Nurse Sette Buenaventura believed that the cramps in her leg were caused by her extra-long working hours while caring for COVID-19 patients. She only had the pain checked-up when she could no longer walk properly and that was when the diagnosis of a sarcoma necessitated a life-saving amputation. She now wants to warn everyone not to ignore persistent pain.
Caring through her pain
Buenaventura, a 26-year-old nurse and part-time model, worked on the coronavirus frontline at Salford Royal Hospital in Greater Manchester in the UK. For eight weeks, she ignored the bad cramps in her leg, believing it to be from being on her feet for many long twelve-hour shifts.
“When COVID-19 kicked off we worked flat out, we didn’t have time to worry about aches and pains, we were there every hour to help anyone who needed us,” Buenaventura said. “I got a real taste for that level of commitment. That is what working in hospitals is like, you forget about your own pains because you’re busy helping other people, which I love to do, but everything comes at a cost.”
Cancer diagnosis and amputation
By April, the pain had increased to the extent that Buenaventura was struggling to walk, and only then did she seek medical advice. An MRI scan showed a tumor in her right leg, which was later confirmed to be a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor. Within weeks the tumor had grown to the size of a golf ball and doctors informed her that she would not survive without an amputation. Her leg was amputated in May, only four weeks after the sarcoma was first diagnosed.
Buenaventura is now cancer-free and is learning to walk with her prosthesis. She hopes to return to work in November if her rehabilitation goes according to plan. She explained that she was battling to come to terms with the “new me” and still avoided looking in the mirror. She also felt anxious about being treated differently and when people thought that she needed help all the time. “I tried to go out now and again with my partner and friends, and there were just lots of looks and people staring, which was too overwhelming, in the end, I had to go home because the attention was too much,” she said.
Don’t ignore symptoms
The news that her leg had to be amputated came as a great shock to Buenaventura because she always tried to live a healthy life and had never expected something like this to happen to her. She wants to encourage others not to ignore any symptoms. “I think it’s really important for anyone with a lingering pain to go and get it checked out. If I had caught this sooner, I would probably be in a different position now.”