For most 11-turning-12-year-olds, their birthday means blowing out candles, celebrating with classmates and maybe getting a gift or two. But that wasn’t the case for Erin Wilson.
She was diagnosed with childhood cancer right before her 12th birthday. After a year of chemotherapy, surgeries and recovery, Erin was declared cancer free. But the effects of being a pediatric cancer survivor last longer than a year. Luckily, 23 years later, with the help of her family, her husband of 11 years, and her resilience, Erin, now 35, is leading a life of happiness, love and riding in the Ride.
In January 1996, something just wasn’t right, and Erin could feel it. She had pain and swelling in her femur, so she went to her pediatrician, where they did an X-ray. She was immediately sent to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
According to Erin, it all happened very fast. She was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and doctors created a plan for how to treat her cancer. She started chemo very quickly and also had surgery on her knee to replace two-thirds of her femur with a metal rod.
Her diagnosis, chemo, surgery and recovery took a year to complete. By January 1997, her doctors told her she was cancer free and has been in remission ever since.
Life After Cancer
Even when the cancer is gone, there are still side effects patients can experience. First, there’s the physical.
Because of her treatment and surgery, Erin was advised by doctors to not participate in sports as a teenager. She was also required to get knee replacement surgery every eight to 10 years based on her activity level.
And then, there are the emotional side effects of going through cancer. For Erin, it was difficult to watch other pediatric cancer patients not survive while she was receiving treatment. She remembers making friends with the other Carly’s Club members (today, you know it as the Courage of Carly Fund). To this day, it is something that still affects her.
But, her personality, drive and family helped get her through it.
Throughout her cancer journey, her family rallied around her. Her older sister, Amy, moved back home to help Pat and Skip, their mom and dad, take care of her. Pat was always with Erin and taking care of her. And Skip worked overtime to help offset the costs of treatment.
“There were a couple meltdowns when I wanted to give up. But having family here really helped me,” she said.
And when she met her husband, he stepped right up to the plate, too.
Erin and Sean's Journey
They were not even a year into their relationship when Sean was there to support Erin through her first knee surgery when she was 20. Instead of choosing to go out like a normal college kid, he was right by Erin’s side.
“Here’s this 22-year-old boy who could’ve been out partying, but he’s in the hospital with me. What boy does that at that age?!” Erin said. “He [continued to] support me through a lot of different surgeries. I knew he was a good guy because he stuck by my side.”
When asked what their favorite memory of each other is, both Erin and Sean are armed with a mountain of examples. Erin discusses their time together interning at the Walt Disney World Studios in Orlando, Florida. Sean talks about their proposal outside of Rockefeller Center in New York City. They both talk about their children, Teddy and Penelope, ages 6 and 3.
“We’ve got 20 years of [memories],” he said.
Sean describes his wife as relentless, determined and a fighter.
“When she gets her mind on something, it’s hard for her to change her mind,” he said. “She’s a caretaker. If there’s an issue, she wants to make sure there’s a resolution.
“She’s loving, caring and she’s got a deep heart.”
For Sean, it’s a very real possibility that childhood cancer could’ve taken Erin before he even knew her, before they had the chance to start a life together. What does he say to that?
“There’s a reason why things happen,” he said. “It’s never easy dealing with what she went through, but you have to be positive. How many people in the world would love to be in our shoes?
“All the past got us to where we are today. There were a lot of [moments], but every step of the way had to happen.”
The year of Erin’s diagnosis was also the year the Ride for Roswell was founded. The fact that she can get on a bike with her family and ride over her name at the finish line is something so special to her.
“I am fortunate enough that, despite what happened to me, I was able to have two beautiful children,” she said. “I feel super lucky to be able to share it with my children, and I hope one day, they will continue to do it.
“It’s my favorite event of the year. I look forward to it so much. It fills me with so much hope to see how generous people are. I wrote a simple post on Facebook, a quick excerpt about how I had cancer, and people donated their hard-earned money.”
And the first time Erin saw her name on the finish line, it was quite an emotional experience, something Sean knows means so much to her.
“The most emotional part is when we’re finishing up the Ride. Every year, we make a video coming up to crossing the finish line. We hear all the cowbells, ride over her name in the chalk and see all the faces.
“She always tears up. For her, it’s always a goal to finish proud and with her head up, representing what she went through for herself and for others.”
Erin and Sean are back for the 2020 Ride for Roswell with their team, Sunflower Dreams. When Erin was sick, she would always wear a denim sunflower hat. Why is it called Sunflower Dreams?
“My dream is for there to be a world without cancer,” Erin said.