I recently realized that my left leg is still far weaker than its companion. That I’ve grown accustomed to allowing the right to carry more than its fair share of the burden. During my initial recovery from surgery I did physical therapy and then signed up for and started going to a gym. I continued the gym through the first winter. Trying to exercise in the cold was difficult, and navigating snow and ice seemed treacherous. But as soon as spring arrived I told myself that going out for walks and bike rides was sufficient, and I could skip the gym.
Truthfully, I hate the gym. I don’t hate exercise – I hate the gym. If I could go to the gym and be alone I’d be fine. And I recognize that this isn’t the fault of other gym attendees – this is my anxiety, my hangup. Everyone’s here for the same reason, I tell myself. No one’s watching you. No one cares.
I returned to the gym about a week ago. It was confirmation of how weak my leg is. On many of the machines, my left leg can only handle half – or even less – of the weight that my right can. And it’s not just muscle weakness, though that’s profound. It’s also flexibility. And it’s pain. Doing leg lifts with a mere 30 pounds hurts my knee. It’s not a severe pain, not a pain that’s sufficient to stop me from doing the exercise, but it’s more than enough to acknowledge.
Another 4 months another x-ray, and another bout of scanxiety as I wait for the disc of images to arrive and be analyzed by my doc on the east coast. The ortho here who diagnosed me took a glance and thinks it looks no different from the last scan, so that’s somewhat of a relief. I never feel full relief until I hear from the experts though.
Well, honestly, I never feel full relief. There’s a reason for recurring x-rays far out into the future.
I live in a town of approximately 100,000 people in central Oregon. When I was diagnosed with a bone tumor at one of the two orthopedists in the city, I was straight away handed my file and x-rays and referred out to specialists in Portland, Seattle and even Texas, because there’s literally no one in my hometown who is qualified to treat my GCT. I ultimately chose to have it handled at Shands in Florida, for a variety of reasons; I have family working in that organization who helped fast track my case, I have family in Florida who could put us up and assist with recovery and, most important of all, Shands is a learning hospital that has a surgeon on staff who specializes in rare tumors including GCT.
My surgery for GCT happened in December of 2017. It’s officially been over a year.
The knee/leg remains problematic. There’s still a significant dead spot due to nerve damage. It’s still prone to becoming sore and tender, and hasn’t the range of movement of its counterpart. It still doesn’t feel normal, like it used to. It doesn’t feel completely right. At this point, a year on, I wonder if this is the new normal. If you’ve read my previous posts, this isn’t news to you.
Over the holidays I spent a couple of weeks helping the in-laws prepare their house for sale, doing frankly quite a bit more manual labor in successive days than I have since the surgery. The area on the outside of my knee, the around the LCL, became painfully sore. This frightened me, because this is the pain I had started experiencing prior to my tumor diagnosis. Weird, since the tumor is on the inside of my leg, but perhaps the irritation came from unconscious favoring or compensating. At any rate, I opted to take a few days and chill on the labor. The pain subsided, but then I went for a mountain bike ride. By the time I’d returned from it the pain was sufficient to effect my walking. My limp was back. That was over a week ago, and while I’m not limping regularly now, it’s still tender. I’m not going down the stairs evenly as I was. Sitting still for any length of time causes it to stiffen up. To be fair, it’s quite cold here now, and that may be contributing to the stiffness.
I came across this interesting site talking about surgery and hardware in my researching the issues I’ve been having. It’s been 9 months since my surgery, and my knee isn’t right. It’s still slowly improving – I think – but I still have to favor it quite a bit. I can’t kneel on it with weight, it hasn’t the range of motion it used to, and I have to be very careful not to hit the area where the hardware is against anything, even lightly. On cold days or after serious exertion it hurts – not just where the tumor was, but down the tibia, where the hardware reaches.
I never before considered that bones – living bones – bend, and hardware like what’s installed after a surgery like GCT treatment means preventing part of the bone from bending, and placing stress on it. I think that the layman’s assumption about hardware is that it’s supposed to make the area where it’s placed stronger. And in some ways it does… but in others it makes it in a way weaker too.
This time around I had to provide x-rays of my lungs as well as the knee, as GCT can metastasize to the lungs. This proved no small feat, as the facility I go to here in town specializes in orthopedic and decidedly not lungs. The doc I’ve been seeing from the start – the Doc who diagnosed my tumor – assured me that while they couldn’t evaluate a lung x-ray, they’d be happy to take it. This is fine, since I send all my x-rays off to the team in Florida who performed my surgery.
Of course this didn’t go as planned. My normal doc wasn’t in the office the day of my appointment, and everyone else seemed befuddled by the idea that I wanted a lung scan. An appointment that should have been 10 minutes stretched to over an hour as I refused the knee x-ray without also having the lungs. Eventually a doc on duty responded to my increasing surliness by actually going through my case notes and discovering that I had indeed been assured they’d do it.
Then, as is par for the course, they send me home with a disc that only held the lung scans – no knee. Luckily, ever since I had disc lost in the mail I’ve made a point of cutting and ISO before sending them, and this time I noticed the lack of any knee images. Back up to the office I went to pick up another disc.
Two days ago was the 8 month mark of my surgery for the tumor in my tibia. I’ve come to the inescapable conclusion that my leg is forever changed from it, and that’s just something to live with. It gets stiff. It gets sore. It randomly hurts. The nerve deadened area long since stabilized but doesn’t feel as if it has shrunk at all. It feels… delicate. Kneeling on it is a sketchy proposition. And although I can now bend it nearly as fully as my other leg, doing so feels wrong. Doing so, things within feel crushed and stretched and at-risk.
Despite the above paragraph, this isn’t a downer update. I’m leagues from where I’ve been since the surgery. I still don’t run at all, but I’ve begun mountain biking again.
Someone coined the term “scanxiety,” and I have it. Scanxiety is the anxiety that precedes the next x-ray. It’s a weird, double edged thing. I’m simultaneously scared and anxious, yet also excited to (hopefully) feel the relief of getting another All Clear from the docs. Giant cell tumors have an estimated 20% chance of recurrence/growing anew. Matters are made worse for me since the x-ray is done here locally but then has to be mailed (yes, mailed, because apparently parts of the medical profession are stuck in pre Y2K land) to the surgeons who did the procedure in Florida.
Today is 4 months to the day of my GCT surgery. No more official PT for me. I “graduated,” whatever that means. To continue my progress I joined a gym for the first time in years. There I do the various leg machines I had been doing in PT. I also walk on the treadmill on days where I haven’t been able to go for a walk outside. I still cannot jog or run, though I make an attempt about once a week. The muscles are willing – sort of – but the knee can’t yet handle the impact. This makes the treadmill boring and frustrating. I used to run at 6.5-7 miles an hour on a treadmill. Now it takes me half an hour to do 2 miles. I do pretty well on most of the leg machines, but the one where weight is lifted by the front of the ankle is my nemesis. 25 pounds is too much, and makes the knee hurt.
There are still good days and bad. Weather continues to effect it dramatically, as does night time. Some mornings (like this morning) it wakes me up with a persistent aching. It’s odd where it can hurt. Some places make sense, but sometimes pain will come from well below the incision. Perhaps that’s a result of the hardware and screws. I’m also having trouble with what I’ll call restless leg syndrome. No matter how tired I am I find that I cannot sit still or find a comfortable position in bed. It’s frustrating.