emories of his treatment are a little blurry. After all, Sam Blakemore was only 7 when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and he was eager to get better and get back to his favorite activities — playing with friends and siblings and spending time outdoors. What he does remember, however, is making the most of his hospital stay, whether it was having NERF gun fights with the nurses or squirting water-filled syringes at visitors.
His parents, however, tell a different story. “You just kind of go into survival mode because you’re too busy learning things and making decisions,” says his dad, Tim Blakemore. “It’s kind of like you’re in a dream state for a little while. You’re just going and going, and people are talking to you — and nothing anyone says is good. It’s a fog.”
The cancerous bone tumor on Sam’s femur was treated at the UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital, first with 10 weeks of chemotherapy and then surgery to remove the mass. Sam underwent a rare surgery called rotationplasty, or the Van Ness procedure, in which the tumor is removed and the remaining limb below the cancerous portion is rotated 180 degrees and reattached, with the ankle acting as the knee.
During this time, Sam’s parents also met with a study coordinator, who reviewed pertinent clinical trials at the UF Health Cancer Center; they ultimately decided to enroll their son in a phase three, interventional study.
A Phase III study is intended to gather more information about the safety and effectiveness of a new treatment by studying different populations and different dosages. In an interventional study, participants are split into separate groups: those who receive standard care for their cancer, and those who receive standard care as well as the new treatment. Sam’s particular clinical study was looking at treatment strategies for operable osteosarcoma based on tumor response to presurgical chemotherapy.
“Even though it’s a tough time to be going through, part of your mind is like ‘I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this,’” says Tim, “and so you’re willing to participate to capture that information that might be helpful.”’
Besides providing information on the trial, the health care team was committed to not swaying the family’s decision to participate, Tim says.
“It was very clear that they value the seriousness of the studies and want you to make the decision, to keep it pure,” he says. “I respect and appreciate that. Although, when you’re in it, you’re like ‘Just tell me! Will it help?’”
Ultimately, Sam’s parents decided to enroll their son in one study, but not a second one based on factors related to his individual case.
“If I were talking to someone else about the idea, I’d say ‘You should seriously consider it, because it does benefit future treatment — but you have to be at peace with your decision too, because ultimately it’s your child that you’re trying to protect and care for,’” says Tim. “It’s not one decision fits all.”
Osteosarcoma has one of the highest rates of cancer recurrence, notes Tim, which made participating in a trial an even easier decision.
“As people with a kid who could have a recurrence, I want my local hospital to have as many studies or trials are they can, because that brings opportunities and options,” he says.
These days, Sam, now 14, is back to enjoying an active lifestyle — and has even added a few new activities to his repertoire, like the fitness regimen CrossFit.
“When I look back on it, it wasn’t that bad of an experience, even losing my leg; it’s kind of been like a learning experience, to just work harder and not give up,” he says. An aspiring business owner and entrepreneur, Sam is currently channeling his hard-earned work ethic into physical fitness.
It’s fun to work hard and see himself improve, he says.
“A six-pack is pretty high on his priority list,” says his mom, Angie Blakemore, laughing.
Sam is quick to quip back: “Who doesn’t want one?”