- Associated Press - Sunday, July 27, 2014

BROOKSVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Like a lot of teen girls, Faith Brown has read The Fault in Our Stars, the popular novel about two teens who fall in love at a cancer support group.

But Faith needed more courage than most to make it to the end and learn the eventual fate of Gus, who lost a leg to osteosarcoma.

It’s the same cancer Faith, 14, learned she had last year.

Osteosarcoma is a rare, solid tumor cancer of the bone that targets adolescents, striking primarily during growth spurts.

When the Brooksville girl complained last year of pain in her right knee, her parents figured it was because she fell while out playing. But the pain didn’t go away, so they took her for an X-ray, then an MRI.

“That’s when they found it,” said Kathy Brown, 47, Faith’s mother. “There was a mass in her knee that wasn’t bulging out. It was just 3 to 4 centimeters in the growth plate in her knee. We were lucky, we caught it really early.”

Faith had to go through nine months of chemotherapy. But unlike the fictional Gus, she avoided amputation.

In June 2013, surgeons at All Children’s Hospital Johns Hopkins Medicine in St. Petersburg removed part of her right thigh bone, shin bone and the knee joint. In their place: titanium rods and an artificial knee.

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The fact that Faith’s cancer was caught early was key to her getting this limb-sparing surgery. Doctors must remove the entire tumor as well as enough healthy tissue around it to offer a margin of safety. Yet they must preserve as many tendons, nerves and blood vessels as possible so the limb functions well.

If the tumor is too large, amputation can be the only choice.

Today, Kathy and David Brown’s family photo collection includes a shot of the doctor demonstrating the implant before the surgery, and X-rays showing the gear nestled into Faith’s leg.

Within weeks of the surgery, Faith started physical therapy that would last six months. “She had to train her brain and her leg to work together again, especially how to take a step up or down stairs,” said her mother.

Faith said the implant no longer feels strange, though sometimes she hears it clicking.

“Sometimes it does affect how I walk,” she said, “I get a little limp on the right side if I’ve been walking for a while and get tired.”

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