Home Audio Transcription BCLUW grad, East Marshall student battle bone cancer | News, Sports, Jobs

BCLUW grad, East Marshall student battle bone cancer | News, Sports, Jobs

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CONTRIBUTED PHOTOS
Left: Payton Pekarek, 19, is a BCLUW High School graduate who was recently diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer. Right: Abby Burchland, 16, is an East Marshall High School student who was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a type of cancer that affects both the bone and surrounding tissue, in February.

When BCLUW High School graduate Payton Pekarek, 19, went to the hospital in March, she thought she was just going to have a benign tumor — osteoblastoma — removed from her knee, but upon closer examination, doctors found that they were actually removing osteosarcoma — bone cancer.

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Payton’s journey began in the fall of 2020 when she started experiencing pain in her knee. Todd Pekarek, her father, said they went down to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and the doctors found a tumor. They monitored it until deciding to remove it several months later in June 2021. When doctors performed a biopsy on the tumor, they initially found it to be osteoblastoma.

Three months after the operation, in September, Payton said the pain in her knee started again. After getting an MRI, her doctors told her that another tumor was growing, but it was just a recurrence of the osteoblastoma that was previously removed. They decided to monitor it until they felt it would be best to remove it.

“They thought it was osteoblastoma still because they told us that this could never turn into cancer, so we had nothing to worry about,” Payton said. “Cancer never even crossed my mind after I found out the tumor had grown back.”

When doctors removed the tumor in March, Payton was shocked when they told her this new tumor was actually osteosarcoma, not osteoblastoma as they had previously believed.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO — Abby Burchland started her fifth cycle of chemotherapy last Thursday.

“My surgeon had called me, and I already knew that was bad news when my surgeon was calling me because he had never called me before, and he had told me ‘We can’t ignore what we’re seeing. This is cancer this time,’” Payton said.

She went back to the hospital the next day and spoke to several different doctors, including her surgeon, and none of them had an answer as to why it would turn into cancer. They were fairly certain that it hadn’t been misdiagnosed the first time.

In January, the Pekareks even went to the Mayo Clinic for a second opinion, and all signs were pointing to a benign tumor.

“They just didn’t have any answers for me,” Payton said. “They seemed very puzzled and confused themselves, which, confidence wise for me, I don’t know if that’s something I like to see from doctors, is being confused and puzzled, but I have full faith in them.”

She still has the remnants of the tumor in her knee, as they were not able to get all of it because they went into the surgery with the belief that it was osteoblastoma. Doctors had to scrape the bone, damaging her knee, and in addition to chemotherapy, Payton will also have to have a knee replacement in June.

She’s currently undergoing her first cycle of chemotherapy to combat the osteosarcoma, and depending on how the tumors react, she will remain on it for the next eight to 12 months.

“It definitely was a lot worse than I thought it was going to be, that’s for sure. A lot of nausea, a lot of dizziness and with COVID restrictions and everything, I started chemo without my mom even being there with me because she had to leave at a certain time, and that was all kind of scary. It’s still scary because I’m still very fresh, but chemo has definitely taken its toll on me so far,” Payton said.

Todd Pekarek said their family is still adjusting to the new diagnosis.

“It’s been kind of a shock for the last two weeks. It’s been just rush, rush, rush, we had surgery, now we’re having chemotherapy, kind of trying to wrap our brains around what’s going on, what’s going to happen and what all needs to happen,” he said.

Payton is still enrolled in online classes at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI), and she is going for a bachelors in human resource management. Finishing up the last five weeks has been a challenge, and Payton says she’s still debating how many classes to take in the fall semester.

Finding connection

After hearing about Payton’s cancer diagnosis, the mother of one of her classmates at BCLUW High School, Sherry Petty, wanted to start a fundraiser to help with treatment costs. Petty started selling t-shirts which are available through the BCLUW Facebook page. Students also showed their support by wearing yellow during a “Power for Payton” day.

The picture posted on BCLUW’s Facebook page from the “Power for Payton” day actually connected Payton with another area patient who is suffering from another form of bone cancer.

Abby Burchland is a 16-year-old student at East Marshall High School, and she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma in February. Allison Burchland, Abby’s mother, said Payton and Abby met online after seeing the BCLUW Facebook post, and although they have never met in person, they have talked through social media several times.

Burchland wasn’t diagnosed with cancer until recently, but her story started in April 2021 when she was in a rollover car accident and broke her femur. She was treated at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and a rod was placed in her left leg.

“At that point, we’re told to just let her be a regular 15-year-old girl, not to do really any physical therapy,” Allison Burchland said. “She was on crutches but no brace or anything. You couldn’t even really tell that her leg had been broken.”

She played volleyball like she normally would, and when the season ended, she started to play basketball. It was around this time that Abby started to experience pain in her left leg.

They visited her doctor and got an X-ray, which looked normal. Abby’s doctor suggested physical therapy, which she started doing three times a week for an hour and 15 minutes, but this seemed to be making it worse.

“All the while, her leg kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and we kept thinking ‘Well maybe it’s just because the muscles are really tight.’ We really aren’t sure,” Allison said.

They made an appointment to see the doctor again on Feb. 4, and another X-ray was performed. This time, it did not come back normal. Instead, it showed that the bone on the right side of her leg was “completely gone,” in Allison’s words.

They initially thought it could be an infection, so the doctors ordered an MRI and a CT scan. The evening after the appointment, the doctors confirmed it was more than an infection. The following day, they performed a biopsy in an attempt to get to the bottom of the problem.

“They biopsied it, and then it was a waiting game. It’s seven days of not knowing. We knew it was cancer, but we weren’t certain what kind, which actually, in all honesty, doesn’t really matter,” Allison said.

Eventually, Abby was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a cancer which affects both bone and surrounding tissue. She started chemo therapy shortly after the diagnosis, and started her fifth of 14 treatments on Thursday.

“She’s doing good. Next weekend is prom, so she’s wanting to get this done so she can get her nails done and get her spray tan, you know. She’s just ready to get this show on the road,” Allison said. “Overall, she’s been doing really, really well. They’ve been doing this long enough that they’ve kind of figured out what works for her and what doesn’t work for her, so that’s been good because it was really rough at the beginning.”

To contribute to the fundraiser for Payton Pekarek, visit https://drive.google.com/file/d/1zFJcFIVetvh1xQzcVyTu4Z7scwITCBUC/view?fbclid=IwAR2FTb8WzJB3ZhwcXpN-BWCvNh5WLg5Hojvz46sx2f9JD89kS-tcnhSx8L4 to fill out an order form for a t-shirt. Forms are due on April 19.

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Contact Susanna Meyer 641-753-6611 or smeyer@timesrepublican.com


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