Hannah’s Journal: A Moment That Changed Everything

Editor’s Note: Hannah is a 13-year-old patient at Connecticut Children’s. Here she shares the story of her diagnosis.

There are lots of moments in your life that you remember. Some can be good, some can be bad. This moment happens to be one I’ll never forget.

I’m Hannah Forstell, and I am going to tell you about the time my life changed forever.

The doctor’s office

I am in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment.

Now, I am sure you are wondering, why is she at the doctor? My left upper arm had been hurting for a couple of weeks and I had grown tired of the pain. I had a couple of incidents that I thought could have caused it: I fell down the stairs at my neighbor’s house, and I hurt my arm while taking a swim test. At first the pain would come and go. But eventually it grew and grew and became too much for me. It was hard for me to put my hair up, change my clothes, and even raise my arm over my head. So, my mom took me to my pediatrician, Manuel Orta, MD. He examined my arm and had a difficult time doing so because I knew it would hurt. I was very protective of it. He recommended seeing an orthopedist.

That brings us here, the orthopedic doctor’s waiting room.

A woman comes out and calls my name. My mom and I follow her to the room where I get weighed and measured. Then she brings my mom and me into a separate room. Next, she tells us that the physician assistant, Nicole Chevalier, PA-C, will see us shortly. A couple of minutes pass and then the Nicole comes in. She introduces herself, and then asks my mom what happened. My mom explains how I’ve felt pain in my arm over the past month and what happened at the pediatrician’s visit.

“Do you mind if I look at it?” Nicole asks.

“No, not at all,” I say. Nicole then examines my arm and feels my shoulder.

“Can you get your arm out towards me?” asks Nicole.

After the exam

This is where everything changes.

I am sitting on the exam table, watching my mom and the physician assistant silently. I am confused because my mom is constantly asking questions. I begin to worry that something bad is happening.

“How about we try some physical therapy,” Nicole says.

“Okay, that sounds good,” my mom exclaims, thinking this is going to be an easy fix.

“Here is a list of fantastic physical therapists that I recommend!” says Nicole as she gives my mom the paper.

They start talking about physical therapy while I lay on the exam table. I am thrilled that no bones were broken.

Then Nicole says, “You know, maybe we should do an X-ray for good measure.”

“We will do it,” my mom says.

“Okay! Hannah, follow me,” Nicole tells me.

I follow her into an X-ray room. I adjust my shoulder up against the machine. The technologist takes two X-rays: one of my shoulder and one of my arm. The young woman takes me back to my room and tells us that the results will be in soon. I am a little nervous that something could go wrong, although I don’t believe something bad will be found on the X-ray. I can tell that my mom is uptight because of her body language. She’s moving back and forth in her seat. All of a sudden, Nicole comes bursting into the room. My mom and I look up quickly.

“You’re going to need a STAT MRI tonight,” Nicole says in a serious tone.

This is where everything really takes a turn in my life.

Facing the unexpected

I watch my mom burst out of her chair saying, “I need to see the image!”

I hear my mom gasp and then I know that it must be bad because my mom is an X-ray technologist. I get up, out of my seat, and look at the X-ray as well. I don’t understand what the big deal is because I don’t know how to read X-rays. My MRI is scheduled for 5:45 that night.

I am diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that typically occurs in children. It is mostly found in the humerus, femur and tibia. Osteosarcoma was such a shocking diagnosis. I figured I had just pulled a muscle or broken a bone.

Looking to the future

That fateful day in the doctor’s office was a long time ago at this point. I’m happy to share that I finished my last round of chemo in early April 2020. I did very well with treatment—in fact, Natasha Frederick, MD, my oncologist at Connecticut Children’s, told me I responded terrifically to chemo.

Unexpected things can happen so quickly and change everything you’ve known so fast. It is because of this that we need to respect the time we have with people and think about how lucky we are to be alive. Some people don’t ever get the chance to do what others can, and it is heartbreaking. Make sure that you take a moment and realize what you are thankful for. Also, think about the people in your life that matter most to you because there comes a time when they won’t be with you anymore.

Here are some photos from my time as a patient at Connecticut Children’s: 


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