Courageous 8-year-old honored with 2011 Survivor Circle Award

September 21, 2011

The American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) has selected a pediatric cancer survivor, Bella Rodriguez-Torres, as its 2011 Survivor Circle Award winner. She will be presented with her award and $1,000 during the Awards Ceremony on Tuesday, October 4, at 9:30 a.m., during ASTRO's 53rd Annual Meeting in Miami Beach, Fla.

The Survivor Circle Award recognizes a person living with cancer in the Miami area who has devoted his or her time to helping others who are living with cancer in their community.

Bella Rodriguez-Torres was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic Alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma when she was 4 years old. At that time, her legs became paralyzed overnight and it was soon discovered that a large tumor was wrapped around her spine, with cancer also in nine other areas of her body. Her prognosis was permanent paralysis, with a life expectancy of only a few months. Fortunately, Bella Rodriguez-Torres beat the odds and is now a healthy and active 8 year old.

"Bella's positive attitude is truly amazing. She never complained when she underwent all of her cancer treatments," her father, Raymond Rodriguez-Torres, said. "She has absolutely no fear and is now living a full life as a healthy, happy 8 year old."

Since Bella Rodriguez-Torres's diagnosis, Raymond Rodriguez-Torres has written a best-selling book, "Why Not Me? A True Story of a Miracle in Miami," donating all proceeds to pediatric cancer and charity.

He has also organized several fundraisers for CureSearch, an organization that funds and supports children's cancer research and provides information and resources to children and their families. Raymond Rodriguez-Torres served as chairman of the inaugural CureSearch Miami Walk, raising more than $80,000. He will donate the Survivor Circle gift to the organization.

"We believe that to he or she that much is given, much is expected. We have received the greatest gift we could ask for: Bella's life, free from cancer and paralysis. We can never stop giving thanks and giving back to help find a cure," Raymond said.

Bella Rodriguez-Torres underwent surgery, high-dose chemotherapy and 16 weeks of radiation treatment over the course of a year. Her treatment was performed at Miami Children's Hospital and at the University of Florida Proton Institute where she received proton radiation. Bella was subsequently found to be cancer-free.

One year later, doctors found a tumor in her brain and Bella Rodriguez-Torres once again underwent cancer treatment, this time for six months. She received chemotherapy in Miami and whole brain photon radiation at Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood. She then had 8H9 radiolabled antibody via an Ommaya reservoir at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York. She has been in remission for two years since her brain tumor.

"ASTRO is proud to honor Bella with this year's Survivor Circle Award. Her remarkable spirit is an inspiration to other pediatric cancer patients and their families," Leonard L. Gunderson, ASTRO president, said. "Although pediatric cancer is rare, it is the second leading cause of death in children. Given this, it is critical to continue supporting pediatric cancer research, which has greatly improved overall survival for children with cancer and has the potential to cure even more young patients."
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The Survivor Circle was established in 2003 as a way for ASTRO to give back to the cities that it visits during its Annual Meeting. Each year, ASTRO partners with two organizations to establish relationships with patient advocacy organizations and radiation oncologists and to raise money to support these groups in their work to help people living with cancer and their loved ones. This year ASTRO has partnered with The Cancer Support Community Greater Miami and Gilda's Club South Florida.

The ASTRO Annual Meeting is the largest radiation oncology scientific meeting in the world and attracts more than 11,000 attendees of various disciplines, including oncologists, physicists, biologists, nurses and other health care professionals from all over the world. The theme of this year's meeting is "Patient-focused, High-quality, Multidisciplinary Care," and the program will focus on translating the latest scientific findings to provide the best possible care for patients.

For more information on Survivor Circle, visit www.astro.org/Patients/SurvivorCircle. For more information on ASTRO's 53rd Annual Meeting, visit www.astro.org/Meetings/AnnualMeetings.

ASTRO is the largest radiation oncology society in the world, with more than 10,000 members who specialize in treating patients with radiation therapies. As the leading organization in radiation oncology, biology and physics, the Society is dedicated to improving patient care through education, clinical practice, advancement of science and advocacy. For more information on radiation therapy, visit www.rtanswers.org. To learn more about ASTRO, visit www.astro.org.

American Society for Radiation Oncology

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