Stories of progress, inspiration, and information in overcoming osteosarcoma.

Holding a letter board, AG stands in a green field wearing a pale pink dress.

Nine-Year-Old Cancer Survivor Asks, ‘What’s Next?’

Family and faith kept Annabelle Grace going strong through a grueling battle with osteosarcoma. Now, she uses her story of recovery to help others.

Annabelle Grace — affectionately called AG by her friends and family — was a healthy, active 9-year-old when she started experiencing severe pain in her left arm and shoulder.

At first, her family thought it was an injury from softball, but the pain kept getting worse. AG’s parents, Leslie and Eric, could tell something was off.

After several tests to get to the bottom of the pain — including X-rays, an MRI, and a biopsy — they eventually got an answer. AG was formally diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her upper left arm bone in December 2019.

Fighting for Her Life

“At first I did not understand what osteosarcoma was, but I knew it was bad and would be a long journey for our family,” says AG. “As I started to understand more, I became less scared and ready to fight and beat this cancer.”

A limb salvage surgery was the best option to give AG as much use of her left arm as possible. But to be a viable candidate for the surgery, the tumor had to shrink.

The day after her diagnosis was official, AG had a port inserted and chemotherapy was begun to shrink the tumor. “The port hurt and felt so strange,” says AG. “That was one of my hardest days. But knowing that our oncology floor had a playroom and that my grandparents were coming to visit helped me through the day.”

Over the next 15 months, AG endured 18 harsh rounds of chemotherapy. Each Sunday, Eric posted a video update on Facebook to share how AG was doing with their friends, family, and church. He started using the hashtag #AGTough, which emerged as both a way to track their journey and a rallying cry for her family and friends.

By March 2020, AG’s tumor had shrunk enough to proceed with limb salvage surgery. With the help of a bone graft donated through MTF Biologics and their recovery partner network, surgeons removed the cancerous portion of her arm, which included her entire upper arm bone and rotator cuff. They then inserted a bone from a deceased donor that would allow AG to use her arm again.

Not a day goes by when the Bartel family does not pray and give thanks for the donor family. “Thank you doesn’t seem like enough, but thank you,” says Leslie. “We truly believe that AG has been given the miracle of life.”

Victory Over Cancer

After her successful surgery, AG spent four months in a sling, went to physical therapy, and continued chemotherapy. On August 6, 2020, AG — along with her parents and two younger brothers — celebrated her last day of chemo. Her parents surprised her with a new member of the family: a French Bulldog named “Victory.”

“He symbolizes God’s victory over cancer in my life,” AG says. “He went to every physical therapy appointment with me as my arm was healing and is still such an important part of my healing journey.”

With chemo complete, the goal was to prevent a relapse, a common occurrence with osteosarcoma. “We were going to do everything in our power to prevent that from happening,” says Leslie, who fought to get AG on a trial immunotherapy drug.

Sharing Her Miracle Story

One evening as she was nearing the end of treatment, AG asked her mom, “What’s next?”

“I didn’t have an answer for AG and that was hard,” says Leslie. “I said to her, ‘I don’t know but God does. Let’s ask him.’” AG’s question turned into the family’s daily prayer.

Today, after nearly three years of battling osteosarcoma, AG is in remission and living life to the fullest. She participates in theater, cheer squad, and tennis, and recently won her first tennis championship playing one-handed in a non-adaptive league.

AG has sought to use her story to increase awareness of cancer, speaking publicly in front of crowds as large as 2,000. With each new speaking opportunity, the family asks one another, “What’s next?” and AG decides how she wishes to share her experience.

The 7th grader has this advice to other kids battling osteosarcoma: “Push through the first few weeks. Make friends with the nurses and hospital staff and doctors. They are amazing and can become great friends. Find things to keep you living while you are fighting. Make it amazing even when you feel bad. Every day is a blessing.”

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