“How long ago?” I heard a man ask, as I stood staring into the seafood case at the supermarket trying to read the fine print of what is farm-raised versus wild-caught. At first, I didn’t even realize that this man was talking to me. I looked at him puzzled and he quickly prompted, “I have a prosthetic too,” while ceremoniously lifting his leg and pant hem. I did a little leg lift back in acknowledgment as if we were two friends sharing a toast. “BTK. What about you?” he asked. In my mind, I was thinking BTK…what could this mean…Ah! Below-the-knee! Ok, what am I…?
ABK (above-the-knee)? Well technically, it’s through the knee…is TTK a thing? I just googled and it’s actually called TKA (through-knee-amputation), which is supposedly “rare” and performed in less than 2% of lower extremity amputations.
When people ask me what cancer I had, my answer often depends on my energy level or more so my mood – I am an astrological cancer sign after all. I answer “Osteosarcoma” if I don’t want to get into it or if I am being technical, the doctors told me “Malignant Fibrous Histiocytoma,” a
more “rare” form of Osteosarcoma…do we see a pattern here? Honestly, I had to look up how to spell that, or in the spirit of abbreviations, MFH is readily google-able. Anyway, back to the point…how long ago? Honestly, I couldn’t do the math fast enough to figure it out on the spot,
and I replied, “Too long to remember.” I smiled and B-lined for the fresh sardines to politely end the conversation, can a girl grocery shop in shorts in peace?
It’s been 16 years since I was diagnosed with cancer and had my left leg amputated, as a tumor the size of a “softball” affected my tibia bone. It’s interesting to me that almost everyone I’ve met with cancer refers to a unique object in describing their tumor size. Readers, this is where I ask what your tumor size was. Drop the object size in the comments below…totally joking! When I was approached to write an article about my cancer experience, I was excited but to be honest, I’ve never written anything about my cancer experience as an adult. As I sat down to write, I noticed I have seldom reflected on my experience, which feels so strange considering I wake up every day having to acknowledge my leg is missing. Coming of age as a cancer survivor after being diagnosed at 12 and being the girl with the fake leg surely manifested itself in some unhealthy ways. It took me years to open up, trash the leg cover permanently, and not roll my eyes at someone staring too long (maybe not the last one, but progress is progress people). My cancer may have caused my initial concern for my health but has ultimately instilled a lingering interest and quest for all that is healthy.
My mom and my health are synonymous. The older I get, the more I realize I am becoming my mom, in the best ways and in ways that I personally want to work on. My mom taught me to never say never (unless using her favorite quote of course “Love never fails”) and to not take things for face value – always get both sides of a story. She taught me to be an open person – a curious person in fact. It helps that I am a sociology major and all too aware of herd mentality and people’s general opposition to change as well as their rigid adherence to “social norms,” although I inadvertently prescribe to some, surprise surprise. After all, I am human, but I find I am pretty receptive to hearing people out, researching for myself and learning from other’s personal experiences, with that of my mom’s being first and foremost.
My mother grew up in South Korea with extreme malnutrition and trauma, and in many ways, those childhood experiences have manifested and played out in a very physical way as an adult. My mother’s own first-hand experience struggling with health led to her own personal journey to healing her ailments. Naturally, when I was diagnosed with cancer, my mom’s tunnel vision of my diagnosis consumed our lives. I think my mom takes my cancer personally as if her poor health passed on to me. There may be some truth to that, who knows, but it was her personal mission to see that I made it to the other side.
During my treatment, my mom made me drink Xango juice, which is made from a high antioxidant fruit found in Thailand. In fact, I recently tasted mangosteen in person, and trust me, it was life-changing. Xango is controversial, and yes, it’s a multi-level marketing scheme that makes outlandish claims and preys on people’s fears, but I know that it did help with mouth sores. I shockingly only had one mouth sore during my six months of chemo. I remember holding my lip out trying to dry out a button-sized sore for two whole days, while still giving in to the temptation of eating sour candy (my weakness). Eventually, I peeled off the sore and asked the nurse if there was any reason to keep it. Yes, I was that patient, but what else are you supposed to do while sitting in a hospital bed staring at a bad pastel divider curtain with geometric shapes for hours on end?
I remember my mom soaking strips of wool in castor oil, plastering them on my stomach, and wrapping me in saran wrap to rid myself of the toxins. I didn’t argue. She wheeled me outside every day to get direct sunshine to boost my mood; she’s still on me today to continue this practice. I drank Essiac tea which is also controversial, but it did seem to help with my appetite. When I became neutropenic and they gave me antibiotics, which kill all your good bacteria (if the chemo hadn’t already), my mom would place a silver tab an inch below my belly button that attached to wires and conducted electricity in my blood, formally called microcurrent therapy. Although the tab would set off the machine, I was already hooked up to alerting the nurse, nothing would stop my mom! Even when my amputation incision would not heal and the antibiotic cream concerningly was not helping, my mom infused the cream with Rescue Remedy, a flower essence developed by Dr. Edward Bach. It healed the very next day—I can’t make it up. Whether these all worked or it was just the undying TLC from my mother, I am still here today.
I relay these stories not because I think other people should try this, but because it reflects my journey and my present perspective on tending to my health as a survivor of cancer. I think as a western society we are often too focused on symptom relief, but don’t aim to treat holistically. I am very in tune with my body, and I know when I feel slightly off. I know that when I get into an emotionally charged tiff, I get a sore throat the next day. I know which foods cause inflammation in my body. I am vigilant in what my body is trying to tell me each and every day.
There are so many aspects about wellness that interest me nowadays, whether it’s something I’ve read, heard on a podcast, or received in a text rant from my mom (my personal favorite). The intersectionality of physical wellness and spirituality excites me and is an aspect of how I approach my day-to-day. I take a high interest in the science behind fecal transplants too, but I will spare you just this once! I use homeopathy remedies daily to work on my long-term digestion issues and it has even regulated my chronically late menstrual cycles that I have tracked for the past 4 years. I try to keep up my transcendental meditation practice twice daily to quiet my mind and diminish daily stressors. As of recently, reading about prayer has piqued my curiosity. When I think back to my cancer experience, I had so many communities of people praying for me, and I don’t think I’ve ever acknowledged how that could have helped me in a tangible way. Larry Dossey is next on my reading list with Healing Words: The Power of Prayer and the Practice of Medicine. He talks about the relation between the power of mind and spirituality as the future of healthcare, so cool!
Personally, when it comes to my health and wellness, I am not looking for a quick fix or waiting for a full-blown problem before I take action. The body is a complex thing; my existence as a human being is a complex thing that I must tend to on a regular basis. I try to show up for myself in that way. I have learned to change my habits, slow down if I have to, and work daily at feeling my best, even if that feels like a fulltime job at times. Cancer at a young age has taught me many things, but most of all to hold my health in high regard. My health deserves all the attention and care because I believe strongly that health is wealth and I have a feeling my mom would agree.