Osteosarcoma survivor: MD Anderson has helped shape my future

In 2016, osteosarcoma was the last thing on my mind. I was a typical and active high-school junior playing sports and hanging out with my friends. On a trip in December, I decided to try snowboarding for the first time, but it was harder than it looked and I kept falling. I had some pain in my leg and took over-the-counter pain relievers, assuming it was just a bruise from the falls.

In January, after playing in a flag football game, I began experiencing swelling in my leg again. Walking became uncomfortable. My parents took me to a local orthopedic doctor near our home in The Woodlands. I got an X-ray and an MRI. They showed I had a fracture in my leg, but the doctors also saw a spot that looked like it could be a tumor.

My family and I were shocked, but we made an appointment at MD Anderson as quickly as we could.

My osteosarcoma treatment

Within a week, I had my first appointment at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital with Dr. Valerae O. Lewis, chair of Orthopaedic Oncology. After further testing, the biopsy results confirmed that I had osteosarcoma in my left distal femur. My parents and I again met with Dr. Lewis and we began to discuss a plan of action for treatment.

My pediatric oncology team, led by Dr. Najat Daw, prescribed six rounds of chemotherapy. I received the first round in February 2017. In May 2017, Dr. Lewis performed a limb-salvage surgery that included a full knee and partial distal femur replacement. I received another twelve rounds of chemotherapy following surgery. Though the chemotherapy I received before surgery killed 95% of the tumor cells, my doctors recommended continuing chemotherapy after surgery to reduce my chances of a relapse.

An exercise clinical trial sped up my recovery

When I began my treatment, Dr. Lewis and Dr. Keri Schadler enrolled me in a clinical trial that looked at the effect that exercise could have on my treatment.

As part of the clinical trial, I worked with physical therapists Alex Penny and Taryne Thomas several times a week to condition my body and combat some of the side effects of chemotherapy, such as fatigue and potential heart damage. The physical therapy also helped strengthen and prepare my body for surgery.

I really think the exercise helped me a lot. My physical therapists forced me to get up and get moving every day, even just for a little bit. For several months before my surgery, I was not allowed to put weight on my leg in order to avoid fracturing the bone. But the night after surgery, I was able to walk to the bathroom. By the time I left the hospital, I didn’t need my crutches — something that was supposed to take six weeks to happen. The exercise helped motivate me to regain the mobility I had before my diagnosis.

Now, my leg is a little stiffer and I can’t run on it anymore, but I work the muscles all the time through biking and swimming.

My time at MD Anderson has shaped my career choices

I’m so thankful that I was able to keep up with my schoolwork during my osteosarcoma treatment. My school in The Woodlands offered me online classes and a tutor came to the hospital to keep me on track. I graduated from high school on time in the spring of 2018, and began classes at the University of Oklahoma in the fall. Despite my time away from school, I felt fully prepared when I started college.

I haven’t officially decided on my major yet, but I’d like to go into physical therapy or be a physician assistant, which is not at all what I wanted to do before cancer. But at MD Anderson, I learned so much and became really interested in helping people. I had many incredible caregivers, and I realized I wanted to help others in the ways that they had helped me.

Looking ahead

Since my osteosarcoma diagnosis, everything has changed, but not necessarily in a bad way. Life is different, and I am OK with that.

While I was in the hospital, I talked to a lot of other kids my age and made new friends. Providing support for others during treatment helped me a lot. Keeping a positive attitude for my new friends and myself made a tremendous difference, probably more than anything else. Whether you expect to or not, you become a family with the people you bond with in the hospital, and I know the relationships that I made at MD Anderson will last me a lifetime.

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