Pushing Through Pain to Find Answers

By Pat Carragher - July 01, 2022

Shelley Cors and her husband, Steve, on vacation in the U.K.
Shelley Cors and her husband, Steve, on vacation in the U.K.

In September 2014, Shelley Cors noticed a pain in her left thigh. She went to an orthopedic doctor to investigate the cause and the initial thought was a pinched sciatic nerve. When an infusion to relieve the pain didn’t help, she was left with more questions than answers.

“I had a lot of lumps. They’re hereditary in my family,” said Cors. “I had the lump removed and it was just a fatty cyst, but by December I could barely walk the pain was so bad.”

Cors urged her doctors to look deeper. After a pain management specialist sent her for an MRI, she was handed a referral card.

“They said, ‘See Dr. Letson,’ ” said Cors. “They didn’t tell me who he was or what I had. When I got home I looked up Dr. Letson and then realized I had sarcoma.”

The Dr. Letson that Cors was referred to was Dr. Doug Letson, executive vice president of clinical affairs and physician-in-chief at Moffitt Cancer Center. Letson previously served as the chair of Moffitt’s Sarcoma Program. He diagnosed Cors with high-grade chondrosarcoma. She was 60 years old.

According to Letson, chondrosarcoma is a type of cancer that forms in bone cartilage. It usually starts in the pelvis or hips.

“It’s one of the more common malignant bone tumors, but to put things in perspective malignant bone tumors are rare,” said Letson. “Sarcomas in general only occur in about 1% of all malignant tumors. It’s the rarest of the cancers there is.”

portrait of blockquote author

"Sarcomas in general only occur in about 1% of all malignant tumors. It’s the rarest of the cancers there is."

- Dr. Doug Letson, Executive Vice President of Clinical Affairs and Physician-in-Chief

Chondrosarcoma occurs mostly in people older than 60. The earliest signs are dull, aching pains that aren’t relieved by over the counter medications, often accompanied by a lump that doesn’t go away.

“Thirty years ago the majority of these sarcomas used to be treated by amputation,” said Letson. “We’ve worked very hard to improve limb salvage surgery to make it the gold standard that it is today.”

In an effort to save her leg, Letson removed part of Cors’ femur, hip and abductor muscle. He then replaced the structure with a metal implant and reconnected the remaining muscles.

Dr. Doug Letson and Cors reunited at a reception in Naples.
Dr. Doug Letson and Cors reunited at a reception in Naples.

“It’s tremendous what we can do these days with major surgeries,” said Letson. “We can give patients a chance to not only survive this disease, but return them to close to normal function as well.”

It took four months of physical therapy for Cors to regain full function in her leg.

“I went from a wheelchair to a walker, then a walker to a cane, and then just a limp,” said Cors. “Today I can walk in high heels. Dr. Letson is my hero.”

Cors is now seven years cancer free. She and her husband, Steve, love to travel the world and recently returned from a trip to Europe. While she didn’t take the 129-step climb up a steep and winding staircase to kiss the Blarney Stone, her surgically repaired leg has not prevented her from living life on her terms.

“You just have to push through and fight,” Cors said. “Be your own health advocate. I wasn’t ready to die. I love my life and I owe it to Dr. Letson for saving my leg and my life.”

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