Elliott's story

17 May 2016
Elliott in a sunny garden

When Elliott was 16 he developed an abnormal swelling on his leg. It was diagnosed as a rare type of soft tissue cancer. Elliott is now 19 and fighting the cancer for the third time. He tells us his story so far:

“It was 2013 and I was 16. I had a very abnormal swelling on my leg that wouldn’t go away and was getting bigger and bigger.

I eventually got a referral to see a specialist. I had a biopsy, an X-ray and an MRI scan. I got told very quickly that there was something very worrying going on and I was sent to see an oncologist.

Very bad news: alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma

Elliott in local newspaperI was given the very bad news that I had alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma - a rare type of soft tissue cancer. They needed to find out quickly if it had spread.

I had a bone marrow biopsy, a bone scan, a CT scan and many blood tests. They found it hadn’t spread and was localised to the ankle bone area in my right foot.

The start of chemotherapy

They inserted a Hickman line for my chemotherapy regime. I was given Ifosfamide, Vincristine and Dactinimycin which involved two nights as an inpatient, followed by a 30-day break so that my blood count could recover.

The regime was pretty yucky and I threw up a lot. I was very tired for a few days but quickly recovered in each cycle.

Elliott after amputationBelow-the-knee amputation

I had four cycles of chemotherapy, followed by a below-the-knee amputation.

This was necessary because even though the tumour had shrunk with the chemo, it was wrapped around key nerves in my foot. The surgeon would have had to cut these nerves which would have made my foot useless. So removing the tumour, and having clear margins, was the best decision and meant radiotherapy wouldn’t be needed.

One month after surgery I was walking with my new prosthetic leg. Not long after I was running!

More chemo followed by a clinical trial

I continued with five more cycles of chemotherapy to kill any cancerous material that may be floating around. After this frontline treatment my oncologist offered to put me on a randomised clinical trial of six cycles of daily, low dose, Cyclophosfamide and Vinorelbine.

Since my type of cancer is so rare and aggressive and deadly, with only one in a million people being diagnosed, I happily agreed to a clinical trial.This would be once a week - amounting to an additional six months of treatment.

Since my type of cancer is so rare and aggressive and deadly, with only one in a million people being diagnosed, I happily agreed. Clinical trials are randomised to avoid bias - the computer said ‘yes’ to me. I signed my consent and started a month later, after Christmas.

I tolerated the treatment very well - it was a maintenance chemo and I only felt tired on the day I was given Vinorelbine, but I recovered quickly. I had to stop taking the Cyclophosfamide tablets and miss the Vinorelbine a couple of times because of a low blood count.

Infections, treatment and then ‘cancer-free’…

My end-of-treatment tests followed - and I was told that I was cancer-free. I had a Hickman line infection just after the seventh cycle. I was quickly admitted to hospital because of a temperature spike and was given antibiotics for two weeks. When the trial was completed I had a chest infection and was given Voriconazole antibiotics for two months.

My end-of-treatment tests followed - and I was told that I was cancer-free. My Hickman line was removed and, for the foreseeable future, I just needed three-monthly MRI scans and chest X-rays.

The cancer returns, but localised

One year later, in July 2015, it was confirmed that my cancer was back. A PET scan showed it was really small and localised in my below knee stump. It hadn’t spread anywhere else. I got transferred to one of the best UK adult hospitals where my team consisted of two oncologists and a professor.

I started a new chemotherapy regime of Vincristine, Irinotecan and Temozolomide which involved coming in every day for 10 weekdays, followed by a week's break.

This regime made me really tired and I had several episodes of diarrhoea, despite all the medication they gave for it. I also suffered from neuropathy in my fingers.

Elliott with prosthetic in sunny gardenFurther amputation

After two cycles I achieved an unexpected good response. But following two further cycles of chemotherapy to shrink it more, it had stayed the same. To try and get rid of it for good it was decided to amputate to above my knee - the literature says the more clear margins you have the better.

The post-surgery pathology results were good - the surgery had been successful! I did a PET scan and was told I was in remission. We discussed more chemotherapy, but decided against since it was making me really unwell. We would continue with the three-monthly routine follow-ups.

When I had finished physiotherapy with my hydraulic sensor knee prosthetic leg I had achieved the second highest walking distance over two minutes - one of the best the hospital has ever seen!

The cancer returns - in four places

It is now 2016 and I returned for my first three-monthly check-up. The alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma had come back in four places.

There was one small lesion in the soft tissue at the bottom of my stump again, a 6cm lesion inside the femur bone in the bone marrow, and two 1cm lesions on my left lung.

I have completed one cycle of Vincristine, Cyclophosfamide, Doxorubicin and Etoposide (VCDE). This involved three nights as an inpatient, followed by a two and a half week break.

I hope my story raises more awareness of childhood cancer :-)In week one of the break, I was admitted to hospital with an infection and a temperature. I was treated with antibiotics.

As I write, I have just had my second cycle of VCDE. I am having another PET scan next week to see how the four tumours have responded to the treatment. With those results we will discuss the next steps forward.

You can follow my story on Facebook:

I hope my story raises more awareness of childhood cancer :-)"

Elliott, May 2016

Read more: RhabdomyosarcomaCommonly used terms in treatment | side effects of treatment | Current rhabdomyosarcoma projects

Teenage and young adult cancers

Around 2,200 15 to 24 year olds are diagnosed with cancer every year in the UK.

Read more:  Teenage and young adult cancers

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