Catrina knew immediately that something wasn’t right. It was April 2015, and the high school freshman felt a lump in her jaw. Already veterans of pediatric cancer, due to a 2008 diagnosis of atypical rhabdoid tumor, Catrina and her mom, Luanne, were quick to act.
After a flurry of appointments with dentists and oral surgeons, and finally a reunion with the oncology team at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, they had the answer they’d been dreading.
Catrina had osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor, in her jaw. And it was growing fast.
After an initial course of chemotherapy to shrink the mass, Catrina underwent a complex removal of the tumor and reconstruction of her jaw. “The weeks leading up to surgery on her face were very stressful,” says Luanne. “This is not a common surgery. There aren’t too many people you can talk to about it.”
Oral and plastic surgeons at Children’s Hospital removed the lower part of Catrina’s jaw and reconstructed it using bone from her lower leg and a titanium plate. “I knew she would look different, but I didn’t know what to expect,” says Luanne. “When I saw her after surgery, I just felt so relieved. She looked good. It was a major milestone.”
Catrina barely lets on that the ordeal has been tough, but there is no denying she has been through something harrowing. Smack in the middle of high school she’s missed months of class, spent Christmas in the hospital, and couldn’t hang out with her friends. Her older sister was away at college, and the separation was difficult. Catrina is a teenager at a children’s hospital, a situation that can feel strange and sometimes isolating. And on top of it all, her own face is completely new to her.
But she and her family remain amazingly upbeat, and count all the good things as blessings. “We have the best doctors here,” says Luanne. “Her recovery after surgery was incredible; we were out of the hospital in a week. It was amazing that she felt that good that quickly.”
Catrina has regular outpatient appointments and received much of her chemotherapy at CHOP’s Specialty Care and Surgery Center in King of Prussia, which is close to her home in Newtown Square, PA. “We really liked everyone at King of Prussia,” says Luanne. “They always made me laugh. They’re all great.”
“We’ve been very fortunate,” she adds. “Our experiences have been positive. We just feel fortunate to have CHOP in our backyard. The best care and the best research are right here.”
Catrina, has been happy to get back to riding her horse, Muchacho De Oro. And she was relieved she didn’t have to miss Ronald McDonald Camp for childhood cancer survivors. She’s been going since she was little, and it’s where she met some of her best friends.
Catrina was a Patient Ambassador for the 2016 Parkway Run & Walk, an event that raises money for childhood cancer research and care at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Her family has participated since her first diagnosis in 2008, and they are always moved by the sense of family they feel on that day. “This whole experience has been eye opening,” says Luanne. “It’s amazing to see the community come together.”
Catrina has been through a lot, but she’s still a teenager. Ask her what she thinks about being a Parkway Run Ambassador and she says simply, “It’s cool!”