Sarcoma can be beat, one step at a time

Parker Kress with Dr. Benjamin J. MillerMy name is Parker Kress, and I’m a cancer survivor.

I was told on Dec. 6, 2014, that doctors suspected I had a type of sarcoma. I was 13 years old.

It all started one night when I felt unexplainable pain in my right ankle. We went to our local emergency room where they gave me pain meds until the pain went away. After a MRI and following up with my pediatrician, we were told it was just growing pains. About a month later, we noticed my right leg was swollen, so we went to the emergency room again. They didn’t see anything on the X-ray and told us to follow up with my pediatrician. My mom thought it was a blood clot and wasn’t comfortable with that answer. I remember jokingly saying, “it’s probably cancer.”

So they ended up doing an ultrasound, and they found a mass. They had missed it before because the pain was in my ankle and the tumor was higher up, just under my knee. After several hours and more scans, they came in and told us they had spoken to University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital. They thought the mass was a type of sarcoma. I was confused because I had no idea what that was. My grandma, who was also there, explained to me that it was a type of cancer. I was so scared. Many thoughts raced through my mind. The main one being, “am I going to die?”

They told us we needed to go to Iowa City, so we left and drove straight there. Once we arrived, they put me in the first of many rooms I would stay in over the next year. When we got there, things felt like they were going in slow motion. Many different doctors and nurses came in and asked me questions. Then family members, one after another, were coming in. Things got very overwhelming.

I sent my friends text messages telling them I had cancer. Some gave support right away and some didn’t know how to react. Others were in disbelief.

The next day would be my port placement and biopsy surgery. That’s when we met Dr. Benjamin Miller, my surgeon. My first impression was that he was very confident, which I liked. This was my first surgery ever, so I was pretty nervous. When I woke up from surgery, I was a little sore, but it wasn’t too bad.

A couple days later the results of the biopsy confirmed I had Ewing’s sarcoma located in my right tibia. The tumor was large and if it didn’t respond well to chemo, I would need an amputation. The good news was it didn’t spread anywhere else.

I received six different types of chemo over the next year. I was in the hospital almost every other week getting chemo. Some stays were for five days at a time, and a few were overnight stays. On my weeks off, I would still get one outpatient chemo treatment. Chemo was very, very hard for me, I threw up every day I received chemo and sometimes even a few days after. I slept most of the time. I didn’t eat much and lost 27 pounds.

After about three months of chemo, it would be time for the biggest surgery of my life, the removal of the tumor. I was really nervous about this surgery, but it helped knowing Dr. Miller was my surgeon. The day of my surgery I had a lot of support. A lot of my friends sent text messages or posted something on social media supporting me. Also, many family members came up to Iowa City the day of the surgery. The doctors did a great job calming me down before the surgery as well.

After the surgery I thought I would be in a horrendous amount of pain, but to my surprise I wasn’t. It was painful to get the drain taken out, but the hardest part was not being able to bear weight on my leg. They told us they were able to get all of the tumor out, and that I was cancer free. Hearing that made me the happiest I had been in a long time.

About a month later, my leg wasn’t looking the best. Dr. Miller wanted to do a skin graph to ensure my leg would heal okay. I wasn’t nervous at all for this surgery. I was nervous about the healing process because if it didn’t heal well, I would most likely need an amputation. After a couple of days Dr. Miller took the cast off. While he was looking at my leg, I don’t think I’ve ever been more anxious. Luckily he said my leg looked okay, and they put another cast on.

That same month, a girl I had met at the hospital passed away. She also had Ewing’s sarcoma. I was supposed to start chemo, but we delayed it a few days so I could go to her visitation and funeral. I was an honorary pallbearer and walked on my crutches next to her casket at the cemetery. Going to her funeral was sad and very hard. It was hard to see someone I knew, with the same cancer as me, pass away. It encouraged me to fight harder.

Shortly after my surgery they wanted to start chemo again to make sure they killed every cancer cell and it didn’t come back. Starting chemo again didn’t make me happy, but I knew it had to happen. I was hoping after the first couple rounds of chemo my body would be used to it so it would be easier, but I was completely wrong. Chemo only got worse.

I wouldn’t have made it through without my mom and grandma. They were always at the hospital by my side. When I wasn’t sleeping, we watched movies, played games, and even got in water fights using syringes.

A couple months into chemo, Dr. Miller said I didn’t need a cast anymore and I could start to bear weight again, but very slowly. I was happy beyond belief because I had seven casts, and they were really annoying. I would also start physical therapy to help me. Most people seem to hate physical therapy, but I really liked it because between appointments I could tell how much I was improving.

Finally, after eight more months of chemo, I was finished. My final chemo treatment was on Dec. 5, 2015. One day short of a year after I was diagnosed.

The final step was my port removal on Dec. 31, which would mean I would start 2016 normal again.

Six months later, here I am cancer free. I spent over 100 days in the hospital - 80 total days of chemotherapy treatments (70 inpatient and 10 outpatient), six fever admissions, and four surgeries. I also endured over 100 needle pokes, and was given 17 shots at home to help me recover from chemo. I took over 700 pills. I spent eight months on crutches. I also had several blood transfusions and a platelet transfusion. I’ve had multiple CT scans, PET scans, nuclear med/bone scans, MRIs, X-rays, ultrasounds, echo-cardiograms, and EKGs. I was supposed to take a mouth rinse three times per day, but it was disgusting and made me throw up, so I didn’t do it.

My leg still isn’t 100 percent, but I am full weight bearing. I’m still building strength and working on running again. Late effects of chemo are still affecting me. Sometimes I get this nasty taste in my mouth that I would sometimes get while receiving chemo. I also don’t have the energy most teenagers do at my age, but it’s slowly coming back.

Throughout my fight with cancer there were plenty of bad things that happened, but I didn’t let that bring me down. Even though bad things happened, many good things came out of it. I met many great people and organizations that do amazing things. I’ve met other cancer fighters, a few celebrities, some University of Iowa athletes and coaches – all of them inspired me to keep fighting and have left a lasting impression on me. All the things that happened to me have made me a better person today. I appreciate life more now.

I hope I inspire other people with cancer to fight. I encourage others to donate and help find a cure so nobody has to go through what I did. More research and better treatments will hopefully mean nobody else will pass away.