VERMILION, Ohio — September is Childhood Cancer Awareness month. The American Childhood Cancer Organization says childhood cancer is the most deadly disease among children in the U.S.
Just like nearly every other senior, Cam Colahan, 17, is learning from home this school year. But there’s nothing ordinary about this Vermilion High School student.
She is a cancer survivor.
“I mean, it’s pretty much over and done with now, and I already went through it, and I really wasn’t sad during it. It’s just, I don’t know—just talking just makes me emotional I guess,” she shared through tears.
At age 15, Colahan was diagnosed with stage four alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma a—rare form of soft tissue cancer.
It all started with a bump on her inner thigh and some pain while sitting, which is something that the all-star, three-sport athlete ignored at first.
“I didn’t want to go to the doctor because I didn’t want them to tell me I couldn’t like play volleyball or anything,” said Colahan.
Her mother, Aimee Colahan, calls her daughter a miracle.
“When you think someone I guess has cancer you think they should be sick and, you know, obviously, she wasn’t sick. She was still starting every game on the varsity volleyball team,” said Colahan.
Cleveland Clinic Children’s pediatric oncologist Dr. Stacey Zahler is her doctor.
Zahler says she just submitted Colahan's name for a Cleveland Clinic Sports Health Courage Award.
"No fear. 'Let’s get this done so I can get back on the court' type of attitude. And she’s just an amazing, brave young woman,” said Zahler.
The heartbreaking diagnosis was a shock and took a toll on the whole family.
Colahan's mother worries about the impact the cancer has had on her other children. Cam has three siblings.
"They were hurting so bad and feeling you know sort of left out of everything,” said Aimee Colahan.
Colahan's been through vigorous chemotherapy and even spent time in Texas for an intense proton beam radiation treatment which gave her skin burns. It also meant sitting out of sports.
"I don’t think I would have had enough energy to play,” she said.
The teenage girl says she was relatively unaffected when she lost her hair. During that phase of her journey, she embraced her bald head.
“A lot of people thought I would care so much, but I really didn’t,” said Colahan.
“Then you can’t imagine it the other way, you go back and forth. You know, from one extreme to the other,” said her mother.
Earlier this month, Colahan rang the bell at the Cleveland Clinic, signifying her end of treatment.
It was a bittersweet moment.
“They say it has about an 85 perent chance of coming back. So, as a parent, you never let you guard down. And you know, we just keep praying and being positive that she’s going to be that 15 percent,” said Aimee Colahan.
Cam says her passion for sports motivated her throughout treatment. So, being back on the court with her younger sister Kait and able to play is surreal.
“I know what it’s like to get everything taken away from you and being able to come back and still play the sport I love. It means everything,” said Colahan.
After college, Colahan dreams of a career where she can help animals.
She credits her strength to a positive attitude and community support.
“To still have her here two years later, we’re very lucky,” her mother said through tears.
The Cleveland Clinic says improving survival and cure rates is dependent on research.
If you’d like to support those battling childhood cancer, the Cleveland Clinic encourages you to donate to any of the various foundations that help fund pediatric cancer research.