Caitlin Acree, a world champion barrel-racer, competed against rodeo champions twice her age—all while battling a rare brain cancer.
Caitlin had a kaleidoscope-looking image on the left side of her vision and a gray fuzzy image on the right side of her vision but was unable to explain it. Then, she had a migraine that lasted an entire week.
"It was difficult to explain and describe to my parents what I was seeing," Caitlin recalls.
After doctors confirmed Caitlin’s diagnosis, she came to MD Anderson to seek treatment. Doctors explained that proton therapy would be the best treatment option since her tumor was inoperable and chemotherapy wouldn’t be effective in treating her brain cancer.
"Being our only child, it was hard for us to hear that she had cancer. It rips your stomach out," Caitlin’s father Randy said. "We felt blindsided."
Benefits of proton therapy for brain cancer
Proton therapy was able to deliver radiation directly to the tumor, destroying cancer cells while sparing her eyes and brain. Even though the tumor had affected her vision, proton therapy preserved her remaining vision allowing her to participate in ranch sorting.
During her senior year at Cinco Ranch High School, she completed five weeks of treatment, five days a week at the Proton Therapy Center for an optic nerve glioma.
Finding comfort while facing a cancer diagnosis
"She had wanted a horse since she was in the second grade," says Randy. "We knew right away she was going to be a successful competitor."
"I tried to ride as often as I could despite my busy school and treatment schedule," says Caitlin. "My horses are comforting and helped me through the difficult time."
Overcoming emotional and physical changes
Because of the tumor’s location, Caitlin’s emotional health was greatly affected. She went from being upbeat to depressed, causing her to lose 30 pounds in six weeks. Horses provided the confidence and support she needed to stay motivated during treatment.
"I had gotten in this rut. I didn’t know how to interact with people. Horses helped me connect with people again. I’m very thankful for that," says Caitlin.
Facing the future after cancer
She enjoys competing in different parts of the state and country as well as taking college classes. Caitlin has been ranked No. 2 in three different categories including Texas State and National Points along with the Western Heritage Class in the Ranch Sorting National Championship (RSNC).
"Horses are beautiful, strong and kind. The bond you create is one that few understand. You’re trusting this horse with your life," Caitlin explained. "You have to find something to keep you going. For me, it was my horse!"
“You have to find something to keep you going. For me, it was my horse!”
Brain Cancer Survivor