Real-Life Stories

Staying Positive, and Thriving, as a Young Survivor of Pediatric Cancer

by St. Baldrick's Foundation
May 31, 2019

What jumps out after talking with Shane Callaghan? His positivity. In a recent interview with Shane and his dad, Casey, Shane took center stage with his upbeat, can-do attitude – in spite of a lifetime worth of medical setbacks for a kid who is only 14. Shane has faced multiple treatments for osteosarcoma, which was first diagnosed in October 2015.

The following July, Shane was declared cancer-free. But the cancer in his left leg returned in March 2018. Following his relapse, chemotherapy led to an infection that severely damaged his kidneys. While his kidneys are better, they only function at 50% and are unable to handle heavy doses of chemo. On April 1, 2019, Shane’s left leg was amputated to remove the cancer and ultimately save his life.

Shane appears in a hospital bed following the amputation of his leg in April 2019.

Shane and his family have been part of the St. Baldrick’s mission since his diagnosis, and Shane has benefited in no small part from research that St. Baldrick’s has helped fund.

Shane, an active kid from the Chicago suburbs, just wants to be like other kids his age: playing sports, running around the neighborhood, hanging out with friends. But he knows he’ll face physical challenges, and a healthy amount of hard work, too, if he’s to get used to his new leg. “As long as you put your mind to it and put 110% into your physical therapy, you can do it!”

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He’s putting 110% into other facets of his life, too – Casey shares photos and videos on Facebook of Shane diligently completing his physical therapy exercises and learning to ride a specialized hand pedaled bike.

Another Side of Pediatric Cancer – Learning to Thrive After Losing a Leg

Dad Casey says that Shane brought this spirit to his recent amputation – and added a dose of humor. “In the recovery room, after the amputation, nurses said they needed to put a tag on his toe for identification. Shane said, ‘put it on my left toe’ – even though his left leg was the one they just amputated.”

Learning to cope after the loss of a leg is something that can’t be easy – even Casey admits that there are some rough days – but Shane stays focused and stays positive. Shane says, “I’ve always enjoyed moving around, so I know I’ll be back playing baseball next spring. Can’t is not an option with me.”

That positivity is necessary for Shane, since physical therapy isn’t a picnic. In fact, when we had our interview, Shane was at a downtown Chicago rehabilitation clinic, getting used to new mobility challenges.

According to Casey, “Shane gets a little restless lately, since we’ve been at the hospital more often than we’ve been home this past month. He misses his own bed. But he’s really such a positive kid.”

From Dad’s Perspective: Get Help Where and When You Can

Another angle that’s important for survivors to consider: the impact on the larger family. Casey tells us people will offer help, so it’s important to take them up on those offers. “You may feel a little uncomfortable, but if people are offering to do specific things for you that will help you out, say yes. Even things like having meals delivered or picking up a sibling from school or a sports practice, those are small favors that come up really big.”

The St. Baldrick’s community has been very active in the Callaghans’ corner of the world. Shane’s aunt, Colleen Roy, even organized the Christ the King School St. Baldrick’s event last March. Yet, Casey is quick to point out that more can be done. “Historically, childhood cancer research has been under-funded, so it’s obvious that more money is needed, and the money that does go to research needs to be spent as effectively as possible. St. Baldrick’s plays a vital role in making that happen.”

Why Survivorship Matters

We shouldn’t forget that Shane is just 14. With the worst of cancer hopefully behind him – he’s cancer-free after surgery – Shane faces challenges that aren’t typical for kids his age. And he’ll continue to face these challenges going into adulthood, too.

Casey challenges us when talking about his son: “Shane and other kids like him will face challenges, but also just want to be as normal as possible. Focusing on their needs is really important, whether it is a prosthetic limb, or academic support so they don’t fall behind, or emotional support so they can feel connected to their peers again, we need to build that community for survivorship support.” This is why St. Baldrick’s funds supportive care research grants, to help with the many issues survivors face.

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