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Sarcoma took her leg, but not her spirit

Becky Campbell • Aug 18, 2019 at 8:57 PM

At 31 years old and a nurse at local health care system, Lauren Harback is a busy woman, considering she’s married and has an active 6-year-old.

She didn’t have time for anything to throw her off track — especially a cancer diagnosis, a miscarriage and a leg amputation. It all started in 2017 when Harback began having right leg pain and swelling. She went to her doctor and with little to no examination, he said it was because as a nurse she was on her feet all day. His prescription was to wear compressions socks.

At first it made some sense, but over time the condition continued to get worse. And worse. And worse. Eventually, Harback had several tests run and the news was not good — “we’re not sure what it is,” Harback said about the mass inside her right calf. It was about the size of a dollar bill, but thicker.

After trips to specialty medical facilities in the state, multiple MRIs with and without contrast, a needle aspiration and eventually a biopsy, the news was even worse — a soft tissue sarcoma in her calf. 

According to the Move for Jenn foundation, a non-profit advocacy group to get the word out about sarcoma, it’s a cancer of the bone and connective tissue. Sarcoma “is made up of many subtypes because it can arise from a variety of tissue structures — nerves, muscles, joints, bone, fat and blood vessels. If it's not caught early enough, sarcomas can invade surrounding tissue and metastasize to other tissues and organs of the body.”

Luckily, Harback’s doctor’s believe her sarcoma was found quickly enough, but her options were grim — weeks and weeks of chemotherapy, which may or may not work, or the decision to amputate her leg above to the knee, which is what would happen if the chemo didn’t work. Harback and her husband, Jeremiah, decided on the chemotherapy route, so doctor’s installed a port in her upper right chest wall.

At her first chemo pre-check, Harback discovered she was pregnant. Chemotherapy could cause unknown damage to the couple’s unborn child, but the couple would not terminate the pregnancy. After the Harbacks considered all the odds, they decided to go straight for the amputation. Ultimately she lost the baby just prior to the amputation, but they’ve worked through that and continue to push forward.

Harback’s amputation surgery went well and she’s had few issues with the incision healing. She’s already back to work on light duty and will return full-time in a couple of weeks, hopefully under her own power with no walking aids.

“Having a leg has helped me get back to normal,” she said recently. And now, she has a second right leg that will allow her to be more active than just being able to get through the day.

Last week, Harback received a high-tech computerized leg with a type of running blade that also allows the user to wear it as an everyday leg.

This blade, made by Endolite, was donated to Harback by an organization called the Move for Jenn Foundation. It was founded by Miles and Jenn Andrews to be a “nonprofit corporation that will raise funds to issue grants for sarcoma research and amputees who need prostheses. The couple’s decision to create the foundation came after Jenn Andrews was diagnosed with a sarcoma that covered the entire top of her foot. She, too, chose amputation.

Prior to Andrews’ surgery, she put out a request on Facebook for friends and family to get up and move on her behalf on the day of her amputation. “Move because you can,” Andrews said in the video.

According to the Move for Jenn Foundation website, “this request unknowingly became a movement. So, on March 12, 2018, Jenn became cancer free, and the social media world flooded with #moveforjenn and #movebecauseyoucan posts globally. People all over the world were sharing posts with all forms of exercise in honor of Jenn and her request. This movement led her to realize that being an amputee, and someone who wanted to remain active, would be difficult without ample means of funding. Most insurance providers will only cover one prosthetic per person, if that.

Jenn’s mission of helping other sarcoma amputees was born when she and her husband, Miles, realized the financial burden of being a young, and active amputee. Child or adult. Jenn and Miles plan to help ease that financial burden for as many individuals as they can.

And that’s exactly what Harback wants to encourage people to do — move because they can. Her recovery has gone well, and with getting the new leg last week she’s hoping to get back into all the activities she, her husband and their daughter enjoy.

Harback will be participating in a virtual 5K in November to raise money for the Move for Jenn Foundation, and she hopes to get others on board to participate as well. Competing in a virtual 5K can be done wherever a person is and in any form, including running, biking, walking or on a treadmill.

The Pajamas All Day 5K will be an actual onsite 5K at Blakeney Park in Charlotte, North Carolina, as well as around the country with participants completing the 5K on their own. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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