As a varsity cheerleader and a member of a competitive cheerleading squad, Kelsey Hunnicutt, a 17-year-old senior at Brookwood High School, was accustomed to the bruises and minor injuries that go along with the sport. When her knee began to hurt after a fall, Kelsey and her parents saw no reason for real concern. “We gave it a few days and when it didn’t get better, we made an appointment to see our family doctor. I didn’t even go with her because we thought it was just a sprain,” said Kelsey’s mother, Terrie Hunnicutt. What the Hunnicutts thought would be a routine x-ray showed results that concerned the doctor. “That was on a Friday afternoon and the doctor called and told me, ‘If I could send you to Children’s today, I would,”Hunniccutt said. On the following Monday Kelsey and her parents met with doctors at Children’s of Alabama and three days later, she had a surgical biopsy. The biopsy showed that Kelsey had osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that most commonly affects teens.
To treat her cancer, Kelsey’s doctors started her on a series of eleven chemotherapy treatments and in December 2013 she had surgery to remove the tumor. “They took out the tumor which was on her right femur and they removed over three inches of her femur and put in a rod. They also did a total knee replacement,” Hunnicutt said.
Following her surgery, Kelsey’s doctors prescribed additional chemotherapy to kill any remaining cancer cells. “She comes in to Children’s the first week for a five day admission and then the next week she also has a five day admission. The second one really brings her blood counts down and it takes her about 14 days to recover from it,” Hunnicutt explained.
Terrie Hunnicutt says that Kelsey’s physicians, Dr. Joseph Pressey and Dr. Caryn Sorge, and the other members of her treatment team have supported the family through each stage of Kelsey’s treatment. “People tried to get us to go other places for a second opinion, but we trust them with everything. They are just amazing and from day one we fell in love with them. From the minute they told us what was wrong, they answered all our questions and were like family. I don’t know how to express what that means,” she said.
“Kelsey is still involved with her school activities and she tries to do as much as she can. They’ve been very supportive of her. They want her to go and be a typical teenager and do the things she wants to do as a teenager and a high school senior,” Hunnicutt added.
Throughout her treatment, Kelsey has kept a positive attitude. “She’s never upset about anything and she’s always smiling. Even when she feels bad, she’s never depressed. It’s just unreal to me how she is doing it. She’s always so inspiring to kids and to so many people in Tuscaloosa,” her mother said.
Like any high school senior, Kelsey is looking forward to graduation and beginning college next fall. “She is going to Alabama and hopefully she will be able to try out for cheerleading,” Hunnicutt said.