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The Cancer Slayer When Karisa Scott was diagnosed with a rare bone cancer, she got treatment right here at home — with University of Tennessee Medical Center physicians, who teamed up to find a cure.

Karisa Scott’s future was bright. She’d met Mr. Right, and she could see life unfolding before her. Then Karisa, who was 24 at the time, found out she had cancer. “I got the diagnosis the day after my fiancé and I moved in together in 2017,” Karisa said. “It hit me like a ton of bricks.”

Treatment Right Here at Home

Karisa’s primary care physician found a tumor in Karisa’s fibula, or calf bone, during a routine ultrasound. So, she sent Karisa to Anna Wallace, MD. Wallace is an orthopaedic oncologist who practices with the Advanced Orthopaedic Center and the Cancer Institute, two of the medical center's seven Centers of Excellence.

Watch the video to learn more about Dr. Wallace and her practice.

Wallace diagnosed the tumor as Ewing’s Sarcoma. This extremely rare form of cancer grows in the bone as well as the cartilage and nerves around it.

“I remember when I first met Karisa and her mother in the clinic,” Wallace said. “I'm sure that being diagnosed with a very dangerous form of cancer was the last thing she expected to hear that day.”

Before Wallace joined The University of Tennessee Medical Center, patients like Karisa traveled to Nashville or out of state for treatment. But Wallace, one of just 200 orthopaedic oncologists in the country, works with an A-Team of specialists to give expert care to bone cancer patients right here in East Tennessee.

A Collaborative Approach to Care

“I believe that a multidisciplinary approach to cancer treatment is very important,” said Wallace. She specializes in diagnosing and surgically removing bone and soft tissue tumors.

Wallace works closely with a team of medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, genetic counselors and patient navigators. This team meets twice a month to review imaging, pathology and treatment plans.

Anna Wallace, MD is an orthopaedic oncologist who practices with the Advanced Orthopaedic Center and the Cancer Institute at UT Medical Center.

Wallace said, “We see some really unique cases here at the medical center. Each member of the treatment team brings a different perspective and skill set to the conversation.” The team stays up to date with the most recent research and they use this to guide the treatment of their patients.

Many patients, like Karisa, need chemotherapy or radiation in addition to surgery. So, physicians at the Advanced Orthopaedic Center and the Cancer Institute, two of the medical center’s Centers of Excellence, worked together to make an individualized treatment plan for Karisa.

“I was thrilled with the level of care I got with Dr. Wallace, my oncologist, and everyone at the medical center,” Karisa said.

Wallace worked with Neil Faulkner, MD, a Cancer Institute medical oncologist. Together, they figured out the timing for her chemotherapy, which shrunk her tumor dramatically. They followed the chemotherapy with surgery. “They were always able to let me know what was going on and tell me what to expect from treatment,” said Karisa.

Karisa, who had chemotherapy and surgery to treat her bone cancer in 2017, was dancing with her father at her wedding by 2019. “I was thrilled with the level of care I got with Dr. Wallace, my oncologist, and everyone at the medical center,” Karisa said.

Amputation Isn’t the Only Answer

Since coming to the medical center in 2016, Wallace has treated patients with both soft tissue sarcomas and bone cancers. She’s operated on more than 200 patients with bone and soft tissue tumors, including benign and metastatic lesions.

Wallace’s surgical skill has had a profound impact on many patients. In the past, the treatment for bone cancer in legs and arms was often amputation, but Wallace can remove a tumor, reconstruct bones and spare the limb.

At first, Karisa and Wallace talked about amputating Karisa’s leg. That can sometimes help patients to avoid chemotherapy and to reduce the odds of the cancer coming back. But Wallace convinced her to remove the tumor, not the leg. “She said, ‘If I were in your position, I would be having the surgery we’re proposing for you,’” Karisa said.

If you have questions about Ewing’s Sarcoma, or are concerned you or someone you love may have symptoms of the disease, talk with your primary care physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, call Healthcare Coordination at 865-305-6970.

A Long Road, But a Happy Ending

After being diagnosed in May 2017, Karisa went through 17 cycles of chemotherapy. She had surgery in November 2017, to remove the tumor, along with part of her fibula. Her tibia (shin bone) now does the heavy lifting in her leg. Karisa spent months on crutches and in physical therapy. She was walking without crutches by April 2018.

“It has been so rewarding to see Karisa finish her cancer treatment and resume a normal life as a cancer survivor (or as Karisa would say, a ‘cancer slayer’),” said Neil Faulkner, MD, her medical oncologist. “Her excellent outcome was the result of our teams working together in her care. Dr. Wallace played an integral and essential role.”

In May 2019, Karisa and her fiancé, Sean Scott, married. Karisa, who is now 26 and cancer free, did what she’d dreamed of since she was a girl: She danced with her father at her wedding.

Karisa, who is now 26 and cancer free, did what she’d dreamed of since she was a girl: She danced with her father at her wedding.

“It has been so rewarding to see Karisa finish her cancer treatment and resume a normal life as a cancer survivor (or as Karisa would say, a ‘cancer slayer’),” said Neil Faulkner, MD, her medical oncologist. “Her excellent outcome was the result of our teams working together in her care. Dr. Wallace played an integral and essential role.”

At her most recent appointment, Karisa wore a shirt she made that said “Cancer Slayer” on it. “I had nothing but excellent care, from doctors to nurses to the whole team,” Karisa said. “They became like a second family.”

| The Cancer Slayer |

July Is National Sarcoma Awareness Month

July marks National Sarcoma Awareness Month. Sarcomas are cancers of the soft tissue or bone and can affect people of all ages. Early diagnosis and treatment are lifesaving.

If you have a new lump or bump that concerns you, contact your primary care physician. If you don’t have a primary care physician, call Healthcare Coordination at 865-305-6970. Our expert coordinators will be glad to help you find one.

Putting Cancer Patients First: Team Member Spotlight

Nurse navigators like the medical center’s Susan Noe guide cancer patients through their journey, from diagnosis to treatment.

Susan Noe (left) has a nurse’s knowledge, a servant’s heart, and cancer patients’ well-being at top of mind. She is a Cancer Institute nurse navigator who acts as the liaison for patients referred from the Advanced Orthopaedic Center at The University of Tennessee Medical Center. Noe guides patients through diagnosis and treatment of cancer. “We're an advocate for the patient,” Noe said.

Navigators spring into action as soon as a patient calls or a referral is received from another health care provider. They collect a patient’s medical records from their primary care physician and other specialists. They also identify any additional testing or imaging needed with the specialist and prepare the case to be reviewed by the multidisciplinary team. Most importantly they work to schedule the patient to be seen by their specialist within 10 days.

“Cancer patients don’t have a month to wait to straighten out a paperwork glitch,” Noe said. A navigator steers patients through the entire course of treatment, doing everything from making sure they have rides to appointments, to telling them what to expect from tests and treatments.

Patients appreciate a human touch in the bureaucracy of medical care. “Patients tells us ‘You’ve helped calm me. I didn’t know what was going on, and you helped me understand,’” Noe said. “Being diagnosed with cancer is devastating emotionally and financially, so I would want somebody there to go the extra mile for me, too. I count it an honor to get to do what I do.”

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