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Southborough cancer survivor inspires her dad

Olivia Pierce can't wait to start dancing again.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Olivia Pierce can't wait to start dancing again.

A self-described full-time ballerina, the 13-year-old Southborough girl has been out of commission for more than a year, fighting the cancer that was diagnosed in her tibia last summer.

While most of her friends' problems last June consisted of begrudgingly picking out summer reading books, Olivia learned she had osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor that often develops during the period of rapid growth that occurs during adolescence.

More than a year after she had seven centimeters of her tibia removed and replaced with a bone graft, Olivia is on the road to recovery, casting aside her crutches last month and looking forward to the day when she can again grace the stage.

Next month, her dad Chris Pierce will also hit the road, riding in his first Pan-Mass Challenge in honor of his daughter and another young girl who was not so lucky.

"As soon as Olivia was finished with her therapy, I decided I needed to contribute and help the cause," said Pierce, who has lived in town for 15 years with his wife and two daughters.

Pierce said he decided to join the 180-mile bike race after seeing a wing at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute dedicated to the challenge.

"Everybody is touched someway by cancer. We have to think beyond the treatment into what is causing this much cancer in our society," said Pierce, adding that he couldn't believe the words coming from Olivia's doctors last June.

"Since she was a baby, we've been very conscious about what she eats, about everything," he said, noting that Olivia grew up on organic milk and healthy foods.

Pierce said his daughter went through a lot in the past year — 32 infusions of chemotherapy, four surgeries, eight weeks of antibiotics and countless scans and tests — and he marveled at her ability to keep her chin up.

"She was always extremely positive, with a smile on her face," he said, noting the pink duct tape she wrapped around her crutches for decoration. "She was always focused on getting better."

While in the hospital, Olivia made friends with other cancer patients, and started a campaign to get pop star Justin Bieber to visit the hospital.

Although Bieber didn't show, Olivia met some Red Sox stars this year at spring training through the Jimmy Fund, and got Kevin Youkilis to sign her cast. She also did more arts and crafts than ever before, thanks to some help from her friends.

"My friends came to visit me a lot, and they always brought stuff to do," she smiled.

One friend — Isabelle Moschos Calmar, a cousin of her best friend — was not so lucky as Olivia, however, and died in December at age 16 after a three-year battle with brain cancer.

"Olivia gained lot of strength and courage through seeing what Izzy was going through," Pierce said. "She inspired everyone who knew her."

As part of the challenge, Pierce has committed to matching every cent he raises for Dana Farber and donating it to a scholarship fund in Isabelle's name.

So far, he's raised more than $5,200, and hopes to raise at least $7,500 by the time the Pan-Mass Challenge starts Aug. 6.

"It makes me feel good that so many people would support the cause, trying to cure it," said Olivia, who offered encouraging words for other kids and families facing cancer.

"Stay strong and believe in miracles, because they really can come true," she said.