Starting center Bria Carter grabbed a defensive rebound and passed the ball to her teammate. "Then I hit the ground," Bria, now 15, remembers. She’d been kicked below the knee and buckled in pain. Floored for a few seconds, Bria got up and helped lead Chicago’s Pershing West Middle School basketball team to victory at their first game in 2009.
When Bria came home and went straight to sleep, her mother knew something was wrong. An honors student, Bria never goes to bed without finishing her homework. So Bria’s mom took her to a clinic. The physician noted something unusual on an X-ray of Bria’s femur and recommended the Carters head to an emergency room.
At the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital emergency room, Bria was referred to experts in orthopaedic surgery and rehabilitation medicine.
A biopsy showed that Bria had osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer affecting 400 to 500 youth in the United States per year. A pediatric hematology oncologist designed a chemotherapy plan for Bria. Our physicians explained that about 85 percent of osteosarcoma tumors respond to the treatment.
When Bria found out she had cancer, she channeled her pain into writing and drawing. "It’s like nothing can tip Bria over," said Kelly Kramer, CPON, CPNP, nurse practitioner for pediatric hematology and oncology.
Bria’s resilience was magnetic. University of Chicago physicians visited her regularly as she completed chemotherapy. Between hospital stays, the Carters knew where to turn for help. "Anything I need," Bria’s mother said, "I call Kelly and don’t give it another thought." Kramer says it’s her calling to support patients and families through their cancer journey, helping them to adjust to a new normal, and in Bria’s case, keeping the focus on a teenager who defeated cancer.
Despite the support, three months of chemotherapy didn’t shrink Bria’s tumor. Disappointed, physicians explained that the only hope of curing Bria was to amputate the lower half of her leg.
"It was almost worse than finding out I had cancer, the thought of losing part of my body that I could never get back," Bria said. "I wouldn’t even talk about it, I always changed the subject."
The Carters thought there must be another cure. The pediatric hematology oncologist prescribed a different type of chemotherapy. The Carters, a deeply religious family, sought a second opinion, fasted and held prayer vigils.
"But cancer is something that happened to me, it doesn’t have to define me. I’m Bria, and I’ll always be Bria."
A month later, Bria’s tumor remained the same size. But Bria was ready to discuss amputation. She says she initially worried that people would judge her…that seeing an amputee, they would react with fear or pity. "But cancer is something that happened to me, it doesn’t have to define me," she said. "I’m Bria, and I’ll always be Bria."