During a routine surgery to repair a hernia, Owen Williams’ doctors found something much more menacing: a tumor in the 3-year-old’s bladder. A few days later, they confirmed a diagnosis of rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer of the soft tissue.
“Of course, we were devastated,” says his mom, Bree. That is until Owen’s doctors said they were confident that they could cure him with 48 weeks of chemotherapy and six weeks of radiation. “We felt so lucky that Owen had such an amazing team of oncologists at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.”
After treatment, Owen was in remission for five years but in August 2016, doctors discovered a much larger tumor growing in the same area of his bladder. The Williams family were told recurrences of rhabdomyosarcoma were extremely difficult to treat.
“To be told that your child would have to go through the biggest fight of his life with only a 10 percent chance of survival is just awful,” Bree says.
Jeffrey Bednarski, MD, a Washington University oncologist and researcher at Siteman Kids at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, proposed enrolling Owen in his clinical research trial. Owen and his family agreed to the trial’s aggressive and highly experimental treatment that included chemotherapy, surgery and then more rounds of high-dose chemotherapy to eradicate any remaining tumor cells from the body. Those steps, Dr. Bednarski explained, would essentially destroy Owen’s bone marrow stem cells, rendering him in need of a stem cell transplant. Owen had that transplant Dec. 12, 2016. He went home Jan. 12, 2017, and has been in remission ever since.
Owen has been through more than most kids his age. “Owen is, and always will be, a survivor, but there’s so much more to him than that,” Bree says. “He’s a great big brother to his three younger brothers, and a wildly imaginative boy who loves harder than anyone I’ve ever met.”