When she was 18 years old, Tracey Ferrin had a husband, a 10-month-old daughter and was pregnant with her second child. She also had growing concerns about the unusual bump just above the knee on her femur.
What she didn't have, however, was insight into how the mysterious bump would change her life for the better.
Suspicions are confirmed
As she grew increasingly worried, she sought the advice of a friend who closely examined her leg and recommended that she pay a visit to MD Anderson. A biopsy confirmed her friend's suspicions; Ferrin had an aggressive case of osteosarcoma.
The most common type of cancer that develops in bone, osteosarcoma frequently occurs near the ends of long bones, especially around the knees and during adolescent periods of rapid growth.
Trying to understand
Due to her youth, Ferrin was unable to fully comprehend her diagnosis. "I didn't really have a reaction," she says. "The only thing I knew about cancer is that you were bald. I didn't really understand it."
She feared that her diagnosis meant losing her leg, but those around her tried to keep the atmosphere light. They often joked with her and eased her anxiety.
Doctors wanted her to start treatment immediately, but she was apprehensive about the effects chemotherapy would have on her pregnancy. "Most of my worries and concerns were for the baby, not me," Ferrin says. She decided to wait a few weeks until she reached her third trimester before beginning treatment.
It's a girl
After two rounds of chemotherapy, Ferrin gave birth six weeks before her due date. She was elated to find that her treatments had not affected the baby. "I expected her to be bald, but she had so much hair, and she was screaming a lot," Ferrin says. Although the baby weighed only 3 pounds, 10 ounces, she was completely healthy.
"Notably, although Tracey was totally bald, her baby was born with a full head of hair," says Robert Benjamin, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Sarcoma Medical Oncology. "It attests to the remarkable ability of the placenta to exclude harmful substances, and that permits us to safely administer chemotherapy to pregnant patients."
Ferrin then proceeded with her treatment. Only a month after her daughter's birth, she underwent a 13-hour surgery that spared her leg, followed by several more rounds of chemotherapy.
Back to normal
Ferrin is grateful for Benjamin and the medical staff who helped treat her.
"I had the most wonderful team," she says. "It's because of them and many other MD Anderson employees that today I'm a wife to the most amazing husband ever, a mother to four beautiful children, a sister to my three siblings, a daughter to parents who took care of me throughout this whole ordeal, a niece, a granddaughter and a friend."
Having cancer did not slowdown Ferrin either. "I'm not limited to what I can do from the surgery and chemotherapy. I do everything I did before. I'm able to walk, ride a bike, play sports, Rollerblade, exercise and play on the floor with my children," she says.
'I love my life'
However, other areas of Ferrin's life were deeply affected by her diagnosis. In fact, she says cancer changed her life completely. "To be honest, I was a bratty kid. I was not compassionate, and I was judgmental."
Having gone through a divorce during treatment, Ferrin found her life also changed in other ways. She has been happily married to her second husband for six years, and they now have four children. "I'm on a completely different path than the one I was headed down," she says.
Today, years after she won her battle, Ferrin exudes compassion and takes time to enjoy precious moments in her life. She also smiles a lot more.
When it comes to cancer, she didn't enjoy it at the time, but going through the process helped her grow as a person. It gave her a new outlook on life and brought out a different side of her personality. "I love my life," she says. "It's amazing."