Advance with MUSC Health

Bone Cancer Month: Finally, Relief for Long-Suffering Bone Sarcoma Patients

Advance With MUSC Health
July 10, 2023
Lee Leddy, M.D.
Dr. Lee Leddy

After a series of unexplained painful incidents and chronic leg and hip pain, John Millen resolved that he’d just have to get used to suffering.

“This is my life,” Millen found himself saying. “I’m only 50, but I’ve worn my body out, and I will have to deal with it.”

Then, nearly two years after the first sign of pain, the Myrtle Beach resident finally had an answer. A fast-growing bone sarcoma tumor had wrapped around his sciatic and femoral nerves and damaged several muscles. Millen remembers asking Lee Leddy, M.D., an orthopaedic oncology surgeon at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center, if he was going to lose his leg.

“As bad as my leg was and as big as the tumor was, I feared my leg would be amputated. Dr. Leddy told me that my leg wasn't going anywhere, and he intended for me to be back to normal in a short amount of time.”

Indeed, Millen says the expert care and compassion he received from Dr. Leddy and his team at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center pre- and post-surgery ensured he was back home in three days and back at work within just weeks.

A Journey of Mysterious Leg Pain and a Life-Changing Diagnosis

Millen, who is a process server, started noticing pain in his left leg just after buying a new car. “At first, I thought it was caused by how I was sitting in the car,” he recalls. “I kept trying to figure out a different way to sit but couldn’t get rid of the pain.” Because the pain was not yet severe, it stayed back-of-mind.

A few months later, he lost his balance and fell 12 feet while cleaning his roof, landing on the concrete driveway. “I was able to tuck into a ball and put my arms around my head,” he says.

Though he didn’t lose consciousness, he couldn’t stand. He crawled to his phone and called his wife, Lynn, for help. A computerized tomography scan showed only a broken rib. Millen recovered but remained confused about why he’d lost his balance. Around this time, he started sleeping on a recliner because he was no longer able to get comfortable on a bed.

Walking across his yard one afternoon, he stepped on a tree sapling. “It threw me back, and I heard a snap,” he remembers. “My left hip hurt like crazy.” He tried steroid injections, physical therapy, and chiropractic treatments, but nothing abated the pain. “I just kept taking ibuprofen, though I often woke up yelling from the pain at night.”

When one afternoon the pain turned excruciating, Millen feared a blood clot. An ultrasound showed nothing. Frustrated, worried, and hurting, Millen continued to endure a reduced quality of life. “My work involves a lot of walking, driving, and getting in and out of a car. I felt I was doomed.”

Swift Recovery and Hope for Bone Sarcoma Patients

Finally, an X-ray of Millen’s pelvis, ordered by his chiropractor, revealed what looked like a cancer growth. His case was swiftly transferred to MUSC Health and the care of Dr. Leddy, who is chief of the Musculoskeletal Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence.

A series of tests showed a significant mass and fractured femur that would need to be removed. The mass was bone sarcoma, a type of tumor that forms in bone tissue. Bone sarcomas are rare and usually benign (not cancerous). They can be difficult to diagnose and therefore are often overlooked by health professionals.

“Dr. Leddy and his team walked me and my family through everything,” recalls Millen. “They were very generous with their time, answering every question we asked. In particular, they assured my wife that all would be OK and that I would soon be pain-free and back to everyday activities.” The sketch Dr. Leddy created as he explained the procedure to the couple hangs, signed and framed, in their home.

During the six-hour surgery, Dr. Leddy removed an eight-pound tumor that had grown around Millen’s femur and replaced the femur and part of his hip with a titanium implant.

“Dr. Leddy and resident Dr. George Wolf were there for us at every turn,” says Millen. “I can’t say enough good things about the excellent care they gave me.”

Luckily, Millen did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation. He’ll continue follow-up visits so doctors can keep an eye on his health.

A month after surgery, Millen eased back to work with the help of a walker and, later, a crutch. “I’m still hobbling, and I’m not yet able to go up and down stairs properly, but I’m almost fully back to work now,” he says. “And I’m no longer in the kind of debilitating pain I endured for so long.”

Want to see an expert about mysterious, chronic leg pain? Call 843-792-9300 to make an appointment, or visit MUSC Hollings Cancer Center to learn more.