College student Caitlynne McGaff bounces from one adventure to the next. One weekend, she might be on stage, performing in the Complete Works of Willliam Shakespeare, (abridged) a rapid-fire tromp through the bard’s best works. The next she could be scaling mountains in Maine or jumping into the icy waters of the Atlantic. In December, she spent three weeks in South Africa on a service trip, teaching life skills to disadvantaged high school students.
She’s leading the life she and her parents envisioned in 2001, when Caitlynne, then 8, underwent a rotationplasty. After she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 6, Caitlynne was treated with chemotherapy, but eventually it became clear her best chance would be for orthopedic surgeon Dr. Mark Gebhardt to remove her knee.
The McGaffs weighed the pros and cons of two options: replacing the knee with a metal plate or rotationplasty. During rotationplasty the surgeon removes the knee and attaches the shin bone to the thigh, rotating the ankle into place as a new knee. The procedure provides children with a longer leg, making it easier to use a prosthesis and allow patients to play sports and lead active lives.
And Caitlynne has done just that since her surgery. She switched from gymnastics in elementary school to softball in middle school, before finding her niche in theater and show choir in high school.
Now a junior at Boston University, Caitlynne walks the mile-long campus several times a day and is a regular at the campus gym. “I never have any problems with my leg. I’m much too stubborn for that,” she says. “I’d make the same choice [rotationplasty] again.”
Learn more about osteosarcoma.
Mahra Saeed is at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for her last checkup before heading home to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The spunky 8-year-old sports a new dress and cowboy boots, and carries a large stack of thank you cards. She hands them out to oncologist Dr. Carlos Rodriguez-Galindo, nurse practitioner Annette Werger and other staff members, who try to contain their emotion as they read, “Thanks for helping me to fight cancer.”
Virginia-Finigan Carter has a knack for turning things around.
At 13 years old, she fought through leg pain while preparing for a state gymnastics competition. “I felt a pain in my knee, but I didn’t tell my mother until afterwards because I wanted to compete,” says Virginia.
What she didn’t realize at the time was that her strength and perseverance through the pain would serve her well over the next few years, for a completely different reason.
After explaining the pain during a doctor’s visit, her primary care provider referred her to a local hospital to make sure nothing was torn. While her MRI scan didn’t show a tear, it indicated that Virginia had a cancerous bone tumor called osteosarcoma.
She was quickly referred to Megan Anderson, MD, attending orthopedic surgeon at Boston Children’s Hospital’s Bone Program, who understood that Virginia wanted to focus on what she could do, rather than what she couldn’t do. …
Caitlynne McGaff is an active 17-year-old. She owes a lot of her mobility to an innovative surgery she had at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s Hospital Cancer Center to treat her osteosarcoma. This is her story.
When most people my age talk about a day they’ll never forget, they mention getting their license, or a great sweet sixteen party. For me, it’s a little different. I’ll never forget March 1, 2001, because it was the day I was diagnosed with cancer.
I was just 6 years old at the time, and honestly didn’t fully understand what was happening when the doctor said I had a bone tumor known as osteosarcoma growing just above my knee. But from the shocked looks on my parents’ faces I knew it was big. The rest of the day is a blur. We went from doctor to doctor, office to office, as my new medical team explained my treatment plan to me and my parents. It was a whirlwind, but over time everything became normal, almost comforting.
The Dana-Farber/ Boston Children’s became like a second home to my family and me. Wednesdays were the longest day because that’s when I had chemotherapy. But the staff at Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s offers so many entertainment options to its patients you almost forget why you’re there. I may have spent hours tethered to an IV that delivered my medications, but all I remember are the endless arts and crafts projects I did, or the time spent with nurses and doctors I came to see as friends. (Not to mention hours and hours of board games.)
When my chemotherapy session was over I’d head to my room on 7 West, Dana-Farber/Boston Children’s own treatment wing. The similarities between the Jimmy Fund Clinic and the hospital inpatient area are plenty; there’s a surplus of activities in the craft room, tons of movies to watch or games to play and people to hang out with that understand just how much a simple smile can mean to a child in the hospital. …