Personal Essay

October 20, 2011

Tumor- the word held little meaning at first. Bone tumor meant even less. Both terms were foreign until I entered high school.
It started when I was coming back from snowboarding. The car was cold and I was busying myself finger painting murals on the frosted windows. Suddenly I realized my left thumb was hurting. It didn’t bother me much. As a distance runner, I’m used to strange aches and pains. Usually, whatever is bothering me goes away after a few weeks.
The pain in my thumb didn’t leave. It did recede some, but then it would build back up to a crescendo of agony. Throughout the last half of eighth grade, this was the pattern. A lull, followed by a roar.
Soon, there was no lull. There was always a constant roar. My thumb had also started to swell. At first it was hardly noticeable. Soon, however, my thumb could be spotted by orbiting satellites. It got so big, I lost all movement. Not that I wanted to move it, because every jerk tripled the pain.
My first doctor’s appointment was at the end of April, before I became a Vashon High School freshman. The doctor, a polite brunette, told me at some point, I must have broken or sprained my thumb. She gave me a few shots of cortisone and told me to come back in 90 days if it still hurt.
While the pain grew progressively more alarming during the next 90 days, I began participating in summer Cross-Country. Cross-Country is wonderful. I love running. It is an integral part of my life. When my thumb started becoming more sensitive, practices were difficult without stopping and icing it. There was a time when I had to sit out for half a practice because my thumb was so painful.
Ninety days later, my thumb had swelled even further. There was no Tylenol in the house because I was using all of it. We made another doctor’s appointment.
June rolled around and I turned 15.  I went to the doctor for the second time.
This time, the doctor was a nice, balding man from Children’s Hospital. He inquired about the pain and how long I’d endured it. He also asked me general questions about my life. Then several X-rays were taken. I went home that day feeling like something was finally being done about my hand.
The doctor called back for another appointment rather quickly. I was subjected to more poking and prodding than ever before. Twice a week, we would take the ferry from Vashon to Seattle, to Children’s Hospital for more tests. For awhile, every appointment was with a different doctor. It was a very uncertain summer.
Through all of this, I was still trying to run as often as I could. Running was a comfort. I didn’t worry about my hand when I was trying to summit a steep hill. The roads around my house soon became a personal sanctuary and Cross-Country became my temple. I loved it, I loved the team, I loved our workouts and I loved the bonds that came with shared hardship. The
Cross-Country team was my extended family. We were that close, even in the summer when we were only just beginning to know each other.
Still, I didn’t tell anyone about my thumb. I wanted to focus on running and I wanted the team to focus on running. I felt, at the time, that my hand was an unnecessary distraction.
In July, the doctors told me I had a bone tumor. They were unsure if it was benign or malignant and wouldn’t biopsy because they said the pain would be too excruciating. I didn’t know what to think. My heart, mind and soul did circus tricks to stop my racing thoughts. I thought of my brother, who has asthma and hemophilia C and has battled them his whole life. I calmed myself by thinking if he could do it, I could do it. My parents of course, were having a very difficult time. One of their children had a bone tumor and there was no way of knowing whether or not it was cancer.
We discussed moving into a therapist’s office.
The doctors told me to come in for surgery on September 14, 2007. I would probably miss a Cross-Country meet and a few practices after I had the operation. I still wasn’t going to tell the team but I did let the coaches know. They promised they wouldn’t tell the team about my operation until after it was over.
In the weeks leading up to operation, I felt strangely calm. Cross-Country was a huge part of that. Running kept me tired enough to not freak out over my hand.
On the day of the operation, my mom took me in to Harborview Medical Center. We got up around midnight to catch the 3:00 AM ferry off the Island.
There aren’t many things I remember leading up to the operation. I remember on the way there, seeing a car flipped on its side in a ditch. I remember the man who gave me the I.V., who introduced himself by saying,
“Wow- this is so exciting! I’ve never done this before!”
I remember being wheeled into the operating room and being surprised by the huge fluorescent lights and the nurse placing a mask over my face, telling me to count back from 100. 100, 99, 98, 87…
An interminable time later, I woke up with a huge casing of plaster and gauze around my left arm, coming all the way up to my elbow. It was monstrous- three times the size of my regular arm! My parents were there to take me home. I remember absolutely nothing of the car ride back, only being settled on the couch once we got home.
I did miss that week’s meet and a day of practice. But a cast, this monstrosity attached to my arm, and a tumor were not stopping me from going to practice. After four days rest, I was back. I must have looked absurd, with this big white thing on my left arm. My workouts were the same as the rest of team. I did have to be very careful with my cast. When we were doing stretches, I almost hit a few people by accident.
It would take me a moment, sometimes, to process the past few months and my current state. The doctor had contacted us a day or two after the operation and told my parents that no, their daughter did not have bone cancer.  That was the highlight of the entire operation.
The first meet after the surgery was a home meet, on September 27th. It was a nice day, sunny but not too warm. Lining up for the start was nerve-wracking. I wasn’t sure if I would finish. Then the gun went off and I didn’t care anymore. As the race went on, my cast grew heavier and heavier. But even a 200 lb. cast wouldn’t stop me. When finally, after an eternity, I crossed the finish line, I had placed 11th out of 45-50 runners. The race was not my best. I did not set a new personal record nor did I place in the top three. However, I still look to that race as one of my greatest performances. It showed me that I am a powerful person.
My name is Savannah Krug. I endured the pain of a bone tumor for almost a year. I ran a race only 13 days after general anesthetic. I can push myself to the limit for the sport I love.
Savannah Krug