The annoyance became a bit more of a problem. There was pain, there was swelling, and relatively soon, there was no ignoring it.
But Fayne Rein, a busy single mother, pushed on, ultimately checking in with a podiatrist who suggested that the lump on her foot was likely a cyst. Rein didn't particularly like that doctor, and admittedly wasn't diligent about following up with diagnostic tests.
"Finally, this thing on my foot absolutely demanded my attention," said Rein, 45. "I went to my family doctor, had some tests, and learned that I had a real problem."
That "real problem" was a very rare synoval sarcoma -- a cancer that is seen in only 800 cases in the United States each year. Dr. Joseph Rybicki, Rein's family doctor, sent her on to an oncologic surgeon, and the descent into a tumultuous period began in earnest for the Northeast Philadelphia woman.
'Fear and Anxiety'
Her parents, Marty and Sandy Litman, dropped everything and came up from Florida, presumably for a brief stay. That stay has stretched into more than a year. Her sisters, Arlene Pearlman and Lisa Litman, rallied around her. And her best friend and close neighbor, Hope Katz, also joined the loving honor guard around Fayne Rein.
"My goal was to try to protect my daughter from fear and anxiety. Paige knew I was sick, but in the beginning, she didn't know how sick."
Rein would be plunged into the netherworld of illness, and by the third week of April 2006, she knew that she was facing both chemotherapy and radiation in order to try to save her foot. Otherwise, amputation was all but certain.
That was when another loving army gathered around her; her co-workers at Penn Jersey Paper Company, a Philadelphia distributor of paper containers, janitorial supplies and generalized small wares, began to act as a well-organized team to see to it that Rein had food, transportation when she needed it, and most of all, the feeling that she wasn't alone.
"I was so overwhelmed," said Rein. "People I barely knew were cooking for us and sending us gift certificates. Sometimes, there were envelopes full of money. It was something I never expected, never asked for."
In the process, Rein learned about the basic decency of people, and saw true Jewish values close up. "You want to believe that people will do for others, and that good deeds are done by good people, but for weeks and then months, I was living it. Most of these people were not Jewish, but they were definitely showing the best of our values."
Through her chemo and radiation, there was the hope that her foot could be saved. At one point, it seemed quite possible. But it was not to be. And last December, at Pennsylvania Hospital, Dr. Edward Fox amputated Rein's left foot and part of her calf. "It had to be done for my prognosis to be hopeful," said Rein, who insisted that she "thought it was going to be worse."
Again, her family, friends and co-workers at Penn Jersey Paper Company rallied to her cause. Rein began adjusting to her new life, even managing to make her way up and down steps in her second-floor duplex apartment.
The latest challenge has been to learn to walk with a prosthesis. Rein has recently been a patient at Moss Rehabilitation, where she is adapting to her first -- and temporary -- prosthetic device.
In the process, she has become a crusader in a Pennsylvania campaign to help amputees get reimbursement for these devices. Rein has been distributing petitions and raising public consciousness about the steep cost of prostheses, which need to be replaced after an initial period, and then every few years.
Her own prosthetic limb has come from Harry Lawall and Son on Frankfort Avenue in Philadelphia, where the owners are deeply concerned about how devastating the economic realities of buying prostheses with minor or no reimbursement can be. "The shocking thing," said Rein, "is that some people simply can't afford their prosthetics, so they suffer terrible pain and limitations."
For now, Rein is deeply grateful for the support she has received. She is looking forward to returning to work in the near future, and to sharing major milestones with her 15-year-old daughter, the light of her life.
"I don't feel anger. I don't ask, 'Why me?' This experience has taught me that people are amazing, and that I'm a very lucky woman."
A Beef 'n' Beer event hosted by Friends for Fayne, Rein's co-workers, will be held on Sunday, March 25, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., at Bustleton Memorial Post 810, 9151 Old Newtown Road. All proceeds will assist Fayne Rein, who plans to attend.