Caitlin Acree, a world champion barrel-racer, competes against rodeo champions twice her age—all while battling a rare brain cancer. The talented 17-year-old Cinco Ranch High School senior recently completed treatment at the Proton Therapy Center for an optic nerve glioma.
After MD Anderson doctors confirmed Caitlin’s diagnosis three years ago, she began preparing for treatment to combat the disease. The tumor started to affect her vision, and she and her family sought out proton therapy —an advanced form of radiation that uses a narrow beam of protons to deliver radiation directly to the tumor while sparing surrounding structures. It’s a treatment that is especially beneficial for complicated tumors of the brain and is often used for pediatric patients in order to limit the dose of radiation in their developing bodies.
Caitlin began riding in 2010 and has competed for the past two and a half years. According to friends and family, she was a natural from the beginning.
"Caitlin had wanted a horse since she was in the second grade," says her father Randy. "We put it off because she was already involved in several extracurricular activities, mainly volleyball and dance. But after some injuries halted her participation in those, we bought her first horse and right off the bat she was a successful competitor."
In 2011, Caitlin traveled to the ABRA (American Buckskin Registry Association) World Show in Tulsa, OK, where she raced against some of the best riders in the nation. She went on to win first place in the 18-and-under barrel event and second place in the stakes race. Since then, she’s competed in various events around the country. In 2012, she was ranked 3rd in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Texas Junior Division.
“I try to ride as often as I can despite my busy school and treatment schedule,” says Caitlin. "My horses are comforting and have helped me through this difficult time."