Sarcoma Slam Dunk
November 05, 2019
Sports were always a big part of Sherman Edmonds’ life. Growing up to be a towering 6'5", he was destined to play basketball, first at Fairleigh Dickinson University, then overseas in Chile, Santo Domingo and Milan. Eventually he took ball playing back home and competed with his favorite teammates, his daughter and son, now 31 and 36. Ball playing was put on hold, however, when early last year, the 63-year-old from Sicklerville, New Jersey, noticed a raised, slightly sore mark on his left thigh. He wasn’t initially alarmed, supposing he’d pulled a muscle or bumped himself while working around the house, the yard or the garage. “I’m notorious for that,” he chuckles. But when the mark didn’t go away, he thought a trip to his general practitioner was warranted.
An X-ray was inconclusive, but after an MRI, Sherman’s doctor sent him to an oncologist who had treated him a few years before for a sarcoma on his forearm. The oncologist examined Sherman, looked at his MRI and ordered a biopsy. A specialized surgeon would have to perform the biopsy with precise technique in order to minimize the need for more extensive surgery later, if necessary.
The oncologist looked Sherman in the eye and told him that there was only one person he trusted to send him to: Francis R. Patterson, M.D., chief of orthopedic oncology at Hackensack University Medical Center and director of the Skin and Sarcoma Division of the John Theurer Cancer Center.
Sherman felt a pit in his stomach. “How well do you know this guy?” he said. A smile quickly came over the oncologist’s face. They’d worked together for many years. “When I saw that smile at the mention of Dr. Patterson’s name, I felt a lot better, quickly,” Sherman says.
Sherman lives nearly two hours away from Dr. Patterson’s office in Hackensack but felt that it was well worth the drive for his subspecialized expertise. At the first appointment with Dr. Patterson, Sherman was immediately impressed. Dr. Patterson walked into the exam room, introduced himself and his team, and shook his hand. “I think I have a good grip, but this guy commands the room,” Sherman says. “His height doesn’t hurt: He’s taller than I am!”
Dr. Patterson had a hunch this was a rare type of cancer that starts in the soft tissue. Unfortunately, the biopsy confirmed a large, high-grade, malignant soft-tissue sarcoma.
And it was quite large—one of the biggest that Dr. Patterson had ever seen, in fact.
As a resident counselor for homeless teens and a retired educator, Sherman is accustomed to conversations about serious and complicated issues. “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of someone taking the time not just to talk, but to really listen,” he says.
Cancer is about as serious and complicated a topic as it gets. “You never want to hear news like that. So it was important that I surrounded myself with people who would support my quest to get better, not just take my co-payment and get me out of the office as quickly as possible,” he says.
Sherman felt certain that Dr. Patterson was the right doctor for that quest. “He listened to all my questions, and although it was really heavy stuff, he was very reassuring. It just made me feel better overall—kind of like wearing old socks with a new pair of shoes. I was just a lot more comfortable with the news knowing Dr. Patterson was on my side,” he says.
Adds Dr. Patterson, “I chose this specialty because I wanted to have a real impact on people’s lives. When I treat someone with a tumor, there’s a lot at stake. I work to save somebody’s leg and their life.”
The first step was chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. Next, Dr. Patterson performed a wide resection of the tumor, which involved removing a lot of the muscle in the quadricep and thigh, plus blood vessels and nerves. The surgery lasted a grueling eight hours and involved a cohesive team: Dr. Patterson, plastic surgeon Frank S. Ciminello, M.D., and vascular surgeons Massimo M. Napolitano, M.D., and Kristin Cook, M.D.
A Life of Opportunity and Challenges
As Sherman roused slowly from the anesthesia, he felt his son kiss him on the forehead. “You’re going to be OK, Dad,” his son whispered to him. As Sherman looked down at the bandage, which extended from the bottom of his foot past his stomach, he prayed he would.
Within a few days, his physical therapist got Sherman upright and walking with a walker. Next was rehab, where Sherman learned to walk with a cane and climb stairs.
Currently, he’s getting chemotherapy and will eventually need radiation as well.
Because the cancer had not metastasized, his prognosis is promising. For the moment, basketball is out. But that’s OK. “I’ve had a life of opportunity and challenges, and when it’s time, I’m going to go out a winner.”
Though he adds quickly, “But I’m not leaving any time soon!”
Learn more about our multidisciplinary approach to treating sarcomas.
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