Local singer inspires with story of cancer survival
By Megan Exline
Commoner Journal staff writer
McARTHUR — A local artist who spent a large portion of her youth fighting cancer is now sharing her story of how she overcame the disease through her faith and a love for music.
Sara Richardson, of Albany, has sang at various churches throughout Vinton County. But music wasn’t always her first love.
When she was younger, she was interested in gymnastics.
But in 2003, at the age of 10, a tumor was found on Richardson’s femur, and she was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, otherwise known as bone cancer.
Richardson underwent nine months of chemotherapy and reconstructive surgery on her femur, which prevented her from participating in gymnastics for a time.
“It is really interesting how, when your dreams are shattered, God gives you new dreams,” Richardson said. “So before cancer, my dream was to be a star gymnast, but that didn’t happen, so he gave me the gift of music.”
When treatment was over, the tumor was removed and found to be 100 percent dead.
In 2005, Richardson relapsed and had to go through chemotherapy and surgery again. Her chance of survival dropped to 50 percent. She said that because she’d already gone through it all before, she was discouraged to have to go through it again.
“I was 13-years-old at that point, so losing all of my hair was a little bit of a bigger deal,” Richardson said. “I learned a big lesson about outward beauty and what it means to be beautiful; that beauty is on the inside, not on the outside. I shouldn’t try to seek acceptance from people based on what I look like.”
When her treatment was over, the recovery process took less time than it had before.
In 2006, Richardson relapsed again. This time, the tumor was in her knee. Her chance of survival dropped to about 10 percent, and her doctor told her the best option was to amputate.
Her parents sought a second opinion from a doctor in Houston, Texas.
That doctor put Richardson on the same type of chemotherapy treatment that she had during her first bout with the disease. She said she thinks her body built up immunity to it, though, because the tumor spread to her hip.
“It became critical to amputate as soon as possible,” Richardson said.
She went back to Ohio for the amputation and was told that the amputation would limit her physical abilities. Because the doctors had to amputate at the hip, there was no stump left for a prosthesis. She said she realized then that her chances of survival weren’t good, and if she did survive, she would have to live with the amputation.
“So there was that to overcome, but God was very good to me in that time and taught me a lot of really important life lessons through my experience with cancer,” Richardson said.
She said these lessons included learning what true beauty is, learning to be patient and learning to trust God.
She said her fight with cancer was difficult for her parents, and they described it as a roller coaster, but she said normally when her mom was in a low emotional state, her dad would be in a high state, and vice versa.
“I’d say it was probably harder to see a loved one suffer than to actually go through it yourself,” Richardson said. “At the time, since I was young, I didn’t really understand fully the seriousness of cancer. To me it was a bunch of needles and being sick and being in the hospital. To my parents, it was, ‘We could lose her.’”
She said this led to some problems with their faith.
“For all of us, there were times of anger and confusion where we were obviously very upset with God, but in time we saw his mercy, his goodness and you know he loved us and kept putting people in our paths to encourage and support us when we were low,” Richardson said. “He didn’t just let this happen and walk away and leave us on our own.”
The day after her amputation, when turned on the TV, “Amazing Race” was on. An amputee named Sarah was in the competition and the program showed her running.
“It was just the most perfect timing because I was so discouraged and fearful of what my life would be like after such a major operation, and here she was just living life to the fullest,” Richardson said. “I was just determined that I wanted to be like that as well.”
Since then, Richardson has participated in many adaptive sports like skiing, rock-wall climbing, horseback riding, and kayaking.
But it was music that provided the most inspiration for her as she continued to follow that dream.
Richardson recently released a CD called “Living the Reward.” The idea for the CD originally came about while Richardson was still sick. She had used encouraging music to help her recover.
“A lot of the times when my pain was out of control or I was very depressed, I would turn to music as my form of therapy,” Richardson said.
Her parents saw a producer they knew and they started talking about having her do a recording. Originally, they weren’t sure how much longer Richardson would have to live, and they wanted a recording of her voice.
The recording took three and a half years to complete.
“Thankfully, they don’t see it now as something to remember me by, but something to be a blessing to all of the people that helped me when I was sick,” Richardson said.
The CD can be purchased here.
“I just want to give hope to anybody that I can that even when it feels like the world is crushing down on them, it is going to end. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and God is good and his love is never-ending,” Richardson said.
Richardson is now a 19-year-old freshman majoring in music therapy at Ohio University.
“I’m studying music therapy since music was so therapeutic to me. I just want to use music to bless people and share the gift of music with other people because it’s just been very powerful with me,” she said.
“Also, I’m very, very, very thrilled to say that I have been cancer free for five and a half years, so God has worked a miracle in my life for sure,” Richardson said.
She advises people who are currently fighting similar battles to keep a positive attitude and resist negativity.
“Don’t give up fighting, even when you’re given a bad statistic, it’s just a statistic. It’s just a number. Keep fighting, never give up and always have a positive attitude,” Richardson said.