The first signs of a problem for Dave appeared in 1982, aged 32. Dave was married with two young daughters and had a successful career as a Sales Engineer. Dave always enjoyed sport being a keen cyclist and playing squash for a local club, he also entered for the Nottingham Half Marathon in 1983. Dave also enjoyed playing the drums and this also kept him fit
What were the first signs or symptoms you experienced?
Around 18 months before diagnosis I started to get intermittent pain in my left knee so visited my doctor who diagnosed “loose ligaments” and advised pain killers and wearing a knee support. Despite this there was no improvement and further visits to the doctor were inconclusive, I decided would have to live with it.
Whilst away on business one night in 1983 I had a vigorous squash game. I woke up during the night with a severe pain in my leg and somehow managed to drive home the following day. I still have memories of screaming with pain during the journey. I do recall arriving home after a 2 hour journey, hopping from the car and collapsing in the house in agony.
How were you diagnosed?
My wife called the doctor who visited me at home, suggesting a possible strained muscle, prescribing pain killers and advising me to rest my leg for 2 weeks.
The pain increased and 2 days later the doctor was called again and this time referred me to A & E. At this stage I was unable to put any weight on my leg, and at times the pain was unbearable. After an examination at A & E, including an X-ray, I was sent home with some stronger painkillers and a referral to a Sports Injury Specialist who provisionally diagnosed a stress fracture of the left femur a with immediate referral to an Orthopaedic Consultant, who arranged for a biopsy of my left femur resulting in diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma. The affected part of my femur was removed during the biopsy.
What treatment did you have and how did it make you feel?
My Chemo regime was to be every 3 weeks for 2 years combined with 3 weeks of radiotherapy. My first round of chemotherapy was as an inpatient.
I had no idea what was in store for me, apart from losing my hair, nor did anyone warn me. The first reaction to the chemotherapy was a massive bout of sneezing, followed by being violently ill. Anti sickness drugs are supposedly far more effective today. All I recall the following day was feeling awful with barely the energy to talk. My wife arrived to take me home and I recall struggling to get upstairs having to stop every 3 to 4 steps to get my breath back.
From then on I would have my chemotherapy as an outpatient. I gradually got into a steady routine spending 2 weeks at work, chemo on a Tuesday and then a week off to recover.
All was going well until 9 months after starting my chemotherapy my femur fractured at the tumour site resulting in a 3 week stay in hospital for surgery to fix my femur with “Ender’s Nails” 4 titanium rods in the bone cavity. Amputation was also discussed but fortunately for me this surgery was successful. The nails are still in my femur.
The support from my employer was amazing, so I was able to concentrate on recovery.
What was life like after your treatment?
After the initial euphoria I became depressed, possibly due to perceived lack of attention and feeling insecure without regular treatment. This lasted for a few weeks and I gradually returned to a relatively normal life with regular check ups until 1995 when I was finally discharged 12 years after initial diagnosis. I gradually built up the strength in my leg and became a keen cyclist along with regular visits to the gym.
To celebrate my 50th birthday I fulfilled a long term ambition and commenced flying lessons. However, I was informed that prior to going solo I would have to undergo a full medical by a Civil Aviation Authority approved doctor. Following extensive questions about my medical history and a delay whilst enquiries were made I was finally declared medically fit to fly, going solo on the 30th July 2001 and qualifying as a Private Pilot in 2003.
How are you feeling now?
I am very lucky, I still have my leg. There are of course some long term effects. Pain in my leg varies from day to day, some days probably nothing then others feels as if it’s on fire inside. The nerves in my leg are damaged and around 5 – 6 years ago I started to experience restricted movement in my left foot and have to wear a support to help with walking. I had a scare 2 years ago following a fall. An MRI scan showed activity around the original tumour site, I was initially informed that the cancer may have returned, and was referred to Birmingham Royal Orthopaedic Oncology Department. The staff there were wonderful and much to my relief confirmed a stress fracture caused from my fall.
Now aged 67 it is 34 years since my original diagnosis. I’m fully retired with many interests and still playing drums in a band. I still have my leg although I do have a grumble about it some days, but I’m still active and enjoying life. I have been lucky enough to see my 2 daughters grow up and now enjoying the same with 2 grandchildren.
I am so grateful to all those in the NHS who supported and encouraged me to cope with the treatment and of course thanks to my family who no doubt have suffered seeing what I had to go through.