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Merrimack Valley

January 21, 2014

Four-time cancer survivor to receive Cam Neely Award


But she said she used that — the next step in life suddenly put on hold — to keep driving forward. In 2012, she took 10 weeks of chemotherapy before an 11-hour surgery that removed about four inches of her tibia, the larger front bone of the lower leg. It was replaced with a donor bone that will remain fragile.

“They told me I couldn’t ski or skydive,” Hawkes said. “So I signed up to skydive right away.” The trip was canceled because of weather, however, and she couldn’t go before the surgery.

The surgery itself represented a choice Hawkes made to keep her own leg, rather than go for amputation and a prosthetic. She wanted to keep her own leg, even though it would be a more difficult recovery. “It would have been easier, but I wanted to keep my own leg,” she said.

After that surgery, with a donor tibia knitting to her own and a skin graft healing over the large incision, Hawkes was confined to bed, her leg in a heavy cast, unable to do much on her own as she endured another 29 weeks of chemo and two follow up surgeries. Hawkes had to help her do nearly everything.

“Someone as independent as her, that’s about as hard as it can get,” she said.

Eventually last year she began physical therapy, but was in a wheelchair. By March, she graduated from the cast and wheelchair into a brace and crutches and gained strength in her leg – just in time for school. Ditching the brace and relying solely on the crutches, she was ready to go.

During orientation, Hawkes was on her feet for nearly four days. “I could have sat down, but I didn’t want to,” she said.

Hawkes will receive the award at Tufts Medical Center’s annual Working Wonders fundraising benefit on March 26 at the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center.

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