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Counting my blessings: After 20 years in remission, Shenae shares her triumphant victory over osteosarcoma and credits her doctors for helping her walk after limb preservation surgery

Counting my blessings: After 20 years in remission, Shenae shares her triumphant victory over osteosarcoma and credits her doctors for helping her walk after limb preservation surgery

At 32-years-old, Shenae Harris is grateful to be alive. Every day, she counts her blessings, cherishing every moment without taking a single day for granted.

As a cancer survivor, Shenae has surpassed many expectations, accomplishing things that others doubted she could even attain. She attributes it all to her faith and an enormous support system.

An unexpected diagnosis

When Shenae was 10 years old, she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, the most common type of bone cancer in children and teens that primarily affects the cells that form new bone tissue. Osteosarcoma can occur in any bone, but most commonly affects long bones of the arms and legs near the knee joint.

“My bone cancer was in my right tibia, but was caught very early,” said Shenae. “At the time, my mom and I didn’t think my leg pain was anything too serious. I was very active in sports. I played volleyball, softball and basketball. Any sport you name, I played. My mom thought my leg pain was somehow related to my active lifestyle. The only symptoms I had were leg pain and feeling tired all the time.”

Shenae’s mom scheduled an appointment with her daughter’s pediatrician as a precautionary measure. Concerned about the underlying cause, the pediatrician referred Shenae to Children’s Hospital New Orleans for an MRI scan. A few days later, the hospital reached out to Shenae’s mother, and requested that they come in for a follow-up visit to discuss the MRI results. It was a day Shenae will never forget.

“At the age of 10, all I understood was that I would lose my hair,” said Shenae. “Two years prior to my diagnosis, my father passedShenae school picture away, and my mother and I were still grieving his loss. The news of cancer struck our family hard. My mother rarely showed her emotions or shed tears in front of me. Instead, she stood strong and reassured me we would overcome it together. My mom is not only my best friend, but also my unwavering support in every aspect of my life, even to this day. She is my rock in everything.”

From cancer diagnosis to treatment

Following her osteosarcoma diagnosis, Shenae and her mother were introduced to a collaborative team of medical professionals at Children’s Hospital. Dr. Maria Velez, a pediatric oncologist at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, and Dr. Stephen Heinrich, an orthopedic surgeon, joined forces to devise Shenae’s comprehensive treatment plan that included chemotherapy and limb preservation surgery.

“The typical chemotherapy regimen for osteosarcoma involves a combination of different chemo drugs that are administered in cycles, with each cycle lasting several weeks,” said Dr. Velez. “Shenae started chemotherapy before undergoing her limb preservation surgery. We needed to shrink the tumor and reduce the likelihood of it spreading, thus making it easier to remove the growth during surgery.”

“I had my chemotherapy treatments every week for a year,” said Shenae. “The nurses administered the medicine through a port in my chest. Each time I received chemo, I had to stay in the hospital usually about four days, which allowed the medical team to monitor me and see how my body responded to the medication. Fortunately, my mom always kept me positive and strong. I always had a smile on my face. I was hoping and praying for a good outcome.”

Shenae’s chemo treatments were working – the tumor began to shrink.

After just over two and a half months of chemotherapy, Shenae reached the point where she was prepared for her limb preservation surgery. Dr. Heinrich explained the surgical procedure to Shenae and her mother, outlining how he planned to preserve Shenae’s leg so she could regain her ability to walk.

Limb preservation surgery

“Limb preservation is aimed at preserving a patient’s limb, and is typically performed when a tumor or significant damage is present in a limb due to injury or disease,” said Dr. Heinrich. “During this surgery, we remove the diseased part of the bone containing the tumor and some of the tissues that surround it. The bone is replaced with a metal implant, a bone graft from a donor, or a combination of both.”

Dr. Heinrich performed the limb salvaging procedure on Shenae in March 2002. After surgery, she had to continue her chemo treatments even after the tumor had been removed to target any remaining cancer cells and minimize the risk of recurrence. During her recovery, she faced the daunting task of undergoing rigorous physical therapy in order to restore her leg strength – which she said was the hardest part of all.

“Physical therapy proved to be an immense challenge,” said Shenae. “I had to essentially reacquaint myself with basic movements like walking and bending my knee. It felt like I was starting from scratch, relearning skills I once took for granted. With time, however, the physical therapy began to show its benefits. I gradually adapted to walking with a rod and screws in my right leg. It just took some time.”

One year after her diagnosis, Shenae successfully completed her final chemotherapy session. However, her relief was short-lived as complications emerged in her right leg, leading to numerous surgeries over the next 14 years. Her last orthopedic procedure on her right leg was in 2016 when she was 25 years old.

“I have faced numerous setbacks over the years, ” said Shenae. “My body rejected the metal rod, there were issues with the cadaver bone in my leg, and the screws securing the implant had loosened. Dr. Heinrich performed a series of surgeries to replace parts, reinforce hardware, and reconstruct my entire implant over the years, and he has been there every “step” of the way.”

In 2006, Shenae reached an impressive milestone: She could walk on her own without any support.

“It was the greatest feeling in the world,” said Shenae. “I felt a huge sense of accomplishment.”

Overcoming adversity one step at a time

Despite everything Shenae has been through, it has made her stronger. She lives her life to the fullest.

In 2018, she triumphantly walked down the aisle and married her beloved, Shane. Two years later, she experienced the joy of becoming a mother to a beautiful daughter named Shayla. “I thought I would struggle to get pregnant due to the chemotherapy treatments. But, God had a purpose for me, and I’m fulfilling it.”

Today, Shenae is a lab assistant at the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders, the very institution that provided her with care and support throughout the years. While she encourages patients and families struggling with cancer to remain strong and hopeful, each time she steps into her workplace, she is reminded of the support her doctors provided her with during her own challenging cancer journey.

“My doctors are the reason why I am here today,” said Shenae. “Dr. Velez is the most energetic and positive person I have ever met. Her positive energy kept me going. She always made sure if I needed anything, I could always call her. Dr. Heinrich’s understanding, passion and skillset in the operating room is the reason why I still have my leg. I owe my gratitude to them for literally changing my life.”

To learn more about the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, visit
Hematology & Oncology | Children's Hospital New Orleans ( For more information about the pediatric orthopedic services and Limb Preservation Program, visit Orthopedics | Children's Hospital New Orleans (