When she was just 17, Raegan Neuenschwander, experienced a period of two to three months of constant knee pain and a bad limp. An x-ray revealed that she had osteosarcoma. “When I was first diagnosed, I was angry,” she said. “Because who wouldn’t be if they got diagnosed with cancer at 17?”
“Osteosarcoma is a connective tissue cancer, that arises from bone. Osteosarcoma, in particular, tends to affect younger people,” Christopher Johnson, DO, Orthopedic Oncology Care Team, Parkview Packnett Family Cancer Institute, explained.
Raegan was treated with chemotherapy, followed by surgery to remove the tumor, followed by more chemotherapy, which is a standard course of treatment for those with osteosarcoma. “All of our patients are reviewed by a multidisciplinary team,” Dr. Johnson said. “That includes myself for orthopedic oncology, a medical oncologist focused on sarcoma, radiation oncology, pathology, radiology and palliative care, all focused on that patient.”
Confronting the “C-word”
When family and friends approached Raegan to talk about her diagnosis, she noticed that they had a hard time calling it cancer, opting instead to name it the “C-word.” “I’d never heard that,” she shared. “Going through treatment, I realized that conversations about cancer were very hushed. No one wanted to talk about it, to ask me too many questions, to get too personal about it. And I thought, if we never talk about cancer, if we never have a conversation about it, we’ll never find a cure.”
After overcoming the initial shock and disappointment of her osteosarcoma diagnosis, Raegan adopted a new mindset. “Throughout treatment, I had good days and I had bad days, but in the end, having cancer was one of the best things that happened to me,” she said. “I met some of my best friends and my amazing care team, and I discovered a platform through the Miss America organization.”
Raegan started in pageants when she was 16, but first the COVID pandemic, and then her diagnosis, halted her pursuit of a title. But when she told Miss Fort Wayne 2022, Lindsey Brown, that she couldn’t compete because she didn’t have hair–a result of her chemotherapy treatments–she got the words of inspiration she needed most. “She said, ‘Anyone can be a princess, and anyone can win the title.’”
It’s that sisterhood that has helped Raegan continue to chase her dreams. She returned to pageant competitions and, this year, Raegan was crowned Miss Fort Wayne 2024 by Cydney Bridges, Miss Indiana 2024.
When he learned of Raegan’s accomplishment, Dr. Johnson wasn’t surprised. “Raegan is an amazing person with incredible persistence and strength,” he said. “She fought through things with a positive attitude the whole time. It was a pleasure to take care of her.”
Raegan’s platform is, what else, the “C-word,” and the importance of talking about cancer. In addition to her Miss Fort Wayne duties, she is a sophomore Nursing major with a minor in Nutrition at Huntington University. Her goal is to work at Parkview in pediatric oncology and eventually become a nurse practitioner to help young people with cancer.
“I want kids to know that you’re going to have really good days and bad days, but you won’t have so many bad days that you should think it’s all bad. The good days can outweigh the bad. Focus on that and be positive, and everything will feel a little lighter.”
Congratulations, Raegan, on your incredible achievements!