Rhea Kutche was an executive secretary who enjoyed being outdoors. She liked to run, go on long walks and swim with friends. She thought that nothing would stop her from doing what she loved. However, it was during a hospital stay from a fall at work that Rhea received demoralizing news: she had bone cancer.
Rhea had sprained both of her ankles but had severe pain in her right leg. The doctor ordered a nuclear bone scan, which came back positive for bone cancer inside her right tibia.
“I was told my leg may have to be removed at the hip because bone cancer spreads so quickly,” said Rhea. “I was devastated.”
Her doctor referred her to OrthoIndy surgeon, Dr. Bruce Rougraff, an orthopaedic surgeon specializing in bone tumors.Dr. Rougraff explained that she would have to have a bone graph, in which he would fill the hole in her right tibia with cadaver bone. Her surgery was the next week and afterwards she would be in the hospital for a couple of days to do physical therapy and recover.
Going into surgery, Rhea was nervous and scared.
“I was terrified when I went into the room because I saw a drill laying with other instruments on a table,” Rhea said. “I closed my eyes until they put me under. I just kept wondering if I was going to wake up with a leg or not. I never expected the emotional trauma that the surgery put me through.”
Thankfully, Rhea’s surgery went well and she began the healing process.
“I cannot say enough good things about Dr. Rougraff,” said Rhea. “He not only saved my leg, but my life as well.”
Life has definitely not been easy for Rhea. With over 30 staples on her knee, ankle and leg, she’s had a long recovery. Rhea went from using a walker, to crutches and has worn a boot.
In 2009, Rhea started experiencing pain in her right leg at the same place. She made another appointment with Dr. Rougraff and had X-rays done. The cancer had returned. Rhea instantly thought that she was not going to beat this cancer.
“I thought the cancer was going to take my life,” said Rhea. “I knew what great pain I endured the first time and all the physical therapy I had been through already. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like a second time. I was afraid.”
Dr. Rougraff again replaced some of Rhea’s tibia with cadaver bone and inserted a titanium rod with hardware in her knee and ankle. At the time, he and his colleagues could not diagnose the biopsy. It was later discovered that Rhea had a very rare bone cancer called Adamantinoma. There have only been 200 cases of this type of bone cancer since 1913 and Rhea is now the 201st.
“At first I was in shock,” said Rhea. “I cried a lot and knew my life was going to change forever. At the time, there wasn’t much research I could find about it except for what was on the Internet, and what I read made me feel hopeless. There weren’t many people who had survived this disease. I felt the odds were not so good for me.”
The disease is so rare that when Rhea tells other doctors what she was diagnosed with, they don’t believe her.
“I have been practicing in my field for a long time and I have only seen three other patients with this disease,” said Dr. Rougraff. “Maybe one in ten million people get this type of cancer.”
Adamantinoma is one of the most rare, low-grade malignant bone tumors. It usually arises in the center of long bones, and 97 percent of all reported cases are in long tubular bones and mainly in the tibial mid shaft, like Rhea. Symptoms include swelling, redness, pain and sensitivity of the bone where the tumor is located.This tumor is insensitive to radiation to chemotherapy; therefore, treatment consists of either wide resection or amputation.
Rhea was in physical therapy for almost two years and she says it was the most painful experience she’s ever gone through.
“I have been seeing Dr. Rougraff every six months since 2009 to get my lungs checked. If the bone cancer would return, I would go to OrthoIndy and IOH immediately.”
Rhea’s last few visits have been nothing but great news. She found out in January 2013 that she has beaten this cancer and her last appointment will be in December.
“When Dr. Rougraff told me that I had beaten this cancer, I couldn’t believe it,” said Rhea. “It had been a long and painful four years, but I can honestly say that I ‘stood up to cancer’. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
Since her last surgery, Rhea is enjoying her life one day at a time. She is starting to find out what her new “normal” really means, and is looking forward to each new day. Rhea is taking back her role in the household by cleaning, getting groceries and other every day activities. Her new outlook on life is knowing everything that she has overcome, she is stronger than ever before.
“Bone Cancer is not something you hear much about,” said Rhea. “I would love to see some type of ribbon made, like the one for breast cancer for all us whom have survived bone cancer. If my story could save a leg or life, then I think that is what my purpose is.”
Do you have a question for OrthoIndy, Dr. Rougraff or Rhea? Comment below and ask!