Steven Zatoris: Saving a Leg and a Life After Sarcoma Diagnosis

“I knew amputation was a possibility, but after surgery, I woke up and saw my leg still there. Dr. Farma came in and told me he got all the cancer and that he ‘could not be more pleased with the end result.’ That was the most wonderful feeling.”
‐Steven Zatoris

In 2021, I started having pain in my left leg. I visited my family doctor, and at first we thought it might be a deep vein thrombosis. When we ruled that out, I saw a vascular doctor in case it might be varicose veins. That doctor had me get an MRI, and after those results came back, I had to get a biopsy. That’s when the doctors confirmed that I had a stage IV tumor in my leg.

Frightening Diagnoses

I received 25 radiation treatments at a local hospital, but my leg wasn’t getting better. The tumor was eleven inches long and looked like half a softball sticking out of my calf. Then, one day, I started bleeding from my rectum and had to get rushed to the hospital. After more testing, it turned out that the cancer had metastasized to my right lung. A colonoscopy was scheduled the next day, during which they found a two-inch malignant tumor at the base of my rectum as well.

Because of my leg plus these new lung and colon cancer diagnoses, the doctors at my local hospital decided it was time to send me somewhere more specialized and arranged for me to be transferred Fox Chase Cancer Center. My wife and I were both very nervous about what the doctors at Fox Chase would tell us. Between the leg, the bleeding, and more cancer, my case seemed pretty dire.

Starting the Journey at Fox Chase

One of the first doctors we met at Fox Chase was Dr. Margaret von Mehren, an oncologist who specializes in sarcoma, which is the type of cancer I had in my leg. She told us how enrolling in a study she was conducting would help other people with my condition. I felt good that my experience might help someone else.

We also met with Dr. Jeffrey Farma, a surgical oncologist. He was very direct in telling us that mine was a very complex case, but he also shared his detailed plan for treatment, which made us feel a little more reassured. I would get more radiation on my leg, and then he would operate on my tumor. I had to wait eight weeks for the surgery, but we didn’t waste that time. During those eight weeks, I received radiation for the tumor in my colon and also for tumors they discovered in my lungs. Dr. Joshua Meyer, a radiation oncologist, oversaw all of that treatment.

Surgery Success

Dr. Farma finally operated on my leg in January 2022 and was assisted by Dr. Sameer Patel, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon. Going into it, I knew amputation was a possibility, but after surgery, I woke up and saw my leg still there. Dr. Farma came in and told me he got all the cancer and that he “could not be more pleased with the end result.” That was the most wonderful feeling.

I stayed at Fox Chase for four days following my surgery. The staff were all kind and helpful. Dr. Meyer’s nurse, Cynthia Young, was truly an angel. She listened to the fears of my wife and I. That helped us to feel less anxious when we walked out of the hospital after my surgery than we felt when we first arrived at Dr. Farma’s office. I couldn’t have asked for better care.

Eradicating Cancer Through Chemo

In March 2022, I saw oncologist Dr. Igor Astsaturov, who started me on chemotherapy for my colon cancer. I went to Fox Chase once every other week for eight sessions. It was a lot of driving, but my wife and I were fortunate to have good friends and family supporting us. The chemo nurses were outstanding, too, especially John Vadseth. He took a lot of time to explain the treatment and ensure I understood what was happening.

Finally, in June 2022, I got to ring the “I finished chemo” bell. Two months later, after CT scans and an MRI to confirm it, Dr. Farma told me that my body was clear of cancer.

I have to say, one of the things I like the best about Fox Chase, something that I hadn’t ever thought about before, is that they do all of their biopsies in house, so you get your results in a few days. Waiting for those results stinks, and if you have to wait two or three weeks, that really eats at your mind. I believe getting the results quickly at Fox Chase helped me heal better, both mentally and physically.

A New Lease on Life

I just celebrated my 75th birthday, and while my life will never be what it was four years ago, it’s darned close. I try to walk at least half an hour each day, I am back to fishing, and my wife and I go camping with my two daughter, two granddaughters, and four granddogs.

If I could offer anyone advice, I’d say always get second opinions. Then, make sure you get the best doctors you can and get care at the best hospital possible. I’ve told several people to go to Fox Chase because they specialize in cancer. Every professional there is top notch, and they treat you with kindness, even when you’re not at your best.

I will always remember something the Fox Chase doctors told me and my wife during our first visit: Cancer is no longer a death sentence. I’m living proof.

Learn more about treatment for sarcoma, colon cancer, and lung cancer at Fox Chase Cancer Center.