32 : Raeanna Gutkowski, Former D-1 Volleyball Player, Survivor of Osteosarcoma

This week on the Heads 'N Tales podcast I interview Raeanna Gutkowski, who was a division-one athlete on the Marist College women's volleyball team until she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma after her freshman season.  Raeanna and I both grew up in the town of Long Valley, NJ and attended West Morris Central High School at the same time.  Osteosarcoma is a pediatric bone cancer that is often found in teenagers.  Raeanna first knew something was wrong when she developed a nagging pain in her knee, especially when it was in full flexion (heel to butt).  After trying to play through the pain, as most competitive athletes do, Raeanna finally went to the Marist Team doctor where they performed an MRI on her knee.  What was initially thought to be a torn meniscus turned out to be a bone tumor that would change Raeanna's life forever.

Raeanna was forced to undergo intense chemotherapy treatments and eventually had to have a portion of her femur removed (as seen in the Xray below).  Unfortunately, Raeanna had to overcome what seemed to be endless complications that were a result of her treatment.  After her first dose of chemotherapy she came down with an often fatal disease called typhlitis and had to have part of her intestine removed.  Throughout the entire interview, I kept waiting for the turning point in her story for when her condition began to improve, but it just never seemed to come (truly jaw-dropping).  I also had a few complications from my head surgery, but mine paled in comparison to Rae's.  Download this episode to hear all the details, it is truly amazing to see how healthy and happy Rae is today after what she has gone through.

Xray of Raeanna's Prosthetic Knee

Xray of Raeanna's Prosthetic Knee

In addition to Raeanna's story of overcoming cancer, we also talk about her transition to life after sports and how she has found a new passion as a spin instructor. I took one of her classes after part-one of our interview at the New York Sports Club in Hoboken, NJ.  It quickly became obvious why Rae was such a successful athlete and was successful in beating cancer.  Her drive, passion and determination are contagious and I hope this podcast episode is another way to spread her mindset.  We also discussed some of the great opportunities she has received because of cancer and some of the amazing people she has met and been able to help along the way.  Specifically Raeanna talks about her friend Clayton who is currently fighting the same cancer she beat.

Raeanna and her friend Clayton at Equinox's "Cycle for Survival" fundraiser.

Raeanna and her friend Clayton at Equinox's "Cycle for Survival" fundraiser.

Lastly, Raeanna talks about an organization called "Teen Cancer America" who aim to help hospitals and healthcare professionals bridge the gap between pediatric and adult oncology care. Teen Cancer America aims to educate and support hospitals and outpatient facilities in the development of specialized units for this age group. The units are a place just for teens and young adults where the cancer experience is understood and the importance of living life through the cancer journey is nourished.  Below is a video on their mission.

Download Episode 32 : iTunes | Stitcher