SCOTTSBORO, Ala. (WHNT) — A young woman from North Alabama is sharing 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 of 2021.
She then started her first job post-college as an eighth-grade English teacher at Scottsboro Junior High School in February of 2022. She told News 19, that the experience of working at the Junior High School “was like one big family.”
Shortly after starting her teaching position, is when she first started feeling like something wasn’t right.
“I started having these tingly feelings in my feet and numbness in my toes,” she said.
She attributed the numbness, to her footwear saying, “I thought it was from my heels. I thought my toes were being numb from my heels being tingly, so I ignored it.”
Shortly after that, she experienced back pain. However, she attributed the pain to having a bad back.
“I cheered when I was younger, so I always had back pain since then, so I thought ‘oh I just have a bad back’.”
She said the back pain would “get really bad,” but that she would take Ibuprofen and it would feel better. Unfortunately, things took a turn over Spring Break when she took a trip 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 just struggled to walk.”
Her family took her to a hospital while on vacation, but then drove six hours the very next day to be seen at Huntsville Hospital. Eventually, she got an MRI, where doctors found a tumor on her spine.
“So when they found the tumor in my spine, they got it sent off for a biopsy to see if it was cancerous, non-cancerous, whatever it was,” she said. “We found out later that it was Ewing’s Sarcoma”
Ewing’s Sarcoma is a very rare form of bone cancer. The Mayo Clinic says less than 1,000 cases are diagnosed each year.
Richard’s case was even more rare, as less than six percent of cases form in the spine.
While talking with News 19, she recalled her initial thoughts after learning about 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 would have thought,” she said. “He said ‘you have cancer’ and I said, well OK, I’m going to survive. Like mind over matter, I’ve heard that my whole life, mind over matter. I was like you know what, so what if I have cancer? I’m going to beat this thing.”
Anna Richard has kept that positive attitude since day one. She said she feels extremely blessed by her support system, co-workers, and community.
She said one of the big blessings at the beginning of her journey, was her fellow teachers at Scottsboro Junior High.
“Teachers can donate [vacation] days to you, so you can finish out the year and still get paid,” Richard said.
“I had so many teachers donating days to me, 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 just worked out.”
Anna has also found support online. She’s made Tik Tok videos under the username @annarichard240, where she’s shared her journey.
She’s chronicled the process of learning about her cancer, explaining how treatment works and updates 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 is a “silent killer” because many people don’t know they have it, since many don’t experience symptoms.
She said she actually feels blessed to have her tumor on her spine because it alerted her quicker.
“It’s crazy because I say thank God it fractured my spine” she said. “Because if it would not have started in my spine, and fractured my spine, it could have been spread throughout my whole body.”
While Richard was initially seen by a doctor at Huntsville Hospital, she found an Oncologist at MD Anderson in Houston, Texas who specializes in Ewing’s Sarcoma. She’s been in treatment at MD Anderson nearly every day since April.
Richard is only 22 years old, so she explained that her body can tolerate the children’s version of chemotherapy. She said it goes in rounds every two weeks. However, it is a very grueling process.
“As soon as your body recoups from the chemo, you just get chemo again,” she said.
News 19 interviewed Richard at her family home in Scottsboro. This is her first visit back in Alabama since April. Not able to fly during chemotherapy, she and her mother drove from Houston. They’ll start the trip back to Houston this upcoming week so Anna can start a new round of radiation.
The family has a GoFundMe page set up, where they are accepting donations to help go towards accommodations and travel expenses to be near the hospital in Houston. You can find that page by clicking here.
This isn’t the first time the Richard family has dealt with a difficult time and has used it to focus on awareness. Anna’s father was killed while riding his bike in April of 2020. The family joined the “Ghost Bike” movement.
Richard said she looks forward to life after she beats cancer. She said she already hopes to be back in the classroom by the Fall of 2023. She said that right now she is focusing on getting better.
“I feel like going through something so horrible, it’ll just make me so happy afterward just being done. For whatever reason, I have to go through this, but I think something good will come out of it.”