Sarahbeth Howes is a third year medical student, a childhood cancer survivor, a fitness enthusiast, and a tissue donor to the St. Jude Biorepository. Because of her ongoing contribution to the research conducted by the Pediatric Cancer Genome Project (PCGP), scientists are creating breakthroughs in our understanding of the genetic factors that directly influence rare childhood cancers. Howes was one of over 800 patients that donated tissue samples for use in the PCGP; 66% of which came from the St. Jude Biorepository. The tissue bank collects and stores biological samples that allow scientists to conduct new diagnostic tests and therapies that would advance the treatment and increase patient outcomes.
Diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma in the soft palate as a sophomore in high school, Sarahbeth had the unique perspective of an adolescent on the cusp of adulthood that also faced with having to make difficult decisions concerning her own mortality. The rare cancer mostly affecting children, forms in the soft tissue of red skeletal muscle. The St. Jude Affiliate Clinic at the Children’s Hospital of LSU Health Shreveport is one of eight locations in the country that offer state-of-the-art treatment and innovative clinical trials at no cost to patients. It was because of the location here in Shreveport that Sarahbeth was able to return home. Howes completed 28 weeks of chemotherapy while still continuing her high school classes. At one point in her treatment, she lost her ability to walk which resulted in her being gifted with a walker for her sixteenth birthday. While most of her counterparts were learning how to drive, Sarahbeth was making complex, life-altering decisions on the direction of her treatment plan. She ultimately was responsible with defining her care plan. Howes says of her coming of age as a teenage cancer patient, “Even though [they] are going through cancer, life goes on in the background. For me I was better off at school than I was at home.” Recently Howes hit the 10-year survivorship mark, which is a huge milestone in the survivorship community. Through a clinical trial with St. Jude Life, Sarah Beth will be evaluated every 5 years for the rest of her life to document long-term effects of her condition and associated therapies. She had to learn how to cope with the guilt that comes with survivorship and focus on her personal strengths to pull through dark places. Howes is currently completing her medical studies at LSU Health Shreveport with plans of going into oncology. The “cancer survivor turned MD” has a fascination with connecting palliative teams and holistic care plans to provide an expansive world of options to her patients.
Much like the St. Jude Biorepository, the LSUHS Center for Cardiovascular Disease Sciences Biorepository Unit was established to create an extensive collection of bio-specimens and associated clinical data from ongoing IRB-approved studies. The availability of such samples and data is often integral to different phases of research including: the discovery of altered biochemical pathways or pathological changes, selection of targets for drug development, validation phases of pharmacogenomic/proteomic studies to optimize the efficacy of existing and new drugs, and the development of novel diagnostic/prognostic assays. A parallel collection of blood samples from COVID-19 patients from our local community is submitted to the CCDS Biorepository on an ongoing basis. All Biorepository samples are accessible not only to our own LSUHS researchers, but to researchers around the country who are jointly fighting against cardiovascular disease, and also to investigators studying the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sarahbeth Howes uses her blog and Instagram platform— Howes Your Day @sbhoweslife— to share her journey of survivorship, fitness and encouragement. She notes that being able inspire those battling cancer and connecting virtually with other survivors has been a source of healing and support over the years. Since her remission, Howes shares vulnerable insights on how she’s managed her path through medical school by training for triathlons, boxing, positive self-talk and meditation.