One year after brain surgery, 14-year-old champion gymnast Hailey Strole headed back to the gym determined to conquer her favorite event, the uneven bars. Little did she know she would have to battle a recurring tumor that could have dashed her dreams of earning a college scholarship for gymnastics. Her search for a treatment that would allow her to continue competing led her to The University of Texas MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center.
After her initial surgery in 2010, the home-schooled 8th grader from New Waverly, Texas continued to train and compete with her gymnastics team. But soon after Hailey began feeling ill, suffering from severe headaches and seizures. Through her pain, Hailey continued to do what she loved most, and last March participated in the 2012 Texas Level 9/10 State Meet. At that event, she had a major seizure and spent Easter weekend in the hospital.
According to Hailey’s mom Natalie, “we were concerned because she was getting progressively worse. Hailey continued having migraines, tumor headaches and seizures. The tumor was back and her doctors told us it was growing.”
Medication kept the seizures at bay for a short time, but in October she began having them more frequently. She spent months in and out of the hospital and an MRI showed that the location of the tumor was affecting the motor skills on the right side of her body. With the neurosurgeon, Hailey and her family ruled out surgery because of the risks involved – mainly muscle paralysis which would jeopardize her athletic career, opting instead for radiation therapy.
“When she was first diagnosed at age eleven, we protected her from difficult treatment decisions. Now that she’s 14, we felt we needed to include her – it’s her life, her future, her body,” says Natalie. “With the constant seizures and headaches, her quality of life was terrible. What she wanted most was the ability to compete and train with her team.”
Due to the complex location of the tumor, Hailey was a good candidate for proton therapy. Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation that targets tumors precisely while minimizing damage to healthy surrounding tissue, which is vital in children whose bodies are still growing and developing.
Hailey’s radiation oncologist, Dr. Anita Mahajan, medical director of the Proton Therapy Center and director of Pediatric Radiation Oncology, understood how important gymnastics were to Hailey and encouraged her to keep up her training during treatment.
“Hailey is a dedicated gymnast,” says Dr. Mahajan. “She continued to train when she could throughout this entire process. Kids’ goals and dreams don’t stop, even with a cancer diagnosis.”
Hailey graduated from treatment at the end of February and is grateful for the tremendous support from her fellow gymnasts, her oncology team and her family throughout the process. She was excited to ring the gong that represented the end of her treatment.
“I’m looking forward to watching the 2013 Visa Championships this summer,” says Hailey. “One of my best friends is on the junior national team and my goal is to be healthy enough to watch her compete. My advice to others diagnosed with cancer – don’t be fearful. This is something you can beat.”