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Sarcoma Grant Recipient Lauren Harback

A cancer diagnosis is a life-changing experience and takes us on a journey. Everyone’s journey has a unique story, and there really isn’t any “right” way to face cancer. For this month’s featured Sarcoma Survivor story, we chose to highlight Lauren Harback from Johnson City, TN. The Move For Jenn Foundation recently issued a grant to Lauren which included a running blade, knee, and socket. She stole our hearts when we read her grant application. Like Jenn Andrews, Lauren lost her leg this past February to sarcoma. Lauren has had a rough year from finding out she had cancer, and experiencing a miscarriage all within a short timeframe. Despite the hardships she has faced, she has remained positive and is wanting to encourage other cancer survivors that they can get through it if they remain strong and positive. Read Lauren’s cancer journey below.

Right Calf Pain

It all started with pain in my right calf. I felt the need to call my primary physician to make an appointment due to the swelling and pain I was experiencing. I knew something wasn’t right, I just wasn’t quite sure what it was. My doctor dismissed my concerns and recommended wearing compression socks. I’m a nurse and often have 12-hour shifts, so I thought it was a bit strange that’s what was recommended because only one of my calves was swollen, not both. As recommended, I wore the compression socks. After my 12 hour shift, my calf was even more swollen. So swollen in fact, I could barely even walk. Having a medical background, my intuition told me to make an appointment with an orthopedic physician. They took x-rays which came back negative for breaks, in addition to a doppler which was negative for blood clots. The doppler results did, however, show a black tear dropped shape. I’ve seen enough doppler results to know that wasn’t normal.

A few days later, I received a call indicating it was either a cyst or a tumor located in my nerve sheath which meant I had to travel over 4 hours away to Nashville to see an orthopedic oncologist for a consultation and treatment.

Hearing the word oncologist and knowing that was associated with cancer I didn’t know how to feel, but I told myself that it was more than likely just a fluid-filled cyst, because who gets a cancerous tumor of the nerve in their calf?

Sarcoma Diagnosis On My Birthday

On December 21st, 2018, my 31st birthday, I received a call from my oncologist in Nashville. It’s not the birthday present anyone wants to receive. She gave me the diagnosis of cancer, and that I had a sarcoma of the right calf that might be related to neurofibromatosis. This is the exact circumstance many fear; receiving the call and hearing the word “cancer.”

Living with Cancer 

After traveling to Nashville as advised, the orthopedic oncologist I saw told me I had a very large tumor and it needed to be treated very aggressively. It was then that I realized I needed to remain positive despite the news I had just received.

Living with cancer for me was scary, but I thought about my family and how we were going to get through it together. I have so many life goals that I want to accomplish still like running a marathon and returning back to school to receive my RN. My husband and I have a 5-year-old daughter who we had to share the news with. I explained to her what might happen if I had to undergo chemotherapy.

Above Knee Amputation

Shortly after I received the news from my orthopedic oncologist that I had a large tumor, I prepared to start chemo. I had my pre-chemo labs completed, my port placed, and a PET scan. Thankfully the PET scan came back clear.

My initial treatment plan was to receive 3 different kinds of chemo for 5 weeks followed by radiation. However, the PET scan discovered that I was pregnant. I didn’t want to terminate my pregnancy, so I opted out of chemo. My two choices after finding out I was pregnant was to either end my pregnancy and continue with the treatment plan as discussed, or I could keep the baby and go straight to surgery. My oncologist told me that even with the chemo treatments, chances are that I would still have to have chemo due to the size and location of my tumor. The tumor that was located in my right calf was 14.5” long and approximately 6” wide.

I chose to proceed with an amputation above the knee. The surgery went successfully and I did great. I received my prosthetic and returned to work on light duty.

How Cancer Changed My Life

To say cancer has changed my life is an understatement. After going through the whole process, so many people have told me that my positive outlook had amazed them, and brought them encouragement. Despite everything I’ve experienced, it has brought my family closer than ever.

It is my hope that one day I can organize a 5K/10K in my area to help raise money for uninsured amputees so they can receive prosthetics, medication, and renovations to their home if needed.

Raising sarcoma awareness for my community means everything to me. I would love to see more stores incorporate accessible entrances, and work with scrub companies to design amputee friendly clothing. I want to show people that just because I had cancer and lost my leg that I did not lose my drive and my determination. I want to be an encouragement to other individuals like me.

Above Knee Amputation Prosthesis

When I received word that Jenn & Miles Andrews of the Move For Jenn Foundation paid for the socket and had partnered with Endolite, who donated the running blade and knee, my heart practically stopped.

Receiving the running blade, knee and socket, gave me a feeling of spiritual relief. I am very thankful for organizations like Endolite and the Move for Jenn Foundation that gives amputees the opportunity to do things that might not be possible if grants were not available. I want to thank their foundation for serving amputees and wanting to make a positive impact, changing sarcoma survivor’s lives one at a time.

Participating In A Virtual Run

In appreciation, I will be organizing my own virtual run for the Pajamas All Day 5K (11/2/19), in addition to other fundraisers in Tennessee to help the Move For Jenn Foundation.

If you're interested in donating to my virtual team, Lauren's Sarcoma Warriors, please click here.

Read Lauren's Survivor Story Q+A Here!

Read the Johnson City Press Article On Lauren