After horrible news, an optimistic attitude

12-year-old looks forward to recovery from bone cancer

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 
photoCaitlyn Lippolis rests after working out her new leg prosthetic leg last month at Artisan Technologies in Tualatin, Ore.

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photoCaitlyn Lippolis of Vancouver takes her first steps with her new prosthetic leg at Artisan Technologies in Tualatin, Ore. Lippolis, who has an aggressive form of bone cancer, had her leg amputated in June.

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photo"It was a shocker. We had no clue." Robert Lippolis On his daughter's cancer diagnosis

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photoCaitlyn Lippolis takes her first steps with her new prosthetic leg last month at Artisan Technologies in Tualatin, Ore. Caitlyn gets instructions on how to use her prosthetic from Warren Mays, center, and encouragement from her father, Robert Lippolis.

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To Help:

Caitlyn Lippolis: Donation account, the “Caitlyn Lippolis Family Fund,” at iQ Credit Union.

Steve Oberst: “Steve Oberst Medical Fund” on Wepay.

Ryan Woods: “Help a dying father take care of his family” on Indiegogo. “Doing it for Ryan” on GiveForward.

In a matter of weeks, 12-year-old Caitlyn Lippolis went from running through the house to scooting across the floor.

It all started with a little limp. Caitlyn's parents thought she had pulled a muscle in her leg. So they bought her a brace to wear until the pain went away.

But the pain didn't go away. It got worse. To the point where Caitlyn couldn't bear to put weight on her leg. So she slid across the floor on her behind, using her arms to move her body through the house.

For two months, doctors tried to figure out what was causing Caitlyn's pain. Maybe it was childhood arthritis. Maybe she had injured a tendon, or had a problem with a ligament.

Then, two days after Caitlyn's 12th birthday, on March 3, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer.

"It was a shocker," said Robert Lippolis, Caitlyn's dad. "We had no clue."

Physicians at Doernbecher Children's Hospital in Portland ran tests, performed MRIs and biopsied the tumor near Caitlyn's right knee.

"They said it was a very, very aggressive form," Robert said. "We needed to move fast."

Caitlyn began chemotherapy two weeks later. After 11 weeks of treatment, the family received more bad news. The chemotherapy was no match for the growing tumor. Instead of dying, the tumor had grown by 50 percent.

Her doctors outlined three options: amputate the leg, replace the knee with a titanium joint or fuse her ankle to her leg, creating a new knee joint.

On June 21, surgeons amputated Caitlyn's right leg four inches above her knee.

"It wasn't a hard choice at all, really," she said.

The other options came with increased risk of infection and cancer recurrence. The recovery and rehabilitation periods were longer, too, Robert said.

Last month, Caitlyn received her new prosthetic leg. She's practiced putting the sleeve over her stump and slipping the prosthetic into place, and she's taken a few unsteady steps on the foreign limb.

Once she completes her chemotherapy in early December, she'll be able to focus her efforts on physical therapy and relearning how to walk.

"It's been tough, but it's gonna be over soon," Caitlyn said.

Since the surgery, Caitlyn's felt more like her old self. She's not as tired and withdrawn. She has more energy. She's spending more time on her favorite hobbies, such as writing books, drawing and painting. She's taking classes online so she's doesn't fall behind in school.

She's also grown up. Caitlyn and her younger sister, 9-year-old Ali, used to fight and bicker about anything, everything. Now, they get along better. Caitlyn's just happy to have Ali and 1-year-old Lindsay around.

"I've definitely matured, but I still have that childish side that will never go away," Caitlyn said. "I'm still competitive. I still love video games."

While the amputation has changed Caitlyn's life, she won't let it hold her down. She plans to once again be an active kid. She's already talking about riding her bike and swimming again.

"If anything, it's gonna push me harder," Caitlyn said. "I'm not the kind of person to give up easy."

The prosthetic leg has its advantages, too, Caitlyn said.

"Now, I'll look like a half-robot," she said, smiling.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com.