Update: It is with heavy hearts that we share the news that Tessa passed away from cancer on March 24, 2023. To make a gift towards the Osteosarcoma Institute in Tessa’s memory, click here. To follow Tessa’s legacy, visit the family’s “Team Tessa” Facebook page.
“Tessa is truly my inspiration. She is so strong and teaches me lessons every day.”
— Michelle Sutton, Tessa’s mom
At 15, Tessa Sutton was an active, athletic high school freshman whose passion was soccer. She had played the sport since age 4, honing her skills and traveling with a successful club team for years. When she made varsity on her high school soccer team, she was thrilled.
Noticing a Lingering Pain
Tessa had been experiencing pain on her right side for a couple of months, but no one thought it was anything more than a bruised rib or muscle strain. After all, soccer is a physical sport and she had practices or games nearly every day.
But the pain persisted. A routine visit to urgent care took a serious turn when the chest X-ray showed a mass in her right chest wall. Looking at the X-ray image, “a feeling of sudden doom set in,” says Michelle Sutton, Tessa’s mom.
A Real-Life Nightmare
What followed was a whirlwind of activity beginning with an immediate trip to the children’s hospital 10 miles away. Tessa was admitted and CT and PET scans were ordered to be done as soon as possible.
“We didn’t have much time to process everything,” Michelle says, remembering the parade of oncologists, surgeons and other providers coming in and out of Tessa’s room. Surgery was scheduled for the next day to take a biopsy of the area.
Due to the location in her chest wall, the biopsy surgery was challenging, and Tessa remained hospitalized for six days. A chest tube had to remain in place for several days until her lung was properly reinflated. Another grueling week passed before the pathology results revealed her cancer diagnosis. The tumor was extra-skeletal osteosarcoma. “It truly felt like a nightmare,” says Michelle.
Tackling Her Biggest Opponent
Tessa’s osteosarcoma was rare in that her tumor was not located on a bone — which is the case for many osteosarcomas. Rather, it was in the space between her lung and chest wall.
For several months, Tessa was on chemotherapy to shrink the tumor. Then came major lung surgery with the removal of part of her lung and diaphragm. More chemo and 36 radiation treatments followed.
For eight months, Tessa endured brutal treatments with all the unpleasant side effects that go along with it. But the hardest part was being away from school, friends and her beloved sport.
Tessa’s life was just returning to normal when she suffered a relapse. A new lung nodule was discovered during her first set of post-treatment scans. Another major surgery removed nearly all of her lung’s right lower lobe, but at her next set of scans, a nodule was discovered in the margins of the previous surgery site, requiring even more chemo.
Keeping Her Spirits High
Despite numerous setbacks, Tessa remains positive. She is back on the field playing soccer and works at a local animal hospital, a job she adores. She starts another round of chemo this month and awaits a CAR-T clinical trial that is accepting patients in the fall.
“Right now, all we can do is take one day at a time and cross each bridge as we come to it,” says Michelle. “She has handled this latest setback so much better than I could have anticipated. Of course, she’s sad and worried and cries at times, but she doesn’t stay there for long.”
“I know it’s an overused phrase but Tessa is truly my inspiration. She is so strong and teaches me lessons every day.”
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