How a Sore Elbow Led to My Diagnosis with Stage IV Lung Cancer

In early 2013, I bought myself an iPad and got seriously addicted to playing Candy Crush. After a few months of furious swiping at those candies, I noticed that my right elbow was sore and I couldn’t straighten it completely. The left side of my neck also started bothering me and despite going cold turkey from Candy Crush for a few months, neither my elbow nor my neck showed any improvement.

A Crush on Candy Crush

I made an appointment with my primary care physician in the summer of 2013, confessed to him about my crush on Candy Crush and he told me that he was pretty sure that I was suffering from an overuse injury. After ordering an x-ray of my elbow, which showed nothing of concern and an MRI of my neck, which just showed some mildly degenerating disks common for my age of 47, he told me that I should take some ibuprofen and go to physical therapy. We then spent the rest of the appointment discussing how healthy I was other than this seemingly minor issue.

I went to physical therapy for a couple of months and did all the exercises prescribed. My neck started to feel better but my elbow did not, so I visited an orthopedist who diagnosed me with “tennis elbow.” By the way, you evidently DO NOT have to play tennis to get tennis elbow since I hadn’t picked up a racket since college. He gave me a cortisone shot and sent me to another physical therapist, who sent me to another orthopedist, who sent me to a rheumatologist. All of these visits ended with me being told I was in perfect health other than my elbow trouble.

At this point, I had some doubts set in. My husband started asking me how long I was going to spend going to doctors and physical therapists. Other family and friends started telling me that everyone gets aches and pains as they get older. However, I was still having trouble bending my right elbow and I didn’t think this was something I should just learn to live with at 47 years old!

An MRI Reveals the Source of My Elbow Pain

I tried one more orthopedist and told him everything I had done in the past months to try to get an answer. He ordered an MRI of my elbow, which was something that had not been suggested previously. The MRI showed a mass on my elbow that had eaten away some of the bone around the joint, explaining why I couldn’t straighten my elbow. According to the radiology report, this could be a benign bone mass, a malignant bone mass, or a metastasis from another part of my body.

Things kicked into high gear pretty quickly after that. I was fast-tracked into an appointment with an orthopedic oncologist and had a biopsy done. Although the orthopedic oncologist had originally said he was 98% sure the mass was benign, the biopsy results showed that it was a form of cancer known as adenocarcinoma. I was then scheduled for a PET scan to find the source of the adenocarcinoma, since that is not a cancer that originates in bone. On December 26, 2013, I was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer with bone metastases to my elbow and neck. I ended up finding out that I had 8 small brain metastases as well when I met my thoracic oncologist two weeks later and determined my treatment plan.

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