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

osteosarcoma patient Rheed Castle-Pearce paddleboarding

A Dream of Surfing Keeps Teen Focused on Fighting Osteosarcoma

A personal goal of learning to surf helped 13-year-old Rheed Castle-Pearce stay motivated throughout his osteosarcoma treatment and recovery.

Rheed Castle-Pearce, a 13-year-old in Cape Town, South Africa, thought that the pain he was feeling in his right hip was a strain from playing cricket. He was treated by a physiotherapist for several weeks, but the pain only worsened. Then one day, while at school, he suffered a fall. The pain became excruciating.

All this was odd for an active, sporty kid like Rheed. An X-ray revealed an 8.5-centimeter (3.3-inch) tumor in his right hip area. The tumor made the bone weak and porous, and, in the fall, he fractured his hip.

A Shocking Diagnosis

After five weeks in the hospital to treat his fracture, biopsies revealed sobering news.

Rheed remembers walking into the room where his parents and doctor were talking. “The first thing I noticed was my parents both crying,” he says. “It was the first time in my life that I had ever seen my dad cry, so I knew something was wrong.”

Rheed was told that the tumor in his hip was bone cancer — osteosarcoma — and would require immediate treatment.

At the time, Rheed did not know much about cancer, other than that it was deadly. “I was determined to make sure it did not take over my life,” Rheed says. “My first reaction was to ask my doctor, ‘When can we start fighting this thing?’”

Rheed’s Competitive Spirit

“Before I fell, playing sports was my life,” Rheed says. “I always wanted to be No. 1 at everything. I wanted to be surrounded by people who challenged me.” The diagnosis brought Rheed his biggest challenge yet — fighting osteosarcoma. To stay motivated, he also made a goal of what he wanted to do after treatment: “One day, I am going to be able to surf.”

Rheed began his osteosarcoma treatment journey in May 2016. He was treated with four rounds of chemotherapy followed by a six-hour surgery to remove the tumor and replace the diseased bone with titanium and a full hip replacement. Six weeks following the surgery, he went back for four more rounds of chemotherapy. The hospital became his home, and his nurses became like family.

As he concluded his chemo, Rheed had to learn to walk again, having spent the last six months in a wheelchair. Physical therapy helped him ease into it with practice walks in a pool. “The water felt absolutely amazing,” Rheed says. Within weeks, he was walking on his own again. He finished his final cycle of treatment in early 2017.

A Relapse and Swift Recovery

In July 2018, Rheed faced yet another challenge. A nodule was found on his right lung, which required another surgery to remove the nodule as well as three ribs.

A follow up PET scan detected two more ribs with cancer which also had to be removed. But then the tide turned. Lab reports and scans came back cancer-free. It felt like a miracle to Rheed and his family.

Finding Peace in the Water

Rheed, now 19, has been in remission for four years. He can walk normally and can even run a little, though he does so with a limp. Where this osteosarcoma survivor really shines is out in the ocean, surfing or paddle boarding.

It is much more than just a way to be physically active. Surfing has become a kind of therapy for him. Nearly every day, he grabs his board and heads for the ocean.

“When I’m on land, I am limited by my physical disability,” says Rheed. “When I’m out in the water, I have no limitations. I feel at peace and have a sense of tranquility. I’m as free as anyone else, which is an awesome feeling.”

A Newfound Passion for Speaking

While osteosarcoma brought profound challenges, it also allowed Rheed to discover another new passion. He loves sharing his story with other young people going through difficult times, whether through a one-on-one conversation or to an audience.

“Cancer has taught me to be grateful with my life — to seize every single day because tomorrow is not promised for me.” — Rheed Castle-Pearce

In October 2022, Rheed was invited to speak at the annual gala of Reach for a Dream, a South Africa-based nonprofit that aims to make dreams come true for kids with life-threatening illnesses. Reach for a Dream provided Rheed with a new surfboard when he closed out his treatment. In his speech, he described how that surfboard became a symbol of hope. By sharing his osteosarcoma story, he wants to help motivate other kids to keep going.

“Cancer has taught me to be grateful with my life,” says Rheed. “I have learned to be thankful for what I still have, to seize every single day because tomorrow is not promised for me — or anyone for that matter. While I am here, I want to make something of myself, to leave a legacy.”

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