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

Samantha Stacy in a hospital bed during treatment

Facing Osteosarcoma as an Adolescent and Young Adult Patient

Seven years after her diagnosis, young cancer survivor Samantha Stacy reflects on the unique challenges she encountered as a college-age patient.

Samantha Stacy was a 20-year-old college student with typical college worries: studying for exams, Spring Break plans, and waking up to her alarm. Never in her wildest dreams would she have expected cancer to be added to that list.

But in March 2015, that is exactly what happened. While Samantha was home for Spring Break, she decided to see a doctor about a minor pain in her left knee. “I did not think much of it,” says Samantha. “I am not an athlete by any means, so I figured I just walked too many laps around Target.”

An Unlikely Discovery

Her doctor spotted a “density” on the X-ray and recommended Samantha get an MRI. She had the MRI on the last Friday of her Spring Break, and then returned to her campus that weekend.

On Monday, March 16, 2015, Samantha was on her way back from class when her phone rang. It was her doctor, asking her to come in as soon as possible with her parents to discuss the MRI results. She says, “That is when I knew this was something more serious.”

The MRI revealed that the density was a tumor, likely osteosarcoma, and later that day an orthopedic oncologist confirmed the diagnosis.

“I remember feeling like the world was spinning out of control and I was stuck in one spot,” remembers Samantha. “I thought my biggest problems that week were going to be my math exam and readjusting to waking up early after Spring Break. I would have given anything to go back to just being stressed about a math test.”

From College Campus to Cancer Clinic

Samantha moved back home. More tests, scans, and appointments followed. Luckily, scans revealed that the cancer had not spread beyond the bone.

Instead of going to classes, studying, and socializing with friends, her schedule now consisted of chemotherapy infusions and doctor’s appointments. A limb salvage surgery followed, with months of physical therapy to relearn how to walk. “It was brutal — and that is putting it mildly.”

Because of her age, Samantha was treated in the adult oncology clinic. “I was always the youngest patient by a solid 20 years,” she says. “I remember thinking that there had to be a way to improve this situation because there was no way I was the only one in my twenties going through cancer treatment.”

Cancer’s Long-Lasting Impact

Samantha’s hunch was right. She discovered that there was a term used for people her age with cancer: Adolescent and Young Adult, or AYA for short. AYA cancer patients (ages 13-25) are at a different point in their lives than pediatric or older patients. A diagnosis at this stage has its own unique set of issues, from fertility to work to finances. Because of this, it is an area of cancer care that is now getting much more attention than in the past.

“Cancer is such an isolating experience,” Samantha says. “Life after cancer is hard — maybe even harder than cancer treatment. I am incredibly grateful to the doctors who research endlessly for cures and the foundations that support them. Research is critical, especially for rare diagnoses like osteosarcoma.”

Today, seven years later, Samantha’s scans are clear. She now teaches kindergarten, enjoys shopping, and listens to a lot of Taylor Swift. Outwardly, her life may appear “normal.” But inwardly, her world is still shaped by her cancer experience.

“I still have daily reminders of cancer — whether physical or emotional. I am incredibly thankful to be where I am now, but the impact of cancer is never far from my mind, and I do not expect that will ever change.”

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