20-year-old Rebekah Gaudet had her whole life ahead of her when she was diagnosed with aggressive bone cancer in her upper arm. To avoid amputation, doctors in Tallahassee, Florida, recommended she seek treatment at UF Health, where her team of doctors created a plan just for her, stopping the cancer — and saving her arm. Today, 10 years later, Rebekah’s scar reminds her of her strength and the unique plan that changed everything.
Many people were involved in Rebekah's care and impacted by her situation. In these videos and photo galleries, we can see and hear what they have to say about going through this experience at UF Health.
A second chance at life
Rebekah Gaudet loves life as a mother after undergoing limb-salvage surgery at UF Health
The 2-year-old boy squirms in his mother’s lap, and he fusses a little too much when she tries to answer her doctor’s questions. But Rebekah Gaudet doesn’t mind having her son, Dylan, in tow during her follow-up visits with her orthopaedic surgeon.
After all, it wasn’t long ago that the idea of coming out on the other side of a cancer diagnosis, marrying her sweetheart and starting a family seemed almost too much to ask for.
“I call him my miracle baby,” Rebekah said. “There were times when I didn’t know if I’d be lucky enough to become a mother.”
When Rebekah felt pain in her left arm and visited a walk-in clinic in Tallahassee in 2006, she walked out with the diagnosis of a malignant tumor in her humerus, the long bone that connects the shoulder to the elbow. She was referred to UF Health Shands Hospital.
“There’s nothing that’s restricting me. I would just thank (Dr. Gibbs) for helping give me a second chance at life, because without his knowledge I may not be here today.”
- Rebekah Gaudet
C. Parker Gibbs Jr., M.D., an orthopaedic oncologist at UF Health, removed the tumor — along with Rebekah’s shoulder, rotator cuff and humerus. He then returned mobility to her arm by reconstructing her shoulder and replacing the bone in her arm with one from a donor.
“There’s nothing that’s restricting me,” said Rebekah, 30, who is now married with a toddler and travels to Gainesville for annual check-ups. “I can’t do the ‘YMCA’ because I obviously can’t lift my arm up that high, but other than that I just live a normal life. I would just thank (Dr. Gibbs) for helping give me a second chance at life, because without his knowledge I may not be here today.”
Gibbs focuses on limb-salvage surgery in children and adults with bone and soft tissue sarcomas of the pelvis and extremities. He is one of fewer than 200 surgeons nationwide who is considered an expert in this field.
But the care patients receive doesn’t stop after a successful surgery. The UF Health Cancer Center strives to promote a cohesive, multidisciplinary plan for cancer care across the health system and provide a warm and caring environment for patients and families.
“We want the patient to feel that not only are they getting state-of-the-art care but that we care about them as a person,” Gibbs said.
He added, "It's been a personal satisfaction for me to watch Rebekah go through her treatment, survive her treatment and her cancer, and then move on with her life and have a beautiful new baby … It's kind of the reason we do what we do — to see things like that happen.”
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