Exercise as a tool to fight cancer
Study focuses on getting childhood cancer survivors back to normal activity as soon as possible
When 14-year-old Claire Spedale felt a nagging pain in her hip two years ago, she blamed her physical activity as a cheerleader and soccer player.
But when the pain became unbearable, her mom took Claire to the pediatrician. An MRI scan revealed a suspicious mass in the pelvis. The Spedales immediately contacted Valerae O. Lewis, M.D., chair of Orthopaedic Oncology at MD Anderson. Within 24 hours, Claire and her family were at MD Anderson Children’s Cancer Hospital, where they received a diagnosis of Ewing’s sarcoma – a cancer of the bone, soft tissue or both, that is most common in adolescents and young adults.
“The diagnosis was shocking, to say the least,” said Claire’s mom, Jeanne. “As a dermatologist, I often see melanomas and other skin cancers, but not sarcomas. I’m grateful that we knew the right doctors with the right expertise who could guide our family to the right place for treatment.”
Claire’s treatment consisted of chemotherapy and surgery. After pre-operative chemotherapy, she underwent an internal hemipelvectomy – a surgery where a portion of the pelvic bone is removed, and in Claire’s case, reconstructed with her own fibula.
While undergoing her first three months of chemotherapy, Claire participated in a study to determine whether exercise before surgery has a positive impact on the delivery and effectiveness of chemotherapy and on how a patient is able to perform activities of daily life.
“Staying physically active was still important, which made Claire the perfect candidate for our clinical trial,” says Lewis, who co-chairs the study with Keri Schadler, Ph.D., assistant professor of Pediatrics Research.
Six months of chemo followed Claire’s hemipelvectomy, and just 10 months after her initial cancer diagnosis, she rang the bell signifying the end of treatment. But Claire’s cancer journey didn’t stop there. Not long after ringing the bell, routine testing revealed an abnormality on the lobe of her thyroid gland. Claire was diagnosed with papillary thyroid carcinoma, a second cancer unrelated to her initial cancer. She didn’t have to undergo chemo or radiation, but she did need surgery.
“As a family, we were focused on being positive throughout the process, and Claire was focused on getting back to normal as soon possible,” says Claire’s father, Gerry.
With faith, family and friends in her corner, Claire persevered. Today, she’s a sophomore at Episcopal High School in Houston where she recently made the Varsity Cheer Squad. She continues physical therapy twice a week at MD Anderson, has her own at-home workout routine, and gets scans every three months. After graduation, she plans to study fashion design in college.
“I feel blessed to have support from my family, friends and school,” says Claire. “It’s great to get back to living my life.”