Cancer is tough. Evelyn Owens is tougher

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Evelyn Owens celebrating her last day of proton beam therapy at Mayo Clinic.

Editor's note: July is Sarcoma Awareness Month.

By Marty Velasco Hames

Evelyn Owens' brave battle with cancer is capturing the hearts of everyone around her.

At only 6 years old, Evelyn was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare form of childhood cancer.

Evelyn's family traveled from their home in Oregon to Mayo Clinic Comprehensive Cancer Center in Arizona where doctors are using cutting-edge technology that's revolutionizing cancer treatment for many patients like her.

Fighting cancer is tough.

Evelyn proved she's tougher.

Watch: Cancer is tough. Evelyn Owens is tougher

Evelyn was six-years-old when she was diagnosed with cancer. Photo courtesy: Owens family.

Fighting cancer with the spirit of a warrior and a smile

No matter what life throws at her, Evelyn's parents say she just keeps on smiling. "That's how she looks 99% of the time even if she doesn't feel good," says her mom, Claire Owens. Evelyn's dad agrees. "She's very, very tough," says Austin Owens.

Evelyn's toughness was put to the test when pathology results revealed she had cancer.

"Everybody thought it was a cyst," recalls Claire. "Even after surgery they said it was a cyst, and then the pathology came back as cancer."

What is rhabdomyosarcoma?

Additional tests showed the cancer was rhabdomyosarcoma, which begins as a growth of cells in soft tissue, like muscle. It can start anywhere in the body. Rhabdomyosarcoma most often occurs in children younger than the age of ten. Symptoms depend on where the cancer starts and can include lumps under the skin, redness, swelling, and pain.

As part of her treatment, Evelyn's doctors recommended radiation with innovative cancer-fighting technology called proton beam therapy. Her family traveled from their home in Oregon to Mayo Clinic in Arizona so Evelyn could receive the cutting-edge therapy.

Evelyn and Dr. Safia Ahmed.

Fighting cancer with proton beam therapy

"Proton therapy allows us to treat the area we need to treat completely while protecting many of the normal tissues nearby," says radiation oncologist, Safia Ahmed, M.D. "And for pediatric patients that's very important because all of their tissues are growing."

Proton beam therapy attacks and destroys cancer cells with radiation by targeting the precise location in the body where the cancer is located. "And by minimizing radiation dose and radiation dose side effects to these tissues as they are growing is key. It improves their (patients) quality of life," says Dr. Ahmed.

Austin and Claire Owens with daughter Evelyn and son Henry.

Evelyn underwent 24 treatments of proton beam therapy over six weeks. Her parents say through it all, she stayed tough and positive.

"I can't imagine going through this with anybody else but you," says Austin about his daughter. "You should be the poster child for going through cancer and cancer treatments. I'm so proud of you and love you so much," he adds.

Evelyn is now 7 years old and back home in Oregon with her family. She will still require some chemotherapy treatment. Doctors say her prognosis looks good. Evelyn will undergo regular monitoring to make sure the cancer does not come back.

These days Evelyn is back to enjoying the things she loves most, like riding ponies with her brother, Henry, and taking her dog, Duke, on walks.

Evelyn's smile is bigger and brighter than ever.

Evelyn, with her dog, Duke.

Learn more

Learn more about rhabdomyosarcoma and find a clinical trial at Mayo Clinic.

Join the Sarcoma Support Group on Mayo Clinic Connect, an online community moderated by Mayo Clinic for patients and caregivers.

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A version of this article was originally published on the Mayo Clinic News Network.