Sarcoma Awareness Month: Adapt and Overcome
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Sarcoma Awareness Month: Adapt and Overcome

July is Sarcoma Awareness Month and this is particularly important and relevant considering the new Orthotics and Prosthetics (O&P) program at Salus, launching next month. According to the Mayo Clinic, sarcoma is a medical term for types of cancers that originate in the bones and soft tissue, and these cancers disproportionately affect kids and adolescents. Because of the aggressive nature of sarcoma, many patients undergo amputations to prevent metastasis, which is when cancer cells spread to other areas of the body. Naturally, sarcoma survivors who lose limbs work with Orthotists and Prosthetists to adapt to their new reality.

According to Julie Quinlan, MPO, MS, CPO, ATC, instructor in the O&P program, working with pediatric sarcoma survivors is so important because “you [as a Certified Prosthetist/Orthotist - CPO] are a part of each patient’s journey as they navigate different life stages.” Quinlan’s industry colleague, Jeffrey Quelet, is a CPO as well and a sarcoma survivor. As a result, he recently shared his story about his journey through sarcoma diagnosis, chemotherapy, and limb loss. 

Quelet was a standout athlete who excelled in baseball, soccer, swimming and running. He was always playing sports with friends and led an active lifestyle. One day in fifth grade, he realized everyone around him could easily sit “criss-cross applesauce” on the floor while he could not; he also noticed a walnut-sized protrusion from his leg. This seemed abnormal to the school nurse, but did not warrant any panic at the time.

Jeffrey Quelet as a 10 year old shown eating at a picnic table with friends, crutches by his side.Just to be safe, his parents took him for an X-ray, the results of which started to raise some concern. What happened next would change Quelet’s life forever as he and his parents had to make a series of difficult decisions that would ultimately leave him in a hospital bath tub saying a heartfelt goodbye to his right leg at only 10-years-old.

Everything he knew was turned on its head in the following two years as he had to learn how to operate in the world again, starting with walking. He was a resilient kid who always pushed himself and found ways to, as he puts it, “adapt and overcome” and adjust to his prosthesis. Even so, Quelet couldn’t play soccer or baseball or run like he used to. For a kid that molded much of his identity around sports, this was a hard pill to swallow; even 40 years later, he gets emotional when talking about that monumental shift in his life. 

To make matters more complicated, by the time Quelet was able to return to school, his friends and peers were in seventh grade and experiencing their own changes. It seemed like so much had changed from when he had left. He tried to reintegrate into school and the life he was forced to leave behind two years prior, but it was never the same.  

While dealing with all of this, Quelet found solace in recreational or rec therapy. Here, he was surrounded by kids like him, heard their stories, and connected with them. They had movie nights, played games, and did things kids their age should be doing. They all craved peer connection and formed strong bonds in this type of therapy. In fact, the connections he made were so strong that he is still friends with many of the kids he met decades ago. Rec therapy gave Quelet peer friendships and a sense of camaraderie which increased his confidence to adapt to and overcome obstacles he was facing elsewhere. 

Jeffrey Quelet shown skiing competitively after his limb loss.He met some challenges, but he did not just quit playing sports. Although it was near impossible for him to compete in soccer, running, or other sports that require quick changes in direction and sustained pressure on the lower body, he continued to excel in the pool and dubbed swimming his “great equalizer.” Quelet learned how to ski after his limb loss and quickly became an avid skier. He has since found many different ways to express his athleticism through swimming, water skiing, biking, triathlons, and more. 

Quelet has lived, and continues to live, an extremely charged and fulfilled life. There’s no doubt that the support of his family, friends, and his own inner drive are the main contributors to him living such an uninhibited and accomplished life. However, O&P gave him the tools he needed to run through whatever challenge was in his way. 

Jeffrey Quelet shown smiling with wife to his leftPatients with limb loss face unique challenges and even today on his 50th birthday (July 11, 2022), Quelet said he continually “adapts and overcomes” in his life. Quinlan agrees and believes adapting to a situation and overcoming challenges is the definition of success for anyone. With this in mind, Salus wants to share his inspiring story to illuminate the unique challenges of sarcoma survivors and to motivate members of the Salus community to continue overcoming whatever challenges lie ahead.

Happy 50th to Jeffrey Quelet, and to many more!