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Kaela is thriving after cancer. Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation supports research so more kids can be like her.

Kaela Cruz, an amazing athlete, shares her childhood cancer story
Kaela Cruz, an amazing athlete, shares her childhood cancer story 04:19

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Kaela Cruz is an amazing athlete. She swims, runs track and throws discus and javelin for the North Jersey Navigators. She also has a prosthetic after losing much of her leg at just 5 years old. 

"We have a lot of ambulatory athletes as well as people who do wheelchair racing and they're a phenomenal organization and everything that I've learned from from that team helped me to become the person that I am today," she said about the team.

At 22, she's working, competing in sports and living her life. But when she was a child, her family faced a tough battle and came out stronger together. 

It started with crying during the night, then fevers, then a fall off her bed that sent young Kaela to the emergency room. 

After some testing, she got a diagnosis: a tumor in her leg. It was cancer — osteosarcoma.

"It was pretty overwhelming for us and for Kaela as well," her dad, Matthew Cruz, said.

Chemotherapy was needed to shrink the tumor.

Then came the amputation, which child life experts tried to explain using a doll.

Someone said, "we're gonna take this portion of your leg to save your life," Matthew Cruz remembered. "And then she handed the doll back. She goes, 'I don't want to play this game anymore.'"

All of that is a blur to Kaela Cruz. Today, she's thriving.

And for the past 17 years, the Cruz family has been involved with Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation, helping raise money and awareness of childhood cancer.

Alex's funds research that is changing the face of childhood cancer around the world.

Dr. Ryan Roberts is studying osteosarcoma.

"Alex's Lemonade Stand as an organization has grown in a really good way to a point where they have a lot of influence on how we do science," Roberts said. "For instance, the funding that we have from Alex's is to test some slightly crazy ideas that have the potential to really transform the way that we think about osteosarcoma specifically."

Roberts and a group of his colleagues from around the nation receive funding through Alex's "Crazy 8 Initiative," which aims to solve the biggest problems in childhood cancers.

Roberts said a big issue for osteosarcoma patients is that the cancer often comes back in the lungs.

"My lab has really focused on figuring out why it is that that particular cancer likes to grow in the lungs. And we're exploring different ways of stopping that, keeping that from happening," Roberts said. 

That work in the lab is offering hope that one day more kids will be like Kaela Cruz. 

"We're really on the precipice of a new era in pediatric cancer research and care," Roberts said.

Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation works to find better, safer treatments and cures for pediatric cancer. The foundation wants to give hope to families dealing with a cancer diagnosis — families experiencing the worst times of their lives.  

CBS Philadelphia's 18th annual "Alex Scott: A Stand for Hope Telethon" is Thursday to raise money and awareness in the fight against childhood cancer and to help other kids like Kaela. 

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