TODAY

TODAY   |  November 26, 2013

Amputee gymnast is back on mat, cancer-free

Kate Foster was devastated when a leukemia diagnosis kept her away from the gym, her second home. Now, with help from St. Jude, 14-year-old is back on the mat and cancer-free.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> it's our annual week of thanks and giving where we highlight the work of st. jude 's children's hospital.

>> a young athlete that refused to let cancer keep her from following her passion.

>> she was a talented gymnast when she was diagnosed with leukemia. with the right treatment and a persevering spirit she is bouncing back strong.

>> kate foster spent much of her waking life in the gym.

>> i was at the gym like 20 hours a week. you repeat the skills over and over and over again to get them perfect.

>> between gymnastics and cross fit workouts with her family, this dynamo was a picture of health . but suddenly a mysterious illness slowed her down.

>> we had her tested for all kinds of things. diabetes, mono, nothing. they couldn't find anything wrong with her.

>> eventually an unexpected diagnosis. a cancer of the blood and bone marrow called myeloid leukemia .

>> my initial response was no way. this can't be. how could that happen? we thought all kinds of things could be wrong with her but cancer never entered our minds.

>> when i did find out it was a cancer , i still didn't know what that meant. it just sort of seems apart from my life.

>> instantly, kate traded the gym for the hospital. one month into chemotherapy and more bad news. an infection in kate 's knee meant her leg would have to be amputated on the same day as her bone marrow transplant .

>> actually i told them no. my parents told them no quite a few times too although in our heads we all knee it was going to happen and that is what needed to happen. it was a leg or a life.

>> reporter: kate went into remission and things looked better. kate became an ambassador for cross fit and continued to exercise. but the cancer returned.

>> the relapse was devastating. it was out of the blue. we were shocked. the doctors were shocked. she had been doing so well.

>> reporter: kate 's families weighed their options and st. jude 's won out.

>> there was a study at st. jude and that's what we decided to do. going into it, what we wanted to do most of all was anything different. anything above and beyond that we hadn't done the first time since we thought we had nailed it then.

>> reporter: kate took part in a clinical trial for a new medication.

>> the treatment that kate got at st. jude was designed specifically for patients who get a second transplant to do another high intensity transplant is very dangerous. so we were looking at ways to give less toxic chemotherapy and still get enough leukemia to have success.

>> after four months receiving treatment at st. jude , kate returned home at illinois. she began her freshman year of high school cancer free.

>> it never occurred to me that i might not come back. it was auld kind of i'm going to go back. what am i going to do when i go back?

>> reporter: with the support of her family kate is back at it rebuilding her strength and standing tall as she prepares to compete once again.

>> i wanted to be doing gymnastics. i wanted to be at school. i wanted to be learning. i wanted to be learning out. all of those kind of little things that you don't realize until you can't have them.

>> what a great story.

>> incredible girl.

>> kate couldn't be here with us this morning because she and her family are on a special trip to australia that was made possible by the make a wish foundation.

>> marlowe thomas is the national outreach director of st. jude 's children's hospital. good to see you.

>> thank you.

>> thank you for this opportunity to shine a light on all the work you all do at that hospital. we love having you there every year.

>> thank you.

>> what would you say as we watch this story and the others you bring us every year, what's the st. jude 's difference? why do people come to this particular hospital?

>> what's fascinating is she benefitted from our project. and she benefitted from that. we targeted her cancer with a brand new drug that we have never used before for aml . and it's fascinating because we can see this kind of reaction this quickly from our project. it was also interesting about st. jude that she is now in remission, thank god. and thank god she never leaves remission but we're ready. we know what we're going to do next. we're going to do a program next if this doesn't work. that's what is different about st. jude . we have it all lined up. we know exactly where we're going next.

>> what difference has st. jude made in fighting childhood cancers?

>> aml is a much more difficult cancer than all. a.l.l. we have a 90% survival rate. aml we're up to 70% but that's higher than anywhere else in the world. the project is going to help us. we invested $90 million into the project. it's the largest scientific investment we have ever made. it's going to pay off.

>> marlowe thomas, thank you very much.

>> thank you.

>> missed you yesterday.

>> if it wasn't for that storm i would have been there.

>> al was supposed to go. we love having you.