New year, new blog post! In the coming months, we’ll be profiling members of our young adult survivor community here. Their stories are the heart and soul of everything we do and we look forward to sharing them with you. Today, to kick things off, we’re proud to welcome alum Katie F to the blog. Here, she shares her story, entitled “Always an Athlete — Even After Cancer,” about surviving osteosarcoma and subsequently dealing with questions of self-esteem, athleticism, and body image.
When I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in my left knee. I went through a year of treatment, and responded very well to the protocol prescribed by my oncologist. The defining factor of my cancer story is that I was very fortunate to be diagnosed at a time when doctors had discovered a way to salvage the limbs of osteosarcoma patients, rather than have to amputate. On New Year’s Eve of 1999, my surgeon performed a surgery that saved my leg. This involved replacing my tibia and femur with titanium rods. The surgery left me with a leg to walk on, a two-foot-long battle scar, and a skin graft on my knee.
Due to the sensitivity of my reconstructed left leg, I could no longer participate in my favorite sports. Even still, karate, dance and recreation inspired me, so I decided to go for my personal trainer certification and got a job at a great gym. My goal was to help others who might also be facing physical limitations to reach their fitness goals.
I found it difficult to keep up with the other trainers athletically. I sensed that they viewed me as lazy. After all, they couldn’t see my disability. Other than a large scar and a slight limp, I looked “normal,” and I found the fitness industry personnel I encountered to be unsympathetic to my limitations.
15 years after the original surgery, it was time for a tune-up. Like a car, some of the parts in my prosthesis need to be replaced because I had made great use of the leg my surgeon had given me 15 years earlier. The tune-up was a success and I felt like I could conquer the world. I got a fantastic job in the music industry, and I was happy. Maybe it could have been my own strength all along? I just didn’t believe I could do it myself, I needed my surgeons and doctors, to move forward and live a successful life.
Since then, I’ve started dancing again, and I feel the same joys again that lead me to love it so much. And yoga. Oh my gosh. Hot yoga has been the missing puzzle piece to my life all this time. It’s perfect for me to improve my overall strength, alignment, and balance. I’m in the best shape of my life. I think I couldn’t enjoy it before, because I went into physical fitness feeling like a failure.
Now, I feel healthier and stronger than I have ever felt. I just had to keep fighting, learning, searching. Dancing really helped me with my self image as well. It’s one of my favorite things to do. That being said, I still won’t wear shorts, and I won’t let anybody see my scar. I’m still convinced, subconsciously, that I shouldn’t make other people look at me. I do believe, as they say (whoever ‘they’ are), “fake it til you make it” — that someday, I will be ok again. That I will defeat this monster. And not only that, but that my scar, and even my hearing loss (a side effect of the chemotherapy) is something that I should be proud of.
I was concerned though. While I had finally reached a place in my life where I felt hopeful and confident, I was worried that my old bad habits would get the best of me. That negative thoughts would creep back into my head. I believe we repeat what we do not repair. I reached out for help, and that’s where The Samfund came to my rescue. I was awarded two grants, both for mental health support due to issues I was struggling with after my cancer treatment. It was such a help to be able to talk to someone about my cancer experience and irrational fear of failure. I really feel like a whole new person, and I want to thank The Samfund for listening to my concerns and providing the help that I needed. I am an even STRONGER person because it.
This article is dedicated to the wonderful staff at M.D. Anderson who have always looked out for me, my friends and family who have always encouraged me, and the trainers in the fitness industry that did support me during my difficult times.