Saturday, February 6, 2016

One year cancer free

Today marks one year since Rachel Kovach's limb salvage surgery. It also is one year that our Onco Girl has been cancer free.

One year cancer free

Rachel Kovach back in the pool, a year after limb surgery and cancer free.
Rachel Kovach back in the pool, a year after limb surgery and cancer free.

Today it is one year since my limb salvage surgery, pretty much the scariest day of my life. It’s also one year now that I’m cancer free. 

When I went in to surgery last year, I was afraid that I wouldn’t wake up and if I did, my right leg would be gone.  

As much as Dr. Dormans and Dr. Balamuth told me that my leg wasn’t going to be cut off, I was afraid. After my surgery, Dr. Dormans took my parents in a small room outside the surgical waiting room and told them that my surgery went beautifully. Exactly as he and his team had planned. My parents both cried a bit (that’s what they told me), but still listened to every detail. 

I had to wear a brace for two months after my surgery. Not much fun. The day I got my brace off (it was in July) I remember walking around the hospital until I was just too tired to walk any more.  It was a great feeling, but I had a long way to go with chemotherapy and physical therapy to build my strength and learn how to walk properly on my shiny new endo-prosthetic leg bone (femur).  I had to go from Dr. Dormans office at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia over to oncology because I was going to start a five day round of chemotherapy before I could go home.

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I remember going home that first time without that stupid brace on. It felt really good to be able to get around and do simple personal things by myself that I couldn’t do with my brace on. I also went in the pool as soon as I got home. What a great feeling. Once I was in the water I felt like I was getting my life back, even though I still had several rounds of chemotherapy to go. 

Swimming has been a big part of my road to recovery. My physical therapist tells me that my swimming has been really helpful in gaining strength back in my leg. I’m back with my swim team. My coaches are good about easing me back in to the program and not making me feel like I’m slowing the rest of the team down. Our head coach, Paul Buerck, is a big supporter of helping kids get back on their feet after fighting cancer.

There are other kids that swim with the Barracudas that are Ewing’s Sarcoma survivors like me. One is my friend Lilly Daneman, who had Ewing’s before me. Lilly and her Mom and Dad were with us as I went through treatment and have been a big help to me and my family getting through this. 

My friend Matt Pilla, is another Ewing’s survivor. I met Matt when he was at CHOP for scans after he finished treatment and I was in for a round of chemotherapy. Matt’s Dad and my Mom worked together for years, but this was the first time I met Matt. We became good friends and stayed in touch playing games on line and texting once in a while. 

Matt has another friend that is on the Barracudas, so we all sort of worked him over to give swimming a try.  Matt started swimming with us last week, and he seems to really like it. I’m glad to see Coach Paul helping kids that had cancer and I’m happy that Matt is swimming with us. I hope it helps him as much as it has helped me. I’m sure it will.

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About this blog
Rachel Kovach, 12, is a seventh-grader at Mother Theresa Regional School in Atlantic Highlands, N.J. She lives in Highlands, N.J., near the Sandy Hook national seashore, with her parents, Mari and Kurt Kovach.

Since first grade, Rachel has been swimming with the Monmouth Barracudas, a year-round competitive United States Swimming Club program. She hopes to continue competitive swimming after her cancer treatment; if not, she envisions coaching someday or maybe a career in medicine. Figure skating and jazz dancing have been big parts of her life. One of the things she hates about being in the hospital is missing her dog Cocoa and her many friends.

Rachel's doctors

These are the key physicians overseeing Rachel’s care at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia:

Naomi BalamuthNaomi Balamuth, pediatric oncologist, specializes in treating pediatric sarcomas, a subset of solid tumors.



Richard B. WomerRichard B. Womer, pediatric oncologist, led studies of the latest chemotherapy treatment protocol for Ewing’s sarcoma.



John P. DormansJohn P. Dormans, M.D., chief of orthopaedic surgery, is an international expert in the surgical treatment of musculoskeletal tumors.


Timeline of Rachel Kovach’s Treatment

Dec. 3, 2010: Pain in Rachel's right knee is initially diagnosed as tendinitis.

Jan. 20: An MRI reveals a tumor in right leg.

Jan 24: Rachel sees John Dormans, chief of orthopedic surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Jan. 27: A biopsy confirms Ewing's sarcoma.

February to mid-April: Regimens of chemotherapy alternate every other week. The three-drug regimen is given over two days; the two-drug regimen is given over five days.

May 3: Surgery replaces most of the right femur with a prosthesis.

May 5: A Children's Hospital team will help Rachel get out of bed.

May 10 to September: Alternating regimens of chemotherapy are to resume.

Around May 10: Physical therapy will begin in the hospital and continue for at least several months after Rachel goes home.

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