By the University at Buffalo
In a few months, Kara Skrubis will be graduating from UB – a milestone that wasn’t guaranteed after a cancer diagnosis in 2020.
A native of Ithaca, Skrubis chose to attend UB for its impressive dance program. Being part of the program meant keeping a rigorous and physically demanding schedule so, when Skrubis began experiencing leg pain her sophomore year, she figured it was a minor injury or bursitis.
“In January of 2020, after a few months of misdiagnosis and extreme pain, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, which is a rare pediatric bone cancer,” Skrubis said.
Skrubis immediately underwent treatment and received nine months of chemotherapy. After considering all her options, Skrubis received an above-the-knee amputation on her left leg to decisively rid her body of the tumor. She underwent eight months of immunotherapy and began relearning how to walk and, of course, dance.
“I plan to always have dance as part of my life, and the dance majors here at UB have been so supportive. They put together a care package for me, and all the teachers and staff still welcome me to their classes anytime,” Skrubis said.
Skrubis still practices ballet, but she changed her majors from dance and psychology to psychology and health and human sciences so she can work with other youths diagnosed with cancer.
In addition to her studies, Skrubis is also an “agent” of MIB – a leading pediatric osteosarcoma nonprofit dedicated to Making It Better (MIB) for their community of patients, caregivers, doctors and researchers through programs, education and research. Her partnership with MIB led to an interview with People Magazine.
“I was the president of MIB’s junior advisory board last year and I've been working with their public relations team to get the word out about their work so that we can get more funding for osteosarcoma research, and they connected with me with People Magazine, which featured my story, which has been great,” Skrubis said.
“I was diagnosed during a really odd time. It was a couple of months before COVID hit, so I didn't really feel alone with having to leave school because everyone had to leave school,” Skrubis said.
After taking a year of absence for her treatment, Skrubis returned to campus as an amputee.
“I'm living this new normal. Living with my amputation and kind of accepting my new life, and making the best out of it,” Skrubis said.
To assist with navigating campus in her new normal, Skrubis worked with UB’s Accessibility Resources.
“I found them to be super helpful for anyone who has a physical disability or any other sort of disability. I've been working with them a lot, and they've been great about being able to accommodate me in all sorts of senses,” Skrubis said. “UB has always been a great school to me. They’ve always welcomed me, and I love spending my time on campus.”
After graduation, Skrubis has an internship lined up and then hopes to become a certified child life specialist. She said she wants to provide the same kind of care she received as a patient and help other through their diagnosis and treatment.
Words of Wisdom
When asked about any advice she would share with someone going through a cancer diagnosis, Skrubis said it’s important to stay focused.
“I would say that there is hope, but also in a moment when you're facing a diagnosis like that, you will lose a lot of control over different aspects of your life. But that's only temporary. You will get that control back, and no matter what happens to you, there will be no limitations in the future. Whether that be physical, emotional, social, anything like that – you will get your life back, and you will get a sense of normalcy back.”
She added that it’s important to allow yourself grace and time to heal.
“There are some really long days in the hospital. What kept me going was just the thought of taking it one day at a time, and when that got to be too much, taking it an hour at a time or a minute at a time,” Skrubis said. “I was trying to think too far ahead, and just needed to be in the present moment and celebrate the small victories. Some days, brushing my teeth was my only victory and you just have to be kind to yourself during that time.”