In honor of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, we are sharing a series of stories about some of our incredible patients who have overcome cancer or are currently fighting the disease.
At 27 years old, Hunter Storey had a great life in Sun Valley, Idaho. He worked as a fireman, enjoyed spending time with his girlfriend of eight years, and was an avid skier and ski instructor.
However, last December things started to change.
It was ski season and he was coaching ski racing to a group of high school students when, one day, he noticed a painful lump on his shin that didn’t seem right. He decided to see a doctor.
After what was first thought to be a broken bone, seven months later, he learned it was cancer – Ewing sarcoma to be exact. Ewing sarcoma is a bone cancer that mainly affects children and adolescents between the ages of 10 and 20 years old, but there are cases that occur at all ages.
“It was of course very shocking when I was diagnosed,” said Hunter. “But I was really lucky because I had caught it early.”
It was clear that Hunter would need to leave his hometown to get treatment, which is something that was very hard for him to do.
“Right when I was leaving we had a bunch of wildfires and I saw all my friends doing what we’d been trained for, and I had to leave,” he said. “I also had to leave my girlfriend and the group of guys, my fellow firefighters, that I’d seen every day.”
Treatment in Seattle: Finding an expert to lean on
Hunter was referred to Seattle Children’s to see the Cancer and Blood Disorders Center team because of its expertise in treating his type of cancer. Douglas Hawkins, MD, associate division chief of hematology/oncology at Children’s and a renowned expert in treating Ewing sarcoma, became Hunter’s doctor.
In August, Hunter began a treatment regime that would include three months of chemotherapy, surgery to remove the tumor in his leg and another five months of chemo after surgery.
Hawkins said Hunter, at age 27, illustrates why Children’s is not just for kids. He says it’s important for patients to come to a hospital that has expertise in their particular cancer.
“Although Ewing sarcoma is most common in the second decade of life, there are cases between 20 and 30 years of age, but most institutions just don’t see many patients with the disease,” said Hawkins. “For us it’s common, it’s easier for us to treat and there’s something to say for that.”
Hawkins also reflects on his conversation with Hunter when he first arrived at the hospital.
“I told him you probably won’t see another 27-year-old, but you’re going to see three or four other people with Ewing sarcoma, going through the same treatment,” Hawkins said. “To us what you have is really common and we know how to take care of it.”
Hunter is happy that he came to Children’s, not just because of the expertise in his cancer, but also because he enjoys the environment and being around patients who are closer to his age than what he’d find at an adult hospital.
“The thing I’ve noticed most about being at Children’s is the people. They are all very nice and everyone is really easy to get along with,” he said. “The facilities are also awesome and they allow me to be super independent, which is important as an adult. I like the patient lounge because I can cook and I also have a view of the football stadium during games.”
He says that the actual treatment hasn’t been too bad either, but he does really miss life back home.
“It’s been tough because being in the fire department, I am used to being active and outdoors, but now I have to stay inside,” he said. “I also really miss my girlfriend and I dread not being able to ski this winter, which is something I’ve done since I was 2 years old.”
Helping improve future treatment by participating in research
“It’s pretty necessary to make treatment better for people down the road. Doing research and having people like me participate is the only way doctors know what works so they can continue to advance treatment,” he said.
The study is being led at the hospital by Hawkins and is through the Children’s Oncology Group (COG). COG is the world’s largest clinical trials group that’s devoted to childhood and adolescent cancer research. The trial is studying the effectiveness of combination chemotherapy, or adding an extra chemo drug, to the standard treatment for Ewing sarcoma.
Hawkins said that having patients participate in clinical trials in the key to improving cancer treatment.
“We would never make progress in the way cancer is treated without research, clinical trials and the participation of patients like Hunter,” he said. “It’s wonderful when patients want to take part and be involved in something larger that will help those in the future.”
Looking ahead with a positive outlook
Now in the beginning of treatment, Hunter is feeling positive and is confident that things will go well.
“I’m excited to be done with treatment and able to get back to my normal life – Being back with my girlfriend, fighting fires and hitting the slopes,” he said.
- Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) Cancer Program
- Bone Tumor and Sarcoma Clinic
- Patient voices: Hunter Schroeder celebrates two years cancer free
- Patient voices: Stacy celebrates 10 years cancer free, reflects on being chemo Barbie
- Patient voices: Jake beats cancer, starts new life at college
If you’d like to interview Hunter or Dr. Hawkins, please contact Seattle Children’s PR team at 206-987-4500 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.