ONE IN A MILLION
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, giant-cell tumors occur in about one person per million each year. And it is even rarer to find a giant-cell tumor in a patient younger than 20. Angelina was first diagnosed with this rare tumor on 2011, aged 18, on her knee. Angie shares her journey with us, she laughs while saying ‘how she is one in a million’ and how she is determined to walk in high heels again.
After Matric, Angelina Lese originally from Khayelitsha, was accepted to study Political Science through UNISA. She had a dream of becoming an active role-player in improving the political system in South Africa. To assist paying her studies, she took a day job as a administrator in a seafood company, ‘I was working in an office next to the fridges and for few weeks I felt pain in my knee, I thought it was due to the cold but after sometime it started bothering me’. Angie visited a GP that gave her some painkillers yet after the pills were finished the pain remained and this time the knee also started to swell.
Angie decided to visit the GP again and this time he immediately referred her to a specialist in Vincent Pallotti Hospital and after few tests she was informed about her condition ‘It was a real curve ball accepting my diagnosis and I was in denial for some time. The condition is rare, as a result the doctors didn’t know what it was, this was scary. To add to this, at the stage it was discovered the tumor was the only thing holding me together and if I had fallen in the wrong way the tumor could have burst, spread to other parts of my body and become fatal.’ Giant-cell tumors are found in bones, they take the place of the bone and is what holds the bone in place. ‘As soon as the doctors realized I went straight into surgery, they took the tumor out and gave me a new knee’. Angie spent two months in hospital and nine months recovering as an outpatient, ‘This was a period where I needed to relearn fundamentals, I would never be able to run or walk up the stairs as I used to do, I needed to let go of my independency as I had a care-giver 24 hours a day’.
Angie fully recovered and decided to reinitiate her life once again. She picked up her studies and found a new job in a call centre. After few months, she realized that the job was not fulfilling and she moved to work with young people in a youth development organization. ‘My new job really motivated me. Each time I heard a story from a child I got inspired and I realized that we all have wounds to heal’.
Angie continued with her life. In 2013 when she was excited and preparing for her twenty-first birthday, a routine doctor’s consultation discovered another tumor, this time in her hip. Doctors got even more perplexed, if the previous condition was rare this new development made Angie’s condition far rarer and they were in need to operate once again and replace the hip. ‘This time was not as shocking; I knew what the process entailed. I made the doctor promise that I would be out for my twenty-first party and he did. People around me kept asking how I was able to cope, I always answered, ‘my doctors only read about my condition in literature, I trust I can assist in the development of this field in South Africa and in the future help people with this condition.’ She went to add ’the rehabilitation process was long but I am a lover of high heels and part of my motivation was to walk tall again in my 10inch stilettos!’
When asked what advise she would give to others who are facing tough times she said, ‘Whatever life gives you, is carving you into a shining diamond. Be amazing in the drama, be amazing in the pain, shine through and it will keep you going.’
As you read this article, Angie has been admitted for her third operation as the tumor in her hip came back. From Life Choices team we value her courage and send her all our love.
Angie is a former Salesian Life Choices staff member.