Life is Tough, But You Are Tougher

Survivor Squad Member Erin Has a New Perspective of What's Really Important

When she was 9, Erin loved to swim and dance. She was really into music and reading. One day, she woke up and felt like there was something in her left eye or maybe she had a sty. Within days, it had grown into a penny-size lump, and she couldn’t see. Before Erin knew it, she was being prepared for surgery.

The surgery discovered that she had stage 1 rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare soft tissue cancer, above her left eye.

She remembers clearly the day her doctor called with the diagnosis. Her mom pulled Erin into her lap and told her she had cancer, but that they would get through it together. Erin asked if she was going to die. “We just have to stay strong, and we can get through anything,” her mom answered. Erin could barely sleep that night.

Erin’s treatment started with surgery and was followed by chemo, with her staying in the hospital for her infusion every other week for six months. Then she was cancer free for 11 months.

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There was only a 2 percent chance the cancer would ever come back, but it did. It was found again when she was 11, but this time, it was below her eye. She and her mom just thought it was allergies at first.

Now she had to have surgery again, plus stronger chemo and radiation.

Erin has gone through a lot for a 15-year-old, with four surgeries to put in medi-ports, two for tumor removal and two for eye reconstruction, with more reconstruction to come.

What got her through these really hard times, when she was in so much pain that she felt like giving up? Her family and friends, as well as her own optimism. The experience has changed her outlook on life:

“It forced me to see what was really important to me compared to what normal 9-year-old girls think is important, such as hair, brand of clothing, acne or a silly crush. My view of what is important is my family, friends, doctors and donors. In the long run, I will know that they are the real ones who saved my life. They were there at my worst and never left my side.”

This thoughtful young woman had others on her mind even when she was in the hospital. “When I was diagnosed the second time,” Erin says, “I wanted to make sure that no one felt so down as to just give up, which is unfortunately so common for us in the cancer world. I would go around the hospital with my IV pole asking if anyone wanted to watch a movie or even just talk to make sure others didn’t feel alone.”

Erin has been cancer-free for four years now. She is still involved in music and loves to perform on stage. She’s also very involved in sports, especially volleyball and softball. She’ll have to be watched very carefully for the rest of her life because of the chance of recurrence, but she’s going to make the most of every minute she has. "I promise that because I am still here today, I’m going to live life to the fullest.” Erin even wants to become a pediatric oncologist. “I want to help kids that I can relate to and help them get through treatment with less pain than I had.”

To everyone who gives to the Courage of Carly Fund or goes Bald for Bucks, “I would like to just say a huge thank you to the donors for saving my life. You helped bring me joy and lifelong friendships, and taught me that you can make the best out of any situation.”

Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.