"So Many People to Thank" Says Assistant Director of Campus Recreation
By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
January 27, 2010
It started as a pea-sized lump more than a year ago. It ended up changing Linda Hayden’s life.
The pea grew. From Christmas 2008 to shortly before commencement in May, the little bump on her left kneecap enlarged to the size of a pingpong ball. Before that, in February when it was marble-sized, doctors thought it was a fatty cyst.
It wasn’t. Hayden, assistant director of Campus Recreation, learned that after a biopsy in April. Two days before graduation, she was told she had cancer. Fibroblastic sarcoma, to be exact, a rare disease that afflicts only about 1,000 people a year.
“Before I got the results, a coworker came in and asked if I was nervous and I said, yes, I was anxious. And he said he was sure it would be fine because who ever heard of cancer of the knee?” Hayden says.
Now, they both have.
Hayden went to Massachusetts General Hospital in June to consult with an oncologist. Eventually she learned two things: the lump was a high grade sarcoma, which meant it was fully cancerous. And positioned as it was on her kneecap, it had nowhere to grow but out. Meaning it was relatively small.
She had surgery. It was complex; they took part of her calf muscle to rebuild the knee. She had a skin graft. After six days in the hospital, she got to go home. On the ninth day, she spiked a fever.
A second surgery was needed to clean out the infection she’d developed. She had to have her kneecap removed because the wound wouldn’t close and not closing meant it wouldn’t heal. The skin graft and radiation had weakened the area. After two weeks of physical and occupational therapy, she was ready to go home. Again. But the incision site still hadn’t closed.
The third surgery took 11 hours. Skin and muscle was moved from her thigh to her knee. She couldn’t get out of bed for 10 days. She has scars running from her hip bone to her ankle. The area where her kneecap used to be looks like a patchwork quilt.
“Twenty-five or thirty years ago, they would have amputated so I feel really grateful,” Hayden says. “I have to keep going back to that—to the reason that we did all this was cancer. It helps me keep my perspective.”
Hayden used to be a gym teacher. She’s been at UNH, with the Hamel Rec, for 23 years, teaching fitness and health. She used to teach aerobics. Now she can’t bend her knee. Her leg stays straight. She is newly off crutches; just three weeks.
“I lost a lot of strength with all the surgeries and time in the hospital,” says Hayden, who still can’t drive yet. “It’s been hard. I’ve been an athlete all my life. Basically, I cried every day I looked at it—it didn’t feel it was my leg.”
But what has made the nine-month ordeal easier—a bit easier—is the outpouring of support and comfort she has received from people across the university. Cards; notes; food. Every week, lots of food.
“When they found out I was having the first surgery, the people I work with signed up to bring me food. Every Monday we had a great meal, with leftovers to take us into the week,” says Hayden, who is married to Roger Hayden of Hayden Sports. Their two boys are in sixth and eighth grade. “Then, with the second surgery, my co-worker David Leach, and his wife, Cathy, put up a notice and people from around campus started bringing me food.”
A lot of people, she says, were sending her good thoughts. The thing that surprised her the most, though, was hearing from people she doesn’t even know that well. All of that has helped her begin to adjust to what she calls a major life change.
“For someone who’s been in the fitness industry her whole life, this is a huge blow—to have an injury that takes that away,” Hayden says. “But, so many people have supported me through this process—people from Health Services, the library, athletics. It’s been amazing. I want to say thank you to the community at large. How do you do that? How do you thank so many people who have made such a difference? I don’t know.”
This is her attempt; she asked if she could put a note in Campus Journal. So, here it is: hey, everyone, Linda Hayden says thank you. Thank you very much.