Emily Coughlin is 12 years old. She loves soccer and basketball and two Goldendoodle dogs named Obi and Agnes. The active Cape Cod girl is also short for her age and wears hearing aids. Her endocrine system is damaged, and so are her kidneys.
The reason? She survived neuroblastoma, a cancer of young children that not so long ago claimed the lives of most boys and girls diagnosed with the disease. In 2009, Emily participated in a clinical trial co-led by oncologist Dr. Lisa Diller of Dana-Farber/Boston Children's Cancer and Blood Disorders Center that involved chemotherapy followed by two stem cell transplants. The transplants utilized Emily's own previously harvested blood stem cells, allowing her to tolerate the extremely high doses of chemotherapy needed to destroy her cancer.
Today, a majority of high-risk neuroblastoma patients survive, thanks to research from doctors like Diller and children like Emily whose parents enrolled them in clinical trials.
The new standard of care — high-dose chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, two back-to-back stem cell transplants and a recently approved immunotherapy drug — leaves lasting late effects of treatment. As Emily's mother says, "She has some collateral damage, physically, but her quality of life is really, really high."