Sarah Moore’s life over the past year has been mind-boggling and, at the same time, miraculous. She spent more than 200 days in the hospital at Wilmot Cancer Institute. Nine months of chemotherapy. Three major surgeries. She jokes that she got a new tibia for her 23rd birthday; her original leg bone was riddled with a type of cancer called osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer that afflicts children and young adults. She suffered many complications: COVID, blood clots, infections.
Through it all — and especially now in her “cancer-free era” — Sarah and her parents, Connie and Bob Moore, have become enthusiastic ambassadors for Wilmot. They have special affection for the team on the seventh floor of the cancer center (“WCC7”), which had become a homeaway-from-home.
“Wilmot and WCC7 completely saved my life, mentally and physically,” Sarah says.
At the 2023 Discovery Ball, which is Wilmot’s major annual fundraiser, her parents raised their paddle for $50,000. The donation was for a lot of reasons, Connie and Bob Moore say.
First and foremost, it was to honor and thank their daughter’s multidisciplinary team, led by Adrienne Victor, MD, MS, the Wilmot oncologist who coordinates Sarah’s outpatient treatment; Marcia Krebs, MD, the Wilmot oncologist who quarterbacked Sarah’s treatment on WCC7; and Susan McDowell, MD, orthopedic oncologist and University of Rochester Medical Center surgeon, who brought compassion to Sarah during multiple surgeries.
“Dr. Krebs, the nurses, specialists, and the entire inpatient team gave us comfort and confidence in the dark and challenging times that were part of Sarah’s recovery,” Connie says. “I don’t know how we would have made it through without them.”
Bob and Connie say they appreciate that Krebs made herself available by comforting the family via text messages, going to bat for Sarah when she was at her lowest and in need of support, often on Krebs’ days off.
The Moore’s donation is also an investment in the future.
"Research is the only thing that’s going to save lives,” Connie adds. “Sarah’s journey is going to be continuous, and what we’ve realized is that our journey is always someone else’s journey.”
She is a retired teacher, and Bob is a local technology executive and entrepreneur. They live in Mendon, and say they are fortunate to have the means to have gone anywhere in the U.S. for Sarah’s treatment, and sought several opinions from prominent cancer centers elsewhere.
“At the end of the day,” Bob says, “everyone told us, ‘You’re in great hands. We wouldn’t do anything different than what Wilmot is doing.’”
“We are grateful for Wilmot’s care of Sarah and couldn’t imagine being anywhere else,” he says. “The osteosarcoma specialists all know each other, but it’s the care that matters. Dr. Victor shed a tear when she told Sarah she was done with chemo.”
Finding Reasons to Celebrate
In the summer of 2022, Sarah, 22 at the time, had just graduated from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, and was working a temporary job as a day-care assistant as she awaited the start of graduate school at Nazareth College in Rochester that fall. One day in August, she noticed a small lump below her right knee, and by the next day, oddly, it had quadrupled in size and become very painful.
A trip to the emergency department and several confusing, frightening, and frustrating hours later, she was diagnosed with stage 2b osteosarcoma. Her tumor had quickly grown to 13 centimeters, larger than a softball.
Ironically, Krebs says, the intense pain and alarming size of her cancer may’ve ultimately been a saving grace, because no one could ignore the symptoms or dismiss the idea that cancer had struck someone young.
Sarah’s recent tests indicate that she is now cancer-free. Indeed, the cure rates for localized osteosarcoma and her treatment regimen are nearly 80%. But, going above and beyond, Victor has coordinated an immunotherapy treatment program for Sarah that could boost her chances of a cure by another 10%. The immunotherapy is approved in Europe but considered investigational in the U.S.
The WCC7 staff also did their best to lift Sarah’s spirits along the way.
For example, a year ago, on Nov. 1, 2022, Sarah received her first donor tibia and McDowell rebuilt her lower leg. She was recuperating on WCC7 and not feeling well. A favorite physician’s assistant, Pranav Prabhn, knew that it was Sarah’s birthday on November 10, and arranged to have her dog brought to the front doors of the Wilmot Cancer Center. Prabhn wheeled her down for a visit — while the nurses were decorating her hospital room with balloons, string lights, gifts, and treats. The staff hijinks came at a good time; more medical trouble would follow soon after.
Unfortunately, the first surgery did not result in a positive outcome. Streptococcus bacteria invaded a small area of her leg, and months of antibiotics in 2023 and another painful surgery were needed to heal the wounds. Once the infection had cleared, McDowell used a new donor tibia and hardware to rebuild Sarah’s leg again.
“After I was able to go home following all of the treatment,” Sarah says, describing an emotional time, “you sit and it’s quiet and it hits you that there was a stranger who selflessly made sure they would help someone else live. I would just sit there and cry because I had my life back.”
To celebrate the end of treatment, Sarah wanted to say thank you to the WCC7 team. Her mom arranged for an ice-cream truck to park outside of Wilmot for the nurses, staff, patients and families.
At home, Sarah is working with a physical therapist to regain strength and walk again, and has begun contemplating a career in nursing.