Vicki Cutone was 61, working for the state of Vermont, walking a mile a day, and celebrating the birth of her second grandchild when she noticed it … the lump. On the inside of her upper left thigh. Not supposed to be there, couldn’t be good.
And it wasn’t. It was a rare cancer embedded in her muscle, called leiomyosarcoma. These account for only a fraction of 1 percent of all the cancers detected each year. Left to grow, it would spread until it ended her life.
That was four years ago. Today Cutone is retired, enjoys three grandchildren, and can ride for miles on her road bike. If anything, she is healthier than before.
It’s a gift, this new life, and she is determined to repay it.
“If I can help somebody else -- I mean, they’ve helped me,” she said of the doctors at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center who treated her. “They saved my life. So I want to give back, in any way I can.”
The treatment for Cutone’s cancer began with 25 doses of radiation to shrink her tumor. Then a Dartmouth surgeon, Dr. Eric Henderson, removed it and a surrounding cuff of healthy tissue, just to make sure he got it all.
Though a success, the operation left her leg numb. Her boss, a spin instructor, suggested she try a class; maybe it would help.
“I did it and I got off and I went ‘Oh my God,’ ” Cutone said. The workout left her wobbly. But on the way home, determination kicked in. “You know what?” she said to herself. “I am not letting this stupid bike get to me.”
Three years ago and just eight months after her surgery, Cutone rode 50 miles in the Prouty to support Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s Norris Cotton Cancer Center. She did the same the year after -- and last July, she made special leiomyosarcoma awareness shirts for her team and rode 100 miles.
She gave one of those shirts to Dr. Henderson. He’s a Prouty rider too, with his own team. He started later but rode faster, catching her at the rest stop 60 or 70 miles in. They posed together for a picture -- both wearing her team’s jersey.
On Jan. 12, Cutone will ride in a new fundraiser of her own making: two spin classes at the River Valley Club, with 35 bikes each and a $50 donation to ride.
She wants the money to support Henderson’s work. He’ll be there riding too.
“I’m going to try to start a little rivalry with the general surgeons, although they don’t know it yet,” he said.
“I’m living my life, you know?” Cutone said. “I’m very fortunate.”
Doing the work he does, Henderson feels that way too. And as for Cutone, the friendship they’ve developed, and her support?
“It’s amazing,” he said. “You can’t put a price or a label or anything on that. It’s really incredible.”
Want to join in Cutone’s fundraiser on Jan. 12? Email her at email@example.com to reserve a seat.