Originally created 09/22/05

Cancer support group takes day to indulge at spa



Despite being struck twice by two different cancers, Katie Ridenour has a radical plan for her future.

"I am never cutting my hair," the 12-year-old from Martinez declared. Once it grows back, that is. Katie has a very rare form of ovarian cancer, which is also unusual in a patient so young, said Sharad Ghamande, an assistant professor in gynecological oncology at the Medical College of Georgia.

Katie already battled back from a brain tumor when she was 18 months old, said her mother, Debra Allsup.

If anyone could use some pampering, it is Katie. That is the idea behind the "spa day" Wednesday for members of the gynecological cancer support group that meets at MCG, Dr. Ghamande said. Many of these patients have had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and it can take a toll physically and mentally, he said.

"If not necessarily always physical but at least mentally they have a body-image problem, having undergone all of these procedures," Dr. Ghamande said. "This is a way of trying to say you don't have to hide your scars, you can show your scars, you're proud of them. You've gone through a lot. You're survivors."

Katie said she was looking forward to a manicure, a pedicure and a yoga demonstration.

She wants to start yoga, she said, even though she is undergoing chemotherapy and has another surgery scheduled. She doesn't remember her first course of chemotherapy and how it made her feel, although she knew she had cancer and served on the children's advisory board at MCG Children's Medical Center.

It had been 11 years, so when she started getting sick in January the first thought wasn't another tumor, her mother said. But as doctors eliminated things, they began to think her brain tumor was back. Eventually, they found a large mass in her pelvis. It was a rare small cell cancer of the ovary. In her age group, there have been only a handful of cases.

"It's pretty darn rare," Dr. Ghamande said, adding that it is also rare that someone would get two distinct, apparently unrelated tumors. "That's the weirdest thing," he said.

Unfortunately, when Katie started getting sick again after surgery in March, doctors discovered the blockage in her intestines was cancer that had spread from her pelvis and was inoperable.

"They said, 'We'll do the chemo and hope for the best,'" Mrs. Allsup said. Since then, while Katie's hair has disappeared, so has much of the cancer, to the point where doctors think they can possibly remove what remains. If all goes well, Katie could finish chemotherapy in February or March, Mrs. Allsup said.

"Then I'll be free!" Katie declared. And then she'll get her fondest wish. "Straight brown, the same color that I had," she said.

And one more thing.

"No more surgeries, I hope," Katie said. "And no more cancers."

Reach Tom Corwin at (706) 823-3213 or tom.corwin@augustachronicle.com.

Want to go?

The Medical College of Georgia Gynecological Cancer Support Group meets at 7 p.m. on second Tuesdays at The Clubhouse, 2567 Washington Road. For more information, call (706) 721-3992. The group is open to all patients who have or have had gynecological cancer, and to family members.