapy and high doses of radiation.
During the next two weeks, Freese was thrown into a whirlwind of blood tests, x-rays and MRI’s. Not to mention surgery to place a catheter in her chest and meeting her new team of doctors and nurses at the University of Pennsylvania.
“It hasn’t even set in. You’re thrown into everything so fast that you don’t even have time to respond. I’ve maybe cried twice since I found out, just because I’m so busy with it,” Freese said.
On July 29, 2004, Freese began her first round of chemotherapy. Freese will need to go through six rounds all together, each round consisting of three treatments and lasting for five weeks.
The first treatment Freese refers to as “the bad treatment.” The two drugs used for the treatment cause unbearable side effects including nausea, vomiting and extreme fatigue. “I can’t even read the newspaper sometimes,” Freese said. This is also the treatment that causes hair loss. After the first treatment, Freese has three weeks off and then receives another treatment on the fourth and fifth weeks. The side effects of the second two treatments are not as severe as the first. However, Freese does get bad mouth sores to the point that drinking water stings.
Currently, Freese is approaching her fifth round.
After her first chemotherapy treatment, Freese decided to donate her long curly hair to Locks of Love, an organization that collects hair to make wigs for cancer patients. Freese, who never had short hair before, loved her new hair style. One week later though her hair began to fall out in clumps. She couldn’t take the tickling feeling on the back of her neck as her hair fell out and hated waking up to a pillow full of hair in the morning. Freese decided to shave her head, which is not uncommon for cancer patients to do. “Its hair, it’ll grow back,” Freese said.
On Wednesday Nov. 3, Freese underwent surgery to replace her tibia bone with a metal rod and to have a full knee replacement. She went through two rounds of chemotherapy before the surgery so that the tumor would be smaller in size. If the tumor was less than 60 percent dead, surgeons would have to amputate her left leg. Freese went into surgery not knowing what she would wake up to.
Her doctors were pleasantly surprised when they discovered that the tumor was over 95 percent dead.
After she woke up from surgery, the first thing that Freese did was ask for anti-nausea medicine. After taking the medicine and coming to, Freese looked down and thought “cool, I still have my leg.”
After the surgery Freese had to use crutches. “I’m still on crutches, but I’ve graduated to only using one,” Freese said with a chuckle. Freese is in physical therapy where she is learning how to walk properly again and how to bend her knee.
Despite her current medical condition, Freese needs to stay in school for insurance reasons. She tried to pick professors that she has had before and who knew her work ethic. In her opinion, she is lucky to have gone to a small school. If she were at a big school, Freese feels as though she would have had to take a year off and graduated late. “It’s frustrating. I’m very used to being on top of my school work,” Freese said. Freese is planning on graduating on time this May with her fellow seniors.
Freese was scheduled to live at the Cabrini Apartment Complex with seniors Jana Fagotti, English and communication major, Cristin Marcy, English and communication major and Christa Angelloni, religious studies major. She was a commuter during the fall semester and planned to move in this March pending that her chemotherapy was complete. Unfortunately, her therapy won’t be finished until May. Nevertheless, Freese still visits when she can and spends a few days in the apartment with the other girls.
“I feel lucky to be part of what she considers to be her support system. She is an inspiration to me every day,” Fagotti said. Fagotti will never forget that day in July when Freese called her to tell her the news. All Freese had to say was “Jana,” and both began to cry.
Once when Fagotti, Marcy and Angelloni were in the kitchen of their apartment, they all stopped what they were doing and simply looked at one another. Without saying a word, they each knew what the others were thinking about; Jackie.