In the Loop

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February 2nd, 2017

From Pediatric Cancer Patient to Advocate (and More)

By In the Loop

Hanna Hughes often visits with other patients facing the same surgery she'd had for her bone cancerHanna Hughes was a "super active" teenager and played soccer for Rochester Lourdes High School when she started having hip pain. At first, doctors suspected a pulled muscle and recommended physical therapy. But the pain persisted, and an MRI revealed the reason: Hanna had a tumor in her hip. A grapefruit-sized tumor.

She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. Chemotherapy, unfortunately, failed to shrink the tumor. So doctors at Mayo Clinic gave Hanna a choice. "They could remove the tumor, but the margins wouldn't be clean," she tells us. That meant that some cancer cells would be left behind — a troubling prospect since chemotherapy had no effect on the tumor. Hanna chose a more aggressive treatment option. She had her right leg, hip and pelvis removed. "It was definitely hard going through that," she says. But today, she's six years cancer free and has no doubt she made the right choice.

While Hanna's diagnosis hasn't defined her life, it has influenced her path. After graduating from high school, Hanna enrolled at the University of Minnesota–Duluth and got involved with cancer-related charities on campus. She joined Colleges Against Cancer, coordinating the university's Relay for Life and serving as the group's president for three years. She also became a college ambassador for Love Your Melon, an organization that donates hats to pediatric cancer patients, and raises money for pediatric cancer research and patient support.

When Hanna was back home in Rochester, her surgeon, Peter Rose, M.D., would often ask her to visit with other patients facing the same surgery she'd had. Hanna was more than on board. "I want to give people hope," Hanna says of those visits. "It's important to see someone who's had the surgery and has a good quality of life. There's really not anything I don't do."

That includes traveling (she backpacked around Europe for two months during college), driving (with her left foot), and returning to competition. Now, instead of a soccer field, you'll find Hanna on an ice rink. She discovered sled hockey in college, and because there wasn't a women's team, she tried out for (and made) the men's team. "It's like I have a bunch of big brothers," she says of being the only woman on the Minnesota Wild sled hockey roster. Last summer, Hanna was selected for the U.S. Women's Sled Hockey team, made up of women from around the country. "We fly in to a different city one weekend a month to practice and play together," Hanna says, adding that "it's really cool to be with people who 'get it.'"

That's a comfort Hanna's now giving to children and teens receiving care at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. After graduating from college, Hanna moved back to Rochester. She works as a development and communications associate at Channel One Regional Food Bank, and she volunteers at Mayo Clinic — on the same pediatric unit where she once received care. She also continues to answer the call when Dr. Rose asks her to visit with children and adults facing amputation. "I think it makes the kids feel comforted to see someone like me," Hanna says. One of those kids is Joshua Adler, who we wrote about here. "When Joshua sees me, he says, 'We both have one leg!'" Hanna tells us. "I think he thinks that's cool." (We can't disagree.)

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Tags: Bone Cancer, Dr. Peter Rose, Osteosarcoma, Patient Stories, volunteers

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