Getting Back to the Things You Love

paulette and_rich on a bike with mountains in the background

For Paulette Whitekettle, spending the summer at Glacier National Park in Montana with her husband, Rich, as campground hosts is one of her favorite things to do. So when in 2013, a lump on her pelvis was diagnosed as chondrosarcoma, she was determined to fight her disease and continue enjoying summers at the park.

The first surgeon she consulted deemed her tumor “inoperable.” Cue the incredible team of doctors at Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center (ACC). Paulette came to the ACC looking for hope, and her team, which included Kristy Weber, MD, James Schuster, MD, PhD, Neil Malhotra, MD, and Scott Levin, MD, FACS, gave her hope and more.

Imaging that was analyzed by Arthur "Chip" Staddon, MD, revealed an additional cancerous nodule on her lung. She had surgery to remove the nodule, and then a month later set out on a six-week journey that included four surgeries on her spine and pelvis. The leader of her care team, Dr. Weber, was with Paulette every step of the way.

“When Dr. Weber first saw the location of my spinal tumor she said that ‘removing it won’t be easy, but that the Abramson Cancer Center doctors would work as a team to help me,’” Paulette shared. “Dr. Weber has been a blessing to us over and over again. She saved my life.”

Both of Paulette’s tumors were removed with clean margins. Through physical therapy—and with the support of her husband, three children, and their church community—she progressed from being wheelchair bound to using a walker. Ultimately, Paulette achieved her most important goals of getting back to being a campground host, and in the winter months serving her local community by aiding homeless neighbors as well as teaching a Bible study to women in prison.

In an effort to champion other sarcoma patients and survivors, Paulette serves on the committee for Steps to Cure Sarcoma, a local organization dedicated to fundraising for sarcoma research at the ACC, CHOP, and Penn Vet. She and her husband kick off summer by driving their motor home to the annual 5K in June, and then drive right from the race in Pennsylvania to Glacier National Park.

“I have my life back. I’ve had to make adjustments, like now riding a tricycle around the park instead of a bicycle—but most importantly, thanks to my amazing care team and the help of my family, I can do the things I love. I’m glad to be alive, and I’m glad they didn’t give up on me.”

For more information or to support sarcoma research, contact Karleigh Rose Pettit at karleigh@upenn.edu or (215) 898-9931.

About This Blog

The Focus on Cancer blog discusses a variety of cancer-related topics, including treatment advances, research efforts and clinical trials, nutrition, support groups, survivorship and patient stories.

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