I Lost My Leg to Cancer—Then Became an Amputee Model
This model overcame her insecurities with the support of family and friends. Now she's helping others do the same.
I don't remember my initial reaction when I learned, at 9 years old, that my leg would be amputated, but I do have a clear mental picture of myself crying while being wheeled in to the procedure. I was young enough to know what was happening but too young to have a true grasp on all the implications of losing my leg. I didn't realize I wouldn't be able to bend my leg to sit in the back of a roller coaster or that I'd have to choose a car that was easy enough for me to get in and out of.
Just months earlier, I had been outside playing soccer with my sister when I fractured my femur-an innocent-enough accident. I was rushed to the hospital for immediate surgery to fix the break. Four months later, it still wasn't healing, and the doctors knew something was wrong: I had osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer, which is what had weakened my femur in the first place. I met with oncologists and quickly started several rounds of chemo, which took a heavy toll on my body. By the day of my amputation surgery, I think I weighed about 18 kilos [about 40 pounds]. Obviously, I was upset that I was about to lose a limb, but I was already surrounded by so much trauma that the amputation seemed like a natural next step.
Initially, I was okay with my prosthetic leg-but that all changed once I hit my teens. I was going through all the body image issues that teens tend to go through, and I struggled to accept my prosthetic leg. I never wore any clothes shorter than knee-length because I was scared of what people would think or say. I remember the exact moment that my friends helped me get over that; we were by the pool and I was overheating in my long shorts and shoes. One of my friends encouraged me to put on a pair of her shorts. Nervously, I did. They didn't make a big deal out of it, and I started to feel comfortable. I remember a distinct feeling of liberation, like a weight had been lifted off me. The internal battle I'd been fighting was melting away and just by putting on a pair of shorts. Small moments like that-when my friends and family chose to not make a fuss over me or the fact that I was different-slowly added up and helped me become comfortable with my prosthetic leg.
I didn't start my Instagram with the intention of spreading self-love. Like most people, I just wanted to share photos of my food and dogs and friends. I grew up with people constantly telling me how inspiring I am-and I was always awkward about it. I never looked at myself as particularly inspiring because I was just doing what I had to do.
But my Instagram gained a lot of attention. I had posted photos from a test shoot I did in hopes of signing with a modeling agency, and it went viral. I went from 1,000 to 10,000 followers almost overnight and received an avalanche of positive comments and messages and media reaching out for interviews. I was completely overwhelmed by the response.
Then, people began to message me about their problems. In a strange way, hearing their stories helped me the same way I had helped them. Encouraged by all the feedback, I started opening up even more in my posts. In the last two months, I've shared things on my Instagram that I only ever thought I'd share with the people really, really close to me. Slowly, I've realized why people say I inspire them: My story is unusual, but at the same time it resonates with a lot of people. They may not have lost a limb, but they're struggling with an insecurity, some form of adversity, or with a mental or physical illness, and they find hope in my journey. (Also see: What I Learned About Celebrating Little Wins After Getting Run Over By a Truck)
The whole reason I wanted to get into modeling is because people don't often look as they do in photographs. I know firsthand what kinds of insecurities arise when people compare themselves to these unrealistic images-so I wanted to use my image to tackle that. (Related: ASOS Quietly Featured an Amputee Model In Their New Activewear Campaign) I think it speaks volumes when I can collaborate with brands that traditionally use one type of model but are seeking to incorporate more diversity. By owning my prosthetic leg, I can join them in developing that conversation even further, and help other people accept the things that make them different too.