Shanna Decker, Cancer survivor: My knee really just started to hurt a whole lot. And it went from no pain, to debilitating pain in three weeks. So much so, that as a seven-year-old, I asked my mom to take me to the doctor.

Vivien Williams: Experts at Mayo Clinic diagnosed a rare bone cancer called osteosarcoma.

Ms. Decker: But all I knew of cancer was that people died of cancer, basically. And so when they said cancer, immediately, even though I was seven, I knew this is a bad deal. Will I survive? Things like that.

Ms. Williams: That is a question no seven-year-old should have to ponder.

Carola Arndt, M.D., Pediatric Oncology, Mayo Clinic: So treatment for osteosarcoma involves surgery and chemotherapy.

Ms. Williams: Pediatric oncologist, Dr. Carola Arndt, and orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Franklin Sim, led the multi-disciplinary team that cared for Shanna.

Franklin Sim, M.D., Orthopedic Surgery, Mayo Clinic: The tumor was in the lower end of the thigh bone.

Ms. Williams: Shanna started chemotherapy and then had surgery, which in the past, would have meant amputating her left leg above the knee. Instead, she had what was then a new and groundbreaking procedure called rotationplasty. During the operation, Dr. Sim removed the section of the thigh, or femur bone, that involves the tumor as well as the knee and part of the shinbone, or tibia. Then, he rotates the lower leg and fuses it to the femur. The ankle now becomes the knee.

Ms. Decker: So on this leg, I take it off and then this is my foot, on backwards.

Ms. Williams: It may look a bit strange but the procedure and prosthesis have allowed Shanna to do just about anything. She says it was surprisingly easy to adjust to her new normal.

Ms. Decker: And as soon as my leg healed, I was walking with a prosthetic and it took me about 30 seconds to learn how to re-walk.

Ms. Williams: Shanna, who is now 24, has accomplished a lot in the years since her diagnosis and surgery.

Ms. Decker: So I'm 16 years out of cancer now, which seems so crazy, 16 years.

Dr. Sim: And we've seen her grow through her childhood and function as she's been able to do and remain active. And now at this stage, she's finished college and she's passing it on. She's giving back.

Ms. Decker: Right after my treatment, when I was eight years old, 1999, my family started mentoring kids with cancer.

Ms. Williams: Then, in 2007, with three other families, they started an organization called Brighter Tomorrows.

Ms. Decker: It supports families emotionally, spiritually, educationally, and a little bit financially, when they're diagnosed with cancer. And we have hundreds of people in our database now.

Dr. Arndt: It makes my day. If at the end of the day or during the course of the day, I see a long-term survivor like Shanna, it puts things in perspective and it reminds me this is why we do what we do.

Ms. Decker: Helping families with cancer. Being an advocate for childhood cancer. Helping every single family who walks through the journey, so they're not by themselves.

Ms. Williams: Giving back hope, love and healing.


Nov. 03, 2023