DALLAS - Walking is just fine with 58-year-old Mary Cecil, who used to be an avid runner.
"I was running and I started feeling pain in my left leg, and it was also tender when I slept on that side," she said.
Cecil suspected a shin splint or pulled muscle. A bone scan, however, revealed a rare and aggressive tumor called dedifferentiated chondrosarcoma. The bone cancer is virtually unstudied. According to limited information, only one in 10 diagnosed with it survive two years.
"Very scary," recalled Cecil of how she felt upon learning of the diagnosis. "The world just turned upside down in one visit here."
Cecil had surgery to remove the cancerous part of her femur and replace it with a metal implant, but that wasn't enough. She struggled with powerful chemotherapy medications.
"Ms. Cecil's tumor was resistant to every single drug that we were giving her," said Dr. Jorge Casas, an orthopaedic oncologist at Forest Park Medical Center. "And it was resistant to most of the drugs that we would have given her."
Casas said chemo-sensitivity tests were ordered in this case because the cancer is so difficult to treat. In other more common cancers, studied regularly, tests have previously shown what drugs may work best.
Based on the sensitivity test, and new research, Forest Park doctors decided to try an unconventional approach, using over-the-counter vitamin D and the common arthritis drug, Celebrex.
Recent studies show vitamin D does more than just reinforce strong bones.
"The vitamin D can inhibit growth of the cancer cells," Casas explained. "Celebrex has been shown to inhibit a process called angiogenesis, which is the formation of new blood vessels in other unrelated cancers."
It worked. A year after diagnosis, Cecil is considered cancer-free.
Casas said the combination has shown positive results in other bone cancer cases recently too. He also gave credit to collaborating with other doctors willing to consider alternative cancer therapies.
"The more communication there is between the different doctors," the more out-of-the-box treatments that we're going to see."
"I'm just thankful to be mobile and able to exercise," Cecil said.
And though Cecil may never run again, she is thrilled to be walking, and alive.