“The first time I remember my knee hurting was the summer of 1997. I was 13 and would turn on Spice Girls or No Doubt and dance around my backyard. I figured my knee hurt because I was NOT a dancer. I was a clumsy kid having fun during summer break. It got to the point though where the pain changed. My thoughts ranged from ‘Maybe I had hurt myself’ to ‘Maybe it’s just growing pains,’ and then finally to ‘Something is wrong.’
One day, when the pain hit harder than usual, I asked my mom to take me to the doctor. We went to the ER where I begged for an x-ray and was told instead to buy some new shoes. I was blown off and treated like an overdramatic teen.
The weeks passed. I started grade 8, my mom gave birth to my baby sister, I turned 14, and my leg was hurting more and more. It got to the point where rumors started at school I was a hypochondriac and just looking for attention. The bullying was horrible.
Then it happened. One day while playing basketball, I was pushed. My knee slammed onto the gym floor and started swelling. The swelling never went down. Finally, a doctor took me somewhat seriously and I was told I would need 6 weeks of physiotherapy. I endured 6 weeks of almost daily physio, with the only results being the pain intensified and my knee got bigger. At Christmas, I took a break to visit family. One night, I woke up crying in pain. Again, I begged my mom to do something, anything. I cried, ‘Please just cut it off.’ Finally, we came home and went back to the doctor. An x-ray and ultrasound were ordered. When the day came and I had to leave school early for the appointment, I was excited! I was so happy. Finally, I was being taken seriously. Finally, we were going to find out what was wrong.
I remember some details of that day so vividly while others remain a blur. I remember it was Thursday, it was sunny, and I was going to go to my first middle school dance that weekend. I can remember how I felt walking home from the bus stop. I remember being confused when I saw my mom waiting for me. I remember wracking my brain as to what I must have done to have my mom tell me to go sit down on the couch. But I wasn’t in trouble for anything I had done. Instead, for the first time in my life, I heard the words, ‘Analyn, you have cancer.’ My mom started crying and I followed suit. I had been diagnosed with osteosarcoma. Bone cancer. Bone cancer in my right knee at the age of 14.
The next few days were a blur. We were thrown information at us faster than it could be processed. We met with oncologists and surgeons. I had bloodwork done and countless scans and x-rays. We learned words we had never heard before. Plans were made without time to fully process and understand, time sped by incredibly fast. We learned my tumor was big, approximately the size of a softball. I was lucky it hadn’t spread anywhere else and very lucky I hadn’t broken my leg, considering how unstable the tumor was and how brittle it had made my bones. To ensure I didn’t actually break my leg before I started treatment, I was either in a wheelchair or on crutches. In the blink of an eye, I went from the girl that dances and jumps to being the delicate, cautious cancer patient.
Some days were hard, but still, I was positive. I smiled and I joked. Through the chemo and multiple surgeries, I tried to maintain my usual cheery disposition. My dad used to hang positive quotes on our fridge and I would go back to them often. The one that stuck in my head most was, ‘A positive attitude isn’t a 100% way to success but a negative attitude is a 100% way to failure.’
I had 6 rounds of chemo that made me sicker than I’ve ever been in life. I lost my hair. I lost over 20 pounds. I lost friends who couldn’t handle my diagnosis, I lost my childhood. I lost my innocence. In April of that year, I was faced with another loss. My doctor sat down and gave me all of my options. He gave me informational videos and a list of names of people I could talk to. In the end, it was my decision. At the age of 14, I was faced with the decision of whether to have my leg amputated and remove the cancer from my body, or to try to save it and risk being exposed to it spreading.
A few days later, I walked into his office and told him I made my choice. I wanted my leg gone, I wanted the cancer gone. I requested a rotationplasty, a rare amputation where they remove the cancer-ridden knee and thigh and then reattach the calf and my foot backward to what remained of my femur. The result would have my ankle acting as a knee joint when wearing a prosthetic.
On the day of my surgery, I happily went into the OR excited the cancer would be gone and I would become an amputee. Looking back, I wish I would have focused more on that walk. It would be the last time I walked without the aid of my prosthetic and I remember almost none of it. The surgery was intense and complicated and after 10 long hours, I was finally in the ICU. But not for long. A blood clot had formed in what remained of my leg and I experienced the greatest pain I have ever felt. My third child was an unmedicated birth, and even that was no comparison to the pain I felt as a 14-year-old girl just out of life-altering surgery. I was rushed back into the OR for 5 more hours in order to save me and what was left of my leg.
After I recovered from surgery, I started chemo once again and went through 12 more rounds before finishing treatments. My last chemo was just after Halloween so my mom threw the biggest end-of-chemo Halloween party. I danced and partied as much as a 15-year-old cancer patient who hadn’t re-learned how to walk again could.
Over the next few months, I tried as hard as I could to show everyone around me I was a ‘normal’ teen. Eventually, my hair started to grow back. I did learn how to walk again and if I was wearing pants, you couldn’t even tell I had a prosthetic leg. I was so painfully aware I was very different from my classmates. Every 3 months, I went back to the hospital for blood work, scans, and doctor’s appointments to make sure I was still cancer free. Just as life started to feel normal again and as I got closer to one year in remission, my scans weren’t coming back clear. There was something in my lung and no one knew what it was.
One of my doctors asked me to have it removed, even if it was nothing and all we got out of it was peace of mind. The spot that had shown up on the scans ended up being nothing, but during surgery, they found two tumors that were not. At 15, my doctors removed metastatic bone cancer from my lung. I was diagnosed with metastatic bone cancer in my lungs and had it removed the same day. I recovered from that surgery and went back to trying to fit in.
Soon enough my teen years were behind me and so was cancer. Even though I will always be an amputee, the effects of chemo started to fade. I moved out and got a job. I partied, dated, and truthfully went a little wild, almost as if I was making up for my stolen teen years. I got married, had three beautiful kids, and I also suffered a divorce.
Then, just shy of my 18-year cancer-free date, it happened. I wasn’t expecting it at all. I was in love and happy again. I was at my youngest baby’s playgroup when my phone rang. It was my doctor. That’s when she told me the words I had hoped to have never had to hear again. She said, ‘Analyn, you have cancer.’ For the third time in my life, ‘You have cancer.’
I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Triple-negative breast cancer. This time I wasn’t so naive. This time, I wasn’t positive and sunny. I was sad and angry. I was shocked and bitter. The next couple of days I went to bed crying and I woke up crying. I know life isn’t fair. But cancer three times before my 34th birthday, cancer when I had three children under the age of 7? It didn’t just seem unfair. It felt downright cruel.
When I had my double mastectomy, I wasn’t excited. I wasn’t happy thinking the cancer would be gone. I cried on the OR table, knowing more of me was being taken. Knowing cancer would forever and always be an enormous part of my life. Knowing how much of my body was scarred and changed. Knowing I wouldn’t get to see my kids or pick up my baby after. Going through surgery and chemo as a mom was immensely harder. I was both a patient and a caregiver. I had to manage how I felt and make sure my children were okay, too. I cried and felt such guilt some days all I could do was blow kisses to them from my bed.
That was 3 years ago now. My kids still worry every single time I don’t feel well. Cancer has left its permanent marks, both visible and invisible. And while I am changed, I am also still here. ”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Analyn Brook. You can follow her story on Instagram. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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