Playing it forward
Former patient Scott Odom helps create magical camp experiences for kids with cancer
“I’ve had the honor of watching Scott become this amazing man who selflessly gives back to patients and families. Scott is an example of what vision, drive, persistence and compassion can do. He took a painful life circumstance and used it to improve the lives of countless patients through his motivation, energy and love of basketball.” – Jill Koss, director, Family Support Services
Scott Odom was just 10 years old when he started experiencing knee pain. But since he was a growing, athletic boy, it was always explained as growing pains or pain from exercise. At 14, the all-star baseball player was rounding second base during a game when he felt his knee give out.
The pain persisted, and Scott knew something was wrong. A series of tests and referrals led Scott’s family to Cook Children’s and pediatric oncologist Jeff Murray, M.D., who confirmed a diagnosis of osteosarcoma. It had been in his knee for at least two years, was progressing quickly and required immediate treatment.
After two months of very intense chemotherapy, Dr. Murray presented Scott with a difficult decision: limb salvage or amputation.
“The way he told me was, ‘With limb salvage, you may be limited activity-wise, but if you do amputation, you can jump out of a plane the next day,” Scott said. “It’s up to you how active you want to be.’ So I looked at it as losing my leg or losing my life, and sports or no sports. In that room, I knew what I wanted to do.”
Scott chose to have his leg amputated. He was given time to rest and recover after the surgery but quickly entered back into treatment for 10 more months.
Sports were a major part of Scott’s recovery. He found his way back to the baseball field, pitching his junior year. But he also developed a love for a new sport: basketball. Scott would shoot hoops for hours.
Basketball had become his therapy.
Scott helped find a stand-up basketball program for amputees. He traveled across the country playing alongside other amputees in games with able-bodied athletes. He became the first amputee to play in a professional basketball game, spoke to groups and even appeared on ESPN.
“I had a lot of cool opportunities, but every place I played or spoke, I met at least one kid that had a physical disability or cancer,” he said. “They would come up to me, sometimes crying. So it started to sink in that this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing—just going out and playing basketball. I needed to do something more.”
Scott and fellow amputee Roderick Green founded Amputee Basketball Invigorated (ABI). They organize exhibition-style, just-for-fun events to celebrate and raise money for kids who have cancer or limb loss. A recent ABI event raised money for Camp Sanguinity, a camp for children with cancer that Scott attended for the first time in 1998.
“I was very against it at first. I was in a space where I didn’t have my leg, I was bald and I was very self-conscious,” said Scott. “Child Life came into my room every day, showed me videos and told me to get out on the basketball court. I told them they were wasting their time. The day before the bus was leaving camp, I agreed. And it changed me. It was the first time, outside of my family and people here, that people called me by my name. Previously, I would only hear whispers: ‘There’s that kid with cancer, the kid with one leg.’ But by the camp just saying my name, ‘Scott,’ it was a lot for me.”
Scott returns to Camp Sanguinity every summer, as a counselor now. He has missed only two summers in 25 years.
The staff at Cook Children’s have also called on him to help families who are making difficult surgery decisions.
“At first, I didn’t know what to say. But I see now that it’s just showing up and listening. I have done it numerous times,” said Scott. “Anything I can do, I’ll make time for it. It’s something I feel called to do. I’ve been blessed. I’ve been a survivor for 25 years, so I try to be a blessing to others.”