Adult rhabdomyosarcoma survivor learns to appreciate every day

Fort Worth resident Susan Pratt was playing tennis in June 1995, when she realized she couldn’t feel the left side of her gum line. Figuring it was just a sinus infection, she went to a local ear, nose and throat doctor. The physician knew something was seriously wrong, so he ordered a CT scan. The results surprised both of them: Susan had stage IV rhabdomyosarcoma, a very aggressive cancer usually seen only in children. She had a tumor in her left maxillary and ethmoid sinus cavities. “The doctor couldn’t believe it,” Susan says. “Rhabdomyosarcoma is considered a childhood cancer, but I was 46 when he found it. My husband and I were both devastated.” Rhabdomyosarcoma treatment begins at MD Anderson Susan’s doctor referred her immediately to MD Anderson, where she met with Helmuth Goepfert, M.D., and Robert Benjamin, M.D. (both now retired). She began receiving high-dose chemotherapy almost immediately, and enrolled in a clinical trial for a drug now called pegfilgrastim (Neulasta). It prompts the body to produce an abundance of white blood cells to counteract chemotherapy’s tendency to cause a severe drop in that critical blood component. “I was very lucky,” she says. “They taught me how to give myself that shot, and I only missed one dose of chemotherapy because my blood count was low. That drug is now available to all cancer patients.” Rhabdomyosarcoma takes a back seat to grief Susan was still reeling from the news that she had cancer when life dealt her another blow. On their very first night home from MD Anderson, her husband was fatally shot in the back by teenagers...