Read time: 4 minutes
When the small plane reaches altitude, Erin Hurst braces herself for a tandem jump strapped to a skydiving instructor. Freefalling high over Moab, she breathes it all in—the sunshine, blue sky, the red rocks below, and the future she once thought wasn’t possible. Erin, now a senior at Utah Tech University, got an aggressive cancer on her hand during her first year in college. The people in her hometown, Cleveland, Utah, rallied behind her, along with her family, doctors, and nurses at Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah. Now in remission, Erin is taking every opportunity for adventure.
“It was the most free and alive I’ve ever felt,” says Erin of her first skydive. She is studying for an associate degree in physical therapy and used to be a track and field athlete. “I never thought I’d run again. I ran a 5K last summer and it’s a miracle. A part of me was like, ‘Will I ever beat this? Will I ever feel good again?’ But I am, and I love it.”
In July of 2019, the summer after her second year of college, she experienced pain in her hand. Doctors diagnosed her with stage IV rhabdomyosarcoma, the most common type of soft tissue sarcoma in children. “That’s when my whole life turned upside down and changed forever,” she says. Her prognosis was so grim that she said her good-byes to family and friends. “I thought I was a goner for sure,” Erin says.
Tara Hurst, Erin’s mother, remembers it well. “She was in the best health of her life and had just run the race of her life,” Tara says. “She had a little bump on her hand, and it ended up being cancer. It was a total shock.”
Over 18 months, Erin received intensive radiation and chemotherapy at Huntsman Cancer Institute. Her experience with her care team impacted her so profoundly that she changed her coursework to physical therapy, wanting to give back. “It has made me a more empathetic person. No one’s life is perfect. I always want to treat people with kindness because you don’t know what’s going on in their lives.”
Erin says her care team, led by Anna Chalmers, MD, oncologist and investigator at Huntsman Cancer Institute, and assistant professor in the Division of Oncology at the U., and Lyndi Osoro, RN, made all the difference. “There was a special spirit there of love and kindness,” Erin says. “Huntsman Cancer Institute helped me see a cancer-free future for myself by the hope they gave me every week I was there.”
Tara says through tears, “She wasn’t their patient—she was their ‘princess warrior.’ They all wore these blue bracelets for Erin. I felt like the nurses were my sisters. They were our family through those 18 months. We relied on them. They were our angels.”
Frank Hurst, Erin’s father, says he has big dreams for their daughter. “To marry, to have babies, to grow old and experience joy, to never take another day for granted, and to enjoy every moment—every sunrise, every sunset—to live life,” he says.
Erin is looking forward to it. “Whether that’s dancing and making a fool of myself in public, I don’t care. I just want to enjoy it. I have a future. My life is good. I also still have my hand, and I’m able to use it to help patients, and to play pickleball and basketball with my family and friends.”