Success After Bone Cancer
**The following post is a part of our blog series that we will do each month as a part of our cancer observance mission information. These courageous cancer survivors are sharing their story…..the good, the bad and sometimes the ugly. But the great news, thanks to the work of the American Cancer Society, they are with us today and we hope these stories provide inspiration to all who read them.
My name is Hannah, I am 29 years old and I was diagnosed with Telangiectatic Osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer, in 2015. I had just turned 21 years old three months prior to my diagnosis, but because the type of cancer I had was more commonly seen in teenagers, I was able to be treated at Helen Devos Children’s Hospital.
I was diagnosed mid-June of that year and within a week, I had my port placed and was receiving my first round of chemotherapy. My plan would be to receive 6 rounds of chemo, have surgery to remove the tumor, and follow surgery with 12 more rounds of chemo. My tumor was located on the inside of my left femur, close to the knee joint. I would undergo a 16 hour long limb-salvage surgery that luckily didn’t involve a knee replacement. Although I went through one of the toughest chemo regimens, I was never afraid that it wouldn’t work. My doctors at Devos made me feel very confident in our plan because even though the cancer I had was rare, there was a lot of success with this type of treatment.
I was at a very interesting age to have a type of cancer that was mostly seen in teenagers. I was a young adult who could advocate for myself, but fortunately I didn’t always have to. My parents became my full-time caregivers and I am so grateful that I have the parents that I do. I think the job of a caregiver can be harder than going through the treatment, but being treated at Devos helped with that. The staff there are used to working directly with parents because of it being a Children’s Hospital and I think the resources that were available to not only me, but my parents as well, helped tremendously.
Almost all of my chemotherapy had to be done in-patient at Devos. Because the chemo was so aggressive, I would need hydration before chemo and immediately after as well to get the chemo back out of my body fast. This is why my levels had to be monitored in-patient. My parents spent most of their nights staying at Hope Lodge, which is an amazing resource. Being from Traverse City, two hours away from Grand Rapids, having a free place to stay outside of the hospital was a true blessing. Many times the night before treatment or surgery, I would stay at Hope Lodge with them.
After my first six rounds of chemo, I had to have a major limb-salvage surgery to remove the tumor. The surgery itself took 16 hours and following that was 4-6 weeks of recovery before I could start chemotherapy again. Even though the first part of my treatment killed all of the cancer in my tumor, research showed that I needed to do 12 more rounds of chemo to give me the highest chance of my cancer not returning. Those 12 rounds were definitely the hardest.
Overall, my treatment lasted just over 9 months, with more than half of that being in-patient at Devos. I had pretty awful side-effects from chemo, multiple hospital stays due to being neutropenic, and a few delays in treatment from infection. However, Helen Devos Children’s Hospital really became my second home that year and there are still times where I miss the amazing staff who work there.
Following my treatment plan, I would need routine chest x-rays, blood draws and echocardiograms for the next five years. Just over a year ago, I had my last ever appointment at Devos. My doctors informed me that my treatment worked so well that the chances of my cancer reoccurring is very slim and I have been cancer free for just over seven years now.
One of the greatest memories during my treatment was being able to visit my boyfriend at the time in the Dominican Republic. I went to see him after my first six rounds of chemo, before my surgery. Most of the doctors were surprised by my travel plans, but my Oncologist knew that I had a long treatment road ahead and that I would need some true happiness to get through it. Talk about the stars aligning, my husband and I got married that week, on his birthday, mid-cancer treatment in the Dominican Republic. And my doctor was right, it is still one of the best weeks of my life, because of my cancer, not in-spite of it.
The greatest part of my story is all of the things I have been able to accomplish post-cancer. I went back to college after taking a year off and graduated in December of 2016. My husband and I now have two beautiful boys ages 6 1/2 and 3. We own a home just outside of Traverse City and I get to work my dream job as a high school volleyball coach. Physically, I am so lucky to have had the surgeons that I did. I am stronger than I was before bone cancer and I completed my first ever half-marathon last fall. I know a large part of that is my determination and discipline but more of it is due to the science and the research of the people who treated me.
Whatever path I took and the timing of my cancer led me to being treated at Devos and Spectrum Health. I will forever be grateful to everyone who was a part of my cancer treatment because in so many ways, they saved my life.