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Written by Erin Mobley, Adult BMT Data Specialist at Mayo Clinic in Florida
I wanted to go skiing for my seventh birthday, but instead I celebrated in the hospital with family and friends, and a pediatric oncologist.
Two months earlier, in September 1993, on my first day of first grade, I had gotten sick and had a large amount of blood in my urine. I remember my mom picking me up early from school and taking me to the pediatrician, who promptly sent us to the hospital. Scans revealed a tumor about the size golf ball in my bladder. Using the latest technology available, doctors biopsied the tumor and determined it to be rhabdomyosarcoma, a soft-tissue sarcoma.
I had surgery the next day and soon began chemotherapy as an inpatient, using a treatment protocol established by what is now the Children’s Oncology Group (COG), an international organization devoted to childhood and adolescent cancer research. The chemotherapy treatment regimen required me to spend every other week in the hospital.
My wish to ski came true in March 1994 thanks to Dreams Come True, a local organization that helps children fighting life-threatening diseases fulfill their dreams. My family and I traveled to Winter Park, Co., where we skied, rode snowmobiles, went tubing and built snowmen! The real joy for me was being able to take a break from treatment and just be a kid. Of course, it gave my parents a vacation, too!
When we returned to Florida, I started my week-long treatments again. But about a month later we received news that turned my life around. The slides from my tumor had been under review by a special committee at COG, and it was determined that I did not actually have cancer. Rather, I had a benign inflammatory myofibroblastic tumor, which has characteristics similar to other soft-tissue sarcomas but had never been reported in a child as young as I was.
Immediately chemotherapy was stopped, but for the next three years I had follow-up visits just to make sure I remained healthy and another tumor wasn’t developing.
Because of what I went through as a child, I realized how this experience impacted me and how thankful I was to the people who helped me. I decided I wanted to work in health care so I could help people the same way others helped me. I earned my bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling Services and my master's of Public Health from Florida State University. Today, I work as part of the Bone Marrow Transplant team at Mayo Clinic’s Cancer Center.
I believe my past experiences give me a unique perspective and connection to others battling cancer. While my job doesn’t allow me to engage with patients as much as I’d like, I hope that my work in research and quality improvement is making a difference in their lives. I also volunteer for many activities so that I can pay forward the support others gave to me as a child dealing with cancer.
Still thankful for my ski trip, I’m now a member of the Dreams Come True Horizon Board. I support Team Mayo Clinic at the Light The Night Walk, the Katie Ride For Life and am a volunteer ambassador for the Be The Match registry. And this weekend, I’m leading a relay team for the 26.2 with Donna: The National Marathon to Finish Breast Cancer, which donates 100 percent of race proceeds and raises funds for cancer research at Mayo Clinic.
My hope is that by advocating and fundraising for organizations that support cancer research and cancer survivors, one day we’ll eliminate the need for anyone to celebrate their birthday in the hospital.
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