Learning From A Brave Sarcoma Warrior
- Casey O’Brien is now faced with osteosarcoma for the sixth time. The former college football player has been dealing with the disease since he was just 13, but his attitude has still remained positive.
- The term sarcoma is used to describe an array of more than 70 rare cancers that begin in the bones and the soft tissues. This diverse group of diseases accounts for only about one percent of tumors in adults and just over 10 percent of tumors in children.
- Resilience is not an uncommon trait amongst cancer warriors. Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, says her cancer journey helped her uncover “some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities.”
“I had a relapse in my right lung from the osteosarcoma that I’ve been through five times before,” O’Brien said. “I would tell you that obviously was surprised, but not shocked. I’ve been through this stuff five times already and I know it’s pesky and that it’s not gonna let me get off the hook easy.”Read More
O’Brien, now 23, first learned of his osteosarcoma diagnosis when he was a 13-year-old freshman in high school. He’s since undergone a full left knee replacement, multiple lung surgeries and several chemotherapy treatments.
To call him resilient is an understatement.
He even battled cancer throughout his time as a walk-on football player for the University of Minnesota Gophers and made it onto the field during a Big Ten Conference game in 2019. His latest relapse came during a two-year checkup scan.
“The only other time I had gotten to two years I had a relapse, and this was my two year scan to finally break through that point,” O’Brien said. “We got blocked at the rim.”
Frustration is, of course, at play here. But O’Brien does an amazing job maintaining his positive outlook.
“I feel like I do a lot to try to keep myself healthy in terms of diet and sleep and exercise, but at the end of the day everyone’s got their own battles that they’re going through and when I went up to get my scans on Monday, I was the healthiest person in the room,” O’Brien said. “It puts things in perspective pretty quick when you go back to the hospital.”
And though it’s a real fear that this disease will be a lifelong battle, O’Brien knows that doesn’t have to be the case.
“I truly believe at some point I’m going to grow out of it,” he said. “They’ve had plenty of patients where you gotta chase it back and forth a few times in the lungs, and then you keep cutting it out, and all the sudden it doesn’t show up anymore, so that’s kinda what I’m fixing my mindset towards, is that hey we got to go clean up another one, but maybe this is the last one.
“The thing I said this morning was another day on Earth, get another day to wake up and enjoy the day, be around people who care about you.”
The term sarcoma is used to describe an array of more than 70 rare cancers that begin in the bones and the soft tissues, such as muscles. This diverse group of diseases accounts for only about one percent of tumors in adults and just over 10 percent of tumors in children.
The main symptom of sarcomas is generally a slow-growing, painless mass, but symptoms can be hard to detect as soft tissue sarcomas are typically painless and bone sarcomas can be mistakenly diagnosed as orthopedic injuries.
“Unfortunately, most sarcomas do not cause many of the symptoms that may be associated with other cancers,” Dr. Dale Shepard, director of the Cleveland Clinic Taussig Cancer Institute Phase I and Sarcoma Programs, tells SurvivorNet. “A mass the size of a golf ball or larger and growing should be evaluated as a potential sarcoma. It’s important that patients who do have symptoms are not dismissive of them.”
Types of Sarcoma Cancers
The word sarcoma refers to a large array of bone and soft tissue cancers, and individual cancers within that set go by unique names. Some of the types of sarcomas include:
- Ewing’s sarcoma is a cancer that typically occurs in and around the bones, often in the arms or legs, or the bones of the pelvis. It most commonly occurs in children and young adults.
- Kaposi sarcoma is a very rare type of cancer that causes lesions on the skin, in lymph nodes, organs, and the mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, and throat. It typically affects people with compromised immune systems, such as those with HIV.
- Epithelioid sarcoma is a type of soft tissue cancer that grows slowly. It is likely to begin under the skin of areas like the finger, hand, forearm, lower part of the leg, or foot.
- Synovial sarcoma, also called malignant synovioma, is a cancer that can form soft tissues such as muscle or ligaments, commonly close to joints or in areas like the arm, leg, or foot.
- Osteogenic sarcoma, also called osteosarcoma, is the most common type of cancer that starts in the bones. This is the type of cancer O’Brien had.
- Spindle cell sarcoma is very rare, comprising as little as 2 percent of all primary bone cancer cases. It can start in the bone, often in the arms, legs, and pelvis, and usually occurs in people over 40.
The Resilience of Cancer Warriors
At SurvivorNet, we get to share stories of resilience all the time because there’s no shortage of brave cancer warriors holding onto hope in the face of adversity and achieving amazing things.
Danielle Ripley-Burgess, a two-time colon cancer survivor, is another resilient cancer survivor like O’Brien. She was first diagnosed with colon cancer in high school and proceeded to beat the disease not once, but twice.
Understandably so, Ripley-Burgess has had to work through a lot of complex emotions that came with her cancer journey. Even still, she’s always managed to look at life with a positive attitude.
“As I’ve worked through the complex emotions of cancer, I’ve uncovered some beautiful things: Wisdom. Love. Life purpose. Priorities,” she previously told SurvivorNet. “I carry a very real sense that life is short, and I’m grateful to be living it! This has made me optimistic. Optimism doesn’t mean that fear, pain and division don’t exist – they do. Our world is full of negativity, judgment, and hate. Optimism means that I believe there’s always good to be found despite the bad, and this is what my life is centered around.”
She moves through life with a sense of purpose unique to someone who’s been faced with the darkest of times. Happily in remission today, she’s determined to, one day, leave the world better than she found it.
“We can choose to stay positive, treat others with respect and look for the light in spite of the darkness,” she said. “This type of attitude and behavior will lead to the kind of legacies I believe all of us hope to leave.”