Almost 17 years ago I had a surgery that replaced the lower part of my femur, knee and upper tibia with titanium. This was in the midst of chemo treatments trying to kill the osteosarcoma that took up residence in my femur. No biggie right? Considering the other option was amputation of my leg, my surgery was a welcome choice.
Most of my outer thigh muscles were cut through and my nerves moved (or removed) during surgery so I learned to move my leg and walk again. Barely two years after the first surgery, I fell at work and popped the glue holding the rod into the upper part of my femur, resulting in a replacement surgery and more physical therapy. I thankfully walk most days without a limp (when I get tired, a very subtle limp appears, usually noticed only by my family, husband and close friends who know what to look for), the result of an amazing surgeon and regular workouts to keep the muscles strong. Most people are, in fact, surprised when I tell them of my rod or they see the almost 13-inch scar running along my thigh and knee.
I am blessed to have my own leg and be able to walk and participate in a lot of activities. More than my surgeon probably expects (or wants!). I am truthfully more active than some people with two perfectly functioning legs. I attend Zumba classes, bike, hike, practice yoga and Pilates, lift weights, have rock climbed, and even try to play tennis. I evaluate every opportunity and activity before saying no. There are times, however, I must grit my teeth and decline or turn back from something.
Because I do have limitations, and those are what pain me. Since the titanium rod was inserted into the remaining part of my upper femur and the tibia, I have to be careful of those bones. The rod doesn’t give so I can’t do anything that rotates or moves it side to side (such as skiing) or anything too impactful (running, jumping, etc). I rode horses for 14 years before my cancer diagnosis. I was obsessed with the animals, my one true passion. I gave up riding after my replacement surgery since I risked my leg if I fell. Truth is I have a hard time remembering what two ‘normal’ legs feel like. As time goes by, I have to dig deep in my mind to remember how it feels to ride a horse or run through the neighborhood or participate in a physical activity without thinking twice. Silly as it sounds, that sometimes makes me feel sad.
Should I feel sorry for myself? No. Do I at times? Honestly, yes. Some days I am desperate to be normal. To tell my husband I’ll play softball with him or run another marathon. I want to play soccer with my nephew and nieces. I don’t want to tell my friends to go ahead without me nor have my husband wait for me to step carefully down a rocky trail. I feel annoyed that an acquaintance told me I should worry if I have kids because I won’t be able to chase them. I don’t want people to feel like they can’t invite me places because I can’t physically do something. I don’t want to feel anxious about a missed step or a pain in my knee. I don’t want to wonder when the next replacement surgery will be. I don’t want to say I can’t do something.
But there are things I can’t do, and worries and anxieties that are regular fixtures in my life. It is reality. It is my new life. And I have come to terms with it. I don’t always like it but I accept it. I promised myself years ago that cancer would not make me bitter. I would smile, laugh and embrace life. I would appreciate all that I have and all that I CAN do. Because truth is, my life is very blessed and worth living just the way it is.