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Doctors Save Young Ballerina's Life, Career With Personalized Cancer Treatment

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Modern medicine not only saved the life of a young ballerina, it also saved her career.

Doctors used what's called precision medicine, an example of how cancer therapy has evolved to take the whole patient into account, CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reports.

It's apparent that Chiara Valle embodies grace, beauty and athleticism. She's only 19 and already a professional ballerina with the Washington Ballet Company, performing in "The Nutcracker," "Romeo and Juliet" and other physically demanding roles.

That's why the pain in her hip wasn't immediately concerning, but the pain got worse -- much worse.

"It felt like someone was taking a knife and just stabbing me 24/7 in the leg," Valle said. "One night, I crawled to the bathroom because I couldn't walk."

It took a number of scans, several biopsies and misdiagnoses before Valle found her way to Dr. David Loeb, chief of pediatric hematology and oncology at the Children's Hospital at Montefiore. The diagnosis was Ewing's sarcoma, a relatively rare bone cancer that was sometimes treated with amputation.

"She would've had ... a hip disarticulation, where the entire leg all the way up to the hip joint is removed," Loeb said.

But taking Valle's passion for her dancing career into account, the oncology team devised a treatment plan to radiate the tumor and give chemotherapy, which together would cure the cancer and, just as importantly for Valle, allow her to keep dancing.

"Their number one goal was to cure me, but their second goal was to let me live my best life when I was done with all of this," Valle said.

"To tailor the therapy that you offer not just to the characteristics of the tumor, but to the characteristics of the person," Loeb said.

Still it wasn't easy. Valle had 14 cycles of chemo over seven months, 50 blood transfusions and daily radiation for six weeks. But now...

"I was declared an ED on Nov. 16 of 2018 ... No evidence of disease," Valle said.

Just as exciting for Valle, she's back dancing, although she's not at full speed yet. It will take a while to regain her former form, but she rejoins the Washington Ballet next month and hopes to be back on stage in the not too distant future.

It used to be, and often still is, that doctors take a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment with the attitude, we know this works, so why mess with success?

Personalized medicine, however, takes the approach that there may be other ways to get to the goal line that takes the patient's other needs into account. That's what saved Valle's leg and career.

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