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Local girl’s leg and life saved a second time after cancer returns

Lydia Alwan with Zee Bee

When Lydia Alwan was initially diagnosed with osteosarcoma at the age of 7, her family was terrified. This rare form of bone cancer, not often seen in children, would require aggressive chemotherapy treatment and surgery. Their child might lose her leg to save her life.

“I truly can’t describe what we were feeling in that moment. Sadness, fear, so many unknowns. As a parent, it was the weight of, ‘How can we fix it?’” said Jessica Alwan, Lydia’s mom. “We knew the decision about where to have Lydia treated was one of the most important ones we would make in our lives.”

That decision? UC Davis Children’s Hospital, UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center and pediatric orthopedic oncologist and Chair of the Department of Orthopaedic Surgery Lor Randall. It was a decision that would make all the difference. Then, and now.

Round one: The fight against Osteosarcoma

“We were very fortunate that one of the top surgeons in the country for osteosarcoma is right here in our backyard,” Alwan said. “Dr. Randall had been recommended to us over and over, and from his title alone, you can imagine how few of them even exist.”

Lydia Alwan during a physical therapy appointment at UC Davis Children’s Hospital.

With Randall on board, Team Lydia began their initial fight. Chemotherapy treatment started in 2019 at UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Lydia underwent reconstructive surgery of her leg at the Children’s Surgery Center to remove the tumor in her femur rather than amputate. The goal was to keep her mobility and save her life. 

Lydia spent months at UC Davis Children’s Hospital and had a year of treatment. Although unable to walk much of that time, Lydia still had her leg — and her life.  Randall, together with pediatric hematologist and oncologist Elysia Alvarez, had done it: they saved both life and limb!

Round two: A rare diagnosis on repeat

Lydia was recovering throughout 2020. Her hair had grown back, and she was beginning to feel like herself again. Now 9, she even rejoined her online school and returned to activities kids her age enjoy, like bike riding. But then her leg began hurting, again. The same leg as before. Fear set in. 

In January 2021, the Alwans got the news they dreaded – the cancer was back. 

Lydia Alwan and Dr. R. Lor Randall giving thumbs up
Two-time cancer and surgery patient, Lydia, and her surgeon, Lor Randall, in the Children’s Surgery Center at UC Davis Children’s Hospital.

“Osteosarcoma tends to occur in teenagers and young adults, so it was a rare diagnosis in a child Lydia’s age,” Randall said. “It is even more rare that a limb is salvaged. And a reoccurrence? That made this case even more complex and rare.” 

Lydia began another series of chemotherapy treatments in the hospital. She faced a second complex reconstructive surgery with the goal of keeping her leg. The cancer was located above the previous site, making a limb salvage even more difficult. This surgery would require a replacement of Lydia’s hip, femur and knee. 

“When you look at statistics, the fact that we saved the leg a second time and she is disease-free is truly remarkable,” Randall said. 

Cancer won’t keep Lydia down

When cancer treatment wrapped up in August of 2021, the Alwans were grateful and cautiously optimistic. Lydia was out of the hospital and back on her feet. But after a rare cancer diagnosis, a reoccurrence, two years of chemotherapy and two complex surgeries to save her leg, what would be next? A celebration to commemorate being one year cancer-free as of August 22, 2022. 

Lydia, now in sixth grade, is back to school and back on her feet. She loves hiking, baking singing in choir and belting out tunes sung by her favorite band, BTS. A typical pre-teen at last. 

Lydia in hospital bed with BTS on magazine covers. On the right Lydia enjoying a BTS concert
Lydia loves the band BTS and after beating cancer for the second time, she got the chance to see them live in Las Vegas in April 2022.

“For two years, Lydia went through procedures and feelings no child should have to experience,” Alwan said. “But the expertise and emotional support she was provided at UC Davis Children’s Hospital was beyond compare. They gave us the strength we needed to face our fears and fight.”

Fight they did … and won.