I played volleyball all through middle school. By the eighth grade, I was the setter for our team. During the second-to-last game of the season, another girl stepped on the back of my right leg and injured my knee. We treated the pain with ibuprofen and rest.
But my leg kept hurting and seemed to be getting worse, so my mom took me to an orthopedic surgeon. After looking at the MRI, the doctor said, “Yeah, you have something right there, but what is this?” That’s when we saw a little bump on the end of my femur that we hadn’t even noticed before. It turned out to be osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer.
My orthopedic surgeon had never diagnosed cancer before — or even seen this type of tumor in real life. So he sent us to MD Anderson. He said we’d find better care there and that the doctors would know exactly what this was and how to treat it. He was right.
Choosing a prosthesis after my osteosarcoma diagnosis
In October 2015, I came to MD Anderson, where my family and I met with Valerae Lewis, M.D., in the Orthopedic Oncology department. She performed a biopsy to confirm my osteosarcoma diagnosis. Then, we decided on a treatment plan. I’d have 14 weeks of chemotherapy before my surgery and 23 weeks afterward.
Dr. Lewis surgically removed my right knee and part of my right femur on Feb. 8, 2016, and replaced them with prosthetic ones. They’re both made of metal now, so I beep whenever I go through a metal detector at the airport.
Dr. Lewis told me I had two options for my prosthesis. One could be adjusted as I grew. The other was stronger, but also permanent, so I’d have to have another surgery at some point to “turn off” the growth plate in my other leg. I’m already 5’7”, so I chose the permanent one. I decided I was tall enough.
I had the surgery to turn off the growth plate in my left leg on March 23, 2017. Now, my legs will always be even, and I won’t have to worry about getting a lift in my shoe.
Learning who my true friends are
Being diagnosed with cancer at age 13 was shocking. But it didn’t really set in until I arrived for my first chemo treatment. Coming into the hospital was mind-blowing. I remember thinking, “Okay, this is for real, not just something that happens to other people.”
At some point during treatment, I lost all my hair. Explaining why to people was hard. And starting my freshman year of high school bald and in a wheelchair was very different. Some people didn’t like it and tried to avoid me. But it really helped me to know who my true friends are. After all, I’m still me. Cancer is just a little bump in the road that I’d gone over.
I met so many other young people with cancer like mine at MD Anderson. And just knowing I was not alone on this journey was so helpful. It gave me hope that I was going to make it through this. And I did. I had my last chemo infusion on July 20, 2016, and I’ve been cancer-free since last August.
Believing in yourself
It’s too risky for me to play volleyball anymore, so now I play golf. It’s great knowing I can play this sport, even with an implant. And being able to go out and play with other kids my age lets me feel kind of normal.
Because of my prosthesis, sometimes people try to tell me, “No, you can’t do that.” But I can still do anything. I just do it in a different way. I could’ve even kept playing volleyball through the Paralympics. I just would’ve done it sitting down.
You can always find a different way of doing something. That’s why I tell other cancer patients to stay positive. Being positive is the best medicine you can take for yourself and the people around you. Think it’s going to be alright, and it will be. Because if you believe you can do something, you can.