Scottsboro, Ala. (WHNT) – A young woman from northern Alabama shares her journey as she battles an extremely rare form of cancer.
Anna Richard was born and raised in Scottsboro. She graduated from the University of South Alabama in December 2021.
She then started her first job after college as an eighth-grade English teacher at Scottsboro Junior High School in February 2022. She told News 19 that the work experience at Junior High School “was like a big family.
Shortly after starting her teaching job, that’s when she started to feel something was wrong.
“I started to feel tingling in my feet and numbness in my toes,” she said.
She attributed the numbness to her shoes, saying, “I thought it was from my heels. I thought my toes were numb from my tingling heels, so I ignored it.
Shortly after, she suffered from back pain. However, she attributed the pain to back pain.
“I clapped when I was younger, so I’ve always had back pain ever since, so I was like ‘oh, I just have a bad back’.”
She said the back pain would “get really bad”, but she would take some ibuprofen and it would get better. Unfortunately, things changed over spring break when she went to the beach with her family.
“We were at the beach and it just got worse and worse,” she said of her back pain. “I really struggled to walk.”
Her family took her to hospital while on vacation, but then drove six hours the next day to be seen at Huntsville Hospital. Eventually, she had an MRI, where doctors found a tumor on her spine.
“So when they found the tumor in my spine, they sent it for a biopsy to see if it was cancerous, non-cancerous, whatever,” she said. “We later found out it was Ewing’s sarcoma”
Ewing’s sarcoma is a very rare form of bone cancer. The Mayo Clinic says fewer than 1,000 cases are diagnosed each year.
Richard’s case was even rarer, as less than six percent of cases form in the spine.
While speaking with News 19, she recalled her first thoughts after learning of her diagnosis.
“I didn’t really know what to think, because he came in and said you know, you have Ewing’s sarcoma… but honestly, I took it better than I thought I would,” said- she declared. “He said ‘you have cancer’ and I said, okay, I’m going to survive. Like mind over matter, I’ve heard that all my life, mind over matter. J was like you know what, what if I had cancer? I’m gonna beat that thing.
Anna Richard has kept this positive attitude since day one. She said she feels extremely blessed by her support system, her colleagues and her community.
She said one of the great blessings at the start of her journey was her fellow teachers at Scottsboro Junior High.
“Teachers can donate [vacation] days for you, so you can finish the year and still get paid,” Richard said.
“I had so many teachers giving me days, so I didn’t even have to worry about school or teaching, or you know, where or if I would get a next paycheck. So it really worked.
Anna also found support online. She made Tik Tok videos under the username @annarichard240, where she shared her journey.
She chronicled the learning process of her cancer, explained how the treatment works and gave an update on how she is feeling. Richard said she wanted to use an online platform to educate people about Ewing’s sarcoma because “hardly anyone knows about Ewing’s sarcoma”.
She said it’s a ‘silent killer’ because many people don’t know they have it, as many don’t experience any symptoms.
She said she feels truly blessed to have her tumor on her spine as it alerted her more quickly.
“It’s crazy because I say thank God it broke my spine,” she said. “Because if it hadn’t started in my spine and fractured my spine, it could have spread throughout my body.”
While Richard was first seen by a doctor at Huntsville Hospital, she found an oncologist at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas who specializes in Ewing’s sarcoma. She has been in treatment at MD Anderson almost every day since April.
Richard is only 22, so she explained that her body can tolerate the children’s version of chemotherapy. She said there were tours every two weeks. However, it is a very exhausting process.
“As soon as your body recovers from chemo, you go back to chemo,” she said.
News 19 interviewed Richard at his family home in Scottsboro. It’s his first visit to Alabama since April. Unable to fly during chemotherapy, she and her mother drove from Houston. They will begin the trip back to Houston next week so Anna can start a new round of radiation.
The family has set up a GoFundMe page, where they are accepting donations to help pay for accommodations and travel costs to be near the hospital in Houston. You can find this page by clicking here.
This isn’t the first time the Richard family has gone through a tough time and used it to focus on raising awareness. Anna’s father was killed while riding a bike in April 2020. The family joined the “Ghost Bike” movement.
Richard said she looks forward to life after beating cancer. She said she already hopes to be back in class by the fall of 2023. She said that right now she is focused on improving herself.
“I want to experience something so horrible, it will make me so happy after it’s been done. For some reason I have to go through it, but I think something good will come out of it.
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