Filling the Gap

A local foundation is seeking to bring the nation's first comprehensive young adult cancer center to Fort Worth

Not long after her daughter was diagnosed with Stage IV Ewing’s sarcoma, Laura Rutledge attended an event at Carley’s high school. “As I approached the crowd of unaffected-by-cancer, happy, adoring friends, I literally broke into tears,” she says. “This was not my world, not right now. Hopefully, someday it would be again.”

Carley is cancer-free now after two bouts with the disease and is studying environmental science at the University of Colorado. She was diagnosed at the end of her sophomore year in high school. Ewing’s sarcoma is a bone cancer that affects mainly children and adolescents.

For most teenagers, the major concerns of life at that age involve simple things like getting the braces off or getting a driver’s license. Instead, Carley faced 11 months of chemotherapy, 43 days of radiation treatment and countless transfusions. But she beat it. And then, just before graduation, she relapsed.

But she doesn’t look back and feel sorry for that 15-year-old girl who heard the first diagnosis. “I look back and am mostly astounded at her — my own — ability to shut out the negativity that surrounds cancer. I avoided all the statistics, all the what-ifs and every negative thought,” she says.

What she and her parents also learned is that there is a gap in the healthcare system for AYA patients — adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15-39. And that’s where the Carley J. Rutledge Sarcoma Foundation comes in.

When the relapse occurred, the family was determined to find a better treatment than chemotherapy. That led them to a clinical trial at the Mary Crowley Cancer Research Center in Dallas that involved vaccine made from Carley’s own tumor cells. Eight vaccines were made after the tumor was removed and administered once a month while she was in her freshman year in college.

“She felt great and was able to be the normal person she longed to be,” Laura Rutledge said. “Over a year out from her first vaccine, she remains cancer free. Her doctors would have preferred to put her back on conventional chemotherapy, but Carley knew if this worked, her chances for survival would be better, and potentially more patients could benefit from the new treatment.”

As a result, doctors are working to bring the vaccine trial to Fort Worth. “My greatest hope for the Rutledge Foundation is to bring targeted, immune-based treatment to young adult sarcomas that cure,” she said. She also dreams that Fort Worth can have the first comprehensive Young Adult Cancer Center in the U.S., she said