Laurel Ahearn, diagnosed at 19

When I was 19 years old, I was unexpectedly diagnosed with osteosarcoma (a malignant bone tumor) behind my left knee. I had been to the doctor several times to address the issue, but because I was a fit and healthy young college student (running every day and practicing ballet) I was told numerous times that it was runner’s knee. I was prescribed weekly physical therapy visits to my University Health Center, which included heat-based ultrasound therapy on the location where the tumor was unknowingly located.

After several months of increasing pain and weakness in my joint, it became difficult to climb stairs or to get out of bed without my knee giving out on me. Finally, I demanded an X-ray from my primary care provider (PCP) when I came home for Thanksgiving break. This had not been suggested up until this point because it was assumed that the reason for my pain was from overuse or a strained muscle. I, however, knew something was really wrong and that I had to take the initiative to find answers.

“It’s important to NEVER be afraid to see a doctor if you suspect that something might be seriously wrong.”

When the results of the X-ray came back, my PCP called me. He said that it was cancer and that my leg would most likely need to be amputated. I immediately scheduled an appointment. Thus began my journey which involved 13 months of intensive chemotherapy treatments and surgery to replace a section of bone and to remove the damaged muscle and tissue in my leg. Four years after completing the chemotherapy treatments, I developed severe osteoarthritis in the affected knee and received a total knee replacement at the age of 24, five months before I was set to be married.

I am the proud mom of two boys. I am thankful every day for the courage I had to take control of my own health and to demand that my needs be taken seriously. If I hadn’t done that, there is a good chance that I would have lost my leg, and possibly my life as well. Osteosarcoma affects young people ages 13-20 (boys more than girls). Oftentimes the tumor is in the center of the bone, causing patient’s leg to suddenly break while running or from a light fall (a hallmark symptom). I was lucky that the tumor was so close to the knee joint because it caused more pain than it would have if it were located elsewhere.

My mantra since my diagnosis is to be aware, but not obsessed, with my health. It’s important to NEVER be afraid to see a doctor if you suspect that something might be seriously wrong. If you do have cancer, or another serious medical condition, ignoring it will only make the diagnosis more severe. By feeding your fear, you are risking your life. Being vigilant does not mean that you are weak or paranoid, it just means that you value your life enough to listen to your body and to respect what it is telling you. If my story encourages one person to make that doctor’s appointment for a nagging pain or a persistent problem, then I will feel that my journey was worth it.


  • knee pain
  • knee would give out when climbing stairs