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For Ed Walsh cancer appeared out of the blue. In August 2005, at 52, his wife noticed a golf-ball sized growth on his upper back that had never been there before. Although he got conflicting advice about what to do – “some doctors said leave it alone, others said biopsy or remove it altogether,” Ed opted to have the lump removed.
A golf-ball sized growth on Ed's back turned out to be sarcoma.
“A week later I’m with my wife and daughter in the surgeon’s office, and he says there’s a malignancy. I thought I must have heard him wrong.” Ed had never been sick before, or had any kind of surgery at all.
Ed figured he was in the clear and that the surgery took care of the problem. “But when I went to my local oncologist, he told me that sarcoma is a rare type of cancer and only certain hospitals treated it. Luckily, my insurance covered treatment at Fox Chase Cancer Center, so that’s where we went.”
At Fox Chase, Ed met with a surgical oncologist who specializes in difficult to treat sarcomas who explained why he needed to operate - to be sure that all the margins were clean. Following surgery, Ed would likely require a course of radiation therapy.
In November, Ed underwent the delicate surgery. Despite the radiation treatment, the cancer recurred. “It was like an alien,” says Ed, who needed more aggressive surgery. The surgeon performed a second procedure in which he removed a section of Ed’s back and shoulder muscle. As soon as his part was done, Neal S. Topham, MD, FACS, chief of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Fox Chase, stepped in to perform the reconstruction.
“Dr. Topham is a very compassionate surgeon.”
“Dr. Topham is a very compassionate and communicative surgeon,” recalls Ed. “I trust my Fox Chase team with my life. It’s not easy these days to find somebody you really trust. Doctors aren’t always right. If I’d listened to my original doctors, I might be dead now.”
Unfortunately, Ed’s journey with sarcoma was far from over. His disease was particularly aggressive. In December 2006, during a follow-up visit, his surgeon noticed a growth on his T-5 vertebrae. Ed's surgical team performed a lengthy 12-hour surgery involving the removal of his vertebrae and part of a rib. He now has a titanium rod that holds his vertebrate together to support his back. It was a challenging surgery and involved 19 days in the hospital and rehabilitation. A few years later, doctors discovered another spot on the upper left lobe of Ed’s lung, which required yet another surgery.
Even with several surgeries under his belt, Ed says he tries to stay positive. “But I’m realistic too. I can expect that this cancer will show up again one day. And when it does, I trust my Fox Chase team to take care of me.”