As a junior in high school, I was very active with cross country, track, basketball, and running 5 miles a day. With all these activities, pain was a normal occurrence for me. When my knee started hurting and the trainer said it was shin splints, I wasn’t surprised. But over the next few weeks the pain increased and my knee continued to swell. My parents took me to a doctor, who said it was a ligament strain and that I needed to rest. I was disappointed that my athletics would be put on hold, but followed the doctor’s advice and treated my symptoms with Advil and ice.
I didn’t think to ask when I should start to feel better, or what to do if the pain and swelling got worse. As the symptoms persisted over the next 6 months, I assumed I was still healing. On a trip to Atlanta for a student conference, I was stretching my legs while waiting for my flight and felt something snap. I was rushed to the hospital where they did an MRI and found a tumor the size of a baseball in my leg. The tumor had been growing for months, and over time the pressure had created cracks in my femur, eventually causing it to break. Further testing found a second tumor, and I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma.
Cancer can happen to anyone no matter how young and healthy you are. My doctor’s diagnosis of ligament strain made sense for me—I was a young, healthy athlete with a specific symptom consistent with a ligament strain—but it turned out to be a sign of something more serious. My advice to other people is to listen to your body and communicate with your doctor. A persistent injury is worth getting looked at, so do yourself a favor and get it checked out. Always ask your doctor when you should start to feel better—and if treatment doesn’t help, go back to the doctor and keep pushing for answers until you figure out what your body is trying to tell you.
- severe knee pain and swelling that wouldn’t go away