9 Years Old at Diagnosis
By Debbie Shull, Gabi’s mom
Gabi is a very active little girl. Her favorite hobbies include dancing, reading, hanging out with friends and her 3 sisters. Her story begins with a miracle and we pray it will end with a cure.
In early January 2011, 9-year-old Gabi went ice skating with friends. She fell and landed on her right knee. After 3 weeks of pain with little improvement, she went to the doctor. X-rays were taken and nothing was found. After 3 more weeks the swelling was noticeable and she was still experiencing pain. We went back to the doctor where repeat X-rays were taken. Doctors found what looked to be a stress fracture. She was put on crutches and scheduled for an MRI.
March 10, 2011 was the date of her MRI and a date that changed our lives forever. The radiologist informed our family physician that Gabi’s MRI results showed what looked to be osteosarcoma: cancer.
When we were told this news, it was shocking, heartbreaking, scary, unnerving and so many other emotions – all at the same time. We knew nothing of her prognosis, what it meant for Gabi or if the cancer had spread.
We were seen by an orthopedic who specializes in bone sarcomas the very next day. He reviewed the initial testing and the MRI and he believed it to be one of 3 possibilities; 1) osteosarcoma, 2) Ewing sarcoma, or 3) an infection that would require high doses of antibiotics through a surgically implanted port. No matter what the diagnosis, we knew the doctor would have to remove the lower part of her femur and she would have to have reconstructive knee surgery to include an endoprosthesis to replace the amputated part of the femur. None of these options were palatable, but we were praying for the lesser of three “evils”.
Gabi was scheduled for a surgical biopsy on March 14, 2011. Results confirmed the doctor’s suspicion…osteosarcoma – a cancer of the bone that destroys tissue and weakens the bone. This is a very rare cancer, only 400 childhood cases identified per year. Only 6% of all childhood cancers are osteosarcoma. Leave it to my baby to be rare! The doctor explained that the ice skating incident actually saved her life. If not for the fall, we may not have known that there was anything wrong with her knee until it was too late.
Gabi’s recovery from the surgery was rough. She had a hard time coming out of the anesthesia. Four days after the biopsy, she was set up with a pediatric oncologist at a children’s hospital. Gabi began treatments in March 2011. The chemotherapies were aggressive and rough on her system. It was a long journey. Each treatment required a 4-5 day hospital stay along with several hospital admissions for fever and/or neutropenia.
In June 2011, Gabi underwent a radical surgery called rotationplasty. This surgery uses her healthy ankle as a replacement knee. She is able to walk unassisted and is back to competition dance! In November 2011, Gabi finished chemo. She is still NED (No Evidence of Disease) and we couldn’t be more blessed!
There is always hope!!
– Debbie Shull
Want more stories like this?
Get emails that matter, when it matters.