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Lori Frisher

Lori Frisher found herself battling cancer...again, This strong, determined, resilient leader partnered with the region's most experienced physicians and care team to wage a war against Sarcoma.

April 02, 2024
Lori Frisher speaking at microphone

Local CEO battles sarcoma with orthopedic oncologist and the Institute for Limb Preservation

Lori Frisher is an upbeat, charismatic, highly successful CEO of Denver-based strategy advocacy organization, Ready or Not! Media. Many of Lori’s clients know at least some of her fascinating history– she was born with severe hearing loss and was the first ever to have two different types of hearing implants placed; she was a collegiate D1 tennis player who graduated with honors and spoke at commencement; she is a native New Yorker and a 9/11 survivor; she has a storied career in media, advertising, sales and worked with the likes of famed journalist Walter Cronkite; she is cancer survivor (melanoma) and she beat it twice (1998 and 2005). After moving to Denver in 2007, Lori’s health seemed to stabilize… until 2020. Then, she was again challenged during the COVID-19 pandemic with a misdiagnosed, then finally diagnosed, Functional Neurological Disorder (FND). While that health trial was particularly difficult, it inspired Lori to find a new passion in disability advocacy. And by 2022, she was finding success in her business and relief in her health.

A real pain in the leg

But the relief was not to last. It started small—just a nagging pain in her leg. “I was experiencing some pain in my left leg,” Lori explains. “It felt like it was a strain, so I went to a doctor who thought my IT band was aggravated. He recommended some physical therapy exercises.” Despite following the doctor’s orders, her pain persisted, and the related sciatic pain was intense. “I couldn't sleep on either side of my bed,” Lori recalls. “I would call myself a tin man when I slept—I felt like I need to be oiled—I was just so firm and stiff lying on my back. And I also started to develop this lump on my left hip that was growing.”

As a two-time cancer survivor, Lori knew something wasn’t right. She began to notice the lump through her clothing, and she found it difficult to walk in high heels (as a girl from New York, that was not acceptable!). One evening, she attended a Melanoma Research Foundation event where the speaker reminded the audience that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to persist with the doctor about what you are feeling. “I just knew I had to address this,” Lori shares. “It was that inner sense of always fearing the C word.”

Is it the C word?

It wasn’t long before Lori took action—a visit to the orthopedist. The specialist performed an X-ray and CT scan. The X-ray found no broken bones, but the CT scan revealed fluid in the area. “I asked [the orthopedic physician], ‘is it the C word?’ I wondered if the melanoma had come back a third time,” Lori remembers. “And he just said, ‘I don't know.’” The orthopedist recommended Lori make an appointment with Colorado Limb Consultants, a high-level practice at Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center that takes on complex limb cases including the treatment of sarcoma (cancers that arise in the bone and soft tissues of our extremities).

Shortly after, Lori and a friend were at the Colorado Limb Consultants office where they met Daniel Lerman, MD. Lori recalls that after he placed her medical imaging on display, “He said, how long have you had this pain?” Right of out the gate, I knew something is not good.” Dr. Lerman said the pain was most likely due to sarcoma and he estimated the tumor mass was the size of a watermelon. The next step was to biopsy the mass.

That procedure confirmed that the mass was a soft tissue sarcoma—an aggressive cancerous process that can arise in the connective tissue of the body. Armed with these details, Dr. Lerman was scheduled to perform surgery to remove the mass and get Lori’s treatment underway. While Lori had fears, especially facing cancer again, she felt she was with the right provider.

“Dr. Lerman just had a great attitude, and I knew I was in good hands right away. He said, ‘you’re going to have a team of people fighting for you. It’s how we do it here,’” Lori recalls.

Lori was put in touch with her nurse navigator, Mary, who helped connect her with information, resources, and most importantly to a survivor who had a similar experience. That connection, as well as the competency and cohesion of her medical team, put her at ease.

Surgical extraction

During Lori’s surgery, Dr. Lerman learned that the tumor was almost seven pounds (“basically the size of a newborn baby,” Lori regales) and had wrapped itself around her hip, pelvis, thigh, gluteus maximus, medius and minimus muscles. Carefully and delicately, the team worked to detach the tumor from Lori’s pelvic bone, removing muscle that could not be salvaged while completing a successful surgery to extract the cancerous mass.

Unfortunately, soon after surgery, Lori was hit with a wound healing complication and required a several more surgeries from expert plastic surgeon David Schnur, MD. While this medical battle wasn’t quick or easy, it was one she would continue to fight with strength and grace. Lori spent the next eight weeks as an inpatient, where she began to heal, making use of the hospital’s hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which promotes wound healing at a rapid rate.

Empathy in healing

While battling sarcoma was not an easy road for Lori, a bright spot was the care she received at the hospital, from Dr. Lerman, Dr. Schnur and their team. As someone who has had her fair share of time in hospitals, she felt the care she saw at P/SL was unique. “The staff was always pleasant, always attentive, always connected to the doctors. I've never seen anything like it,” Lori explains. “I've been in multiple hospitals. And the way this team communicates, and everybody knows what you’re doing - it’s great.”

As a deaf woman, Lori had particular challenges with the face masks worn by the colleagues communicating with her during her stay. She gently explained to her caregivers that lowering masks would allow her to understand them, giving her the ability to see their mouth, and read lips and other facial cues. “It kind of went viral on the floor— ‘there’s a patient who is deaf, lower your mask if you’re wearing one,” she recalls. Even more, when she’d visit the hyperbaric oxygen chamber each day, the colleagues there wore see-through masks, allowing her to have visual access to communicate with them. “It was just amazing,” she says.

She explains the difference for her was all about the empathy she experienced from the staff. From caregivers asking her visiting parents if they need anything and taking time to clearly communicate with her, to changing her hearing implant batteries and charging her assistive devices, Lori felt that the staff truly cared about her whole wellbeing.

Now home and continuing to heal, Lori uses a walker to get around and a wheelchair for long distances. She is continuing radiation and chemotherapy to fully eradicate the cancer. And while this current health battle isn’t yet complete, Lori has found her work is coming full circle as she uses her personal experiences with navigating with multiple disabilities, experiencing access and lack of access to spread empathy and impact those around her. In the meantime, she is grateful not only to her doctors and the care teams, but all the colleagues at P/SL for how they provided exceptional care and took the time to adapt their care and connect with her as an individual. “The team had more human connection and a real interest and openness to learning more,” Lori explains. “It’s just a phenomenal thing to see.”

Learn more about the Limb Preservation Foundation

Learn more about Colorado Limb Consultants

Learn more about Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Medical Center

Lori Frisher
April 02, 2024
Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center

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