WINNIPEG – It started out as a small bump on the back of Rachael Sawka’s head.
The 23-year-old decided to get it checked out in January and was told it was a cyst, and that she could get it removed in April.
But it kept growing and causing her incredible pain.
“I couldn’t sleep. I think I slept on the couch for four months because I couldn’t lay on the back of my head,” Sawka explains. “I couldn’t play ringette because I couldn’t wear a helmet. I couldn’t ref, couldn’t coach, couldn’t do much.”
After numerous trips to multiple emergency rooms in Winnipeg and unable to get a diagnosis, Sawka eventually got the surgery.
“At the time it did get up to 17 centimetres in width and probably protruded out of my head seven centimetres. I think [the surgeon] cutting me open caused it to grow 10 centimetres in three weeks. We went ahead with radiation without a diagnosis or pathology report.”
She says she got a phone call after the surgery, where a doctor told her she had cancer. Sawka finally got a pathology report a few weeks ago that told her she has Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of bone and soft tissue cancer. Sawka did not get it in her bones, though.
Sawka is frustrated that it took so long and so many visits to hospitals to finally figure out exactly what was on her head.
“There is an ongoing investigation and they’re going to get to the bottom of this. I’m angry that I had to go there six times and get ignored six times. I wouldn’t have had to have this extensive surgeries if people had just taken me seriously from the start.”
Looking back on the process, Sawka believes she is lucky to be alive.
“For sure. I underwent 8-10 hours of surgery. I had a skin graft taken off my right leg, I had 40 staples in my back to replace the muscle in my neck, and I got part of my skull removed so now I have a titanium plate in there. I’m happy to be alive. It’s crazy.”
The cancer has a 55 per cent chance of coming back, so Sawka will be starting chemo treatments next week. She says the CancerCare experience has been great.
As for her ringette play, she can’t return to the ice yet but will be back volunteering in the next couple of weeks.