Living to reach life milestones

A high school cross-country runner and skier, Sarah Ewald “always had nasty things on [her] feet.” So when the 18-year-old noticed a lump on her left foot, she thought nothing of it.

By the time her ski season was over, the lump had gotten bigger. Sarah’s family doctor ordered an X-Ray, MRI, and biopsy, which revealed a soft-tissue tumor called alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma. A subsequent PET scan confirmed the cancer had spread to the tail of her pancreas.

She was referred to the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. She started on a 54-week treatment that included surgery to remove her pancreas and portion of her spleen, radiation, and enrollment in a clinical trial on a promising new chemotherapy.

“At my very first appointment, my oncologist said, ‘I could rattle off the stats for you all day…but I want you to focus on being 100% cancer-free. That’s where we’re going to get you.’”
She enjoyed 15 cancer-free months until one day, during her college biology class, she noticed a lump in her thigh. Sarah put her boxing gloves back on and once again focused on getting healthy. “I was like, ‘Let’s do this again and get through it.’”

Sarah underwent surgery and another round of radiation and enrolled in another chemotherapy clinical trial, led by hematologist/oncologist Dr. Brenda Weigel, M.D., M.Sc. “The results were so positive that the trial actually ended early,” Sarah explained.

The 28-year-old has been cancer-free for 7 years. Sarah graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2016 with a degree in marketing. She now works for her family’s association management company. She married her childhood friend, Mark Ulrich, in 2018. Sarah and Mark live in the Twin Cities with their dog, Bear, who Sarah got during her first bout with cancer.

“I’m grateful for so much. I think I’m doing so well now because of the [clinical] studies. I’m thankful to the people who are funding cancer research and to the people who are doing the research. Research will help more kids reach milestones like going to college and getting married. And help them do so with minimal long-term side effects.”