Hey Left Leg… we need to talk
Hi mate. Hey buddy.. Gosh, this isn’t easy for me to say. Leg, I need to let you go. I feel like I’ve been told that my dog has cancer and I need to put him to sleep. Except not my dog.. my leg.
And not put to sleep.. amputate.
It’s such a harsh word. It still makes me a bit uncomfortable to say it out loud. Amputation. It’s shocking. I can’t even imagine how you feel about everything.
I’m going to avoid trivializing your existence with cliches or puns about being ‘hopping mad’ or ‘one foot in the grave’ or ‘getting back on my feet’ because in all seriousness, you’ve been a fantastic leg. Perhaps not as good at sports as my right leg, perhaps not as coordinated or strong, but you’ve never let that hold you back. You’ve always gone step for step with old Righty and never complained.
These past few years I’d be lying if I said that I hadn’t noticed that something was wrong though. You’ve been in pain. So much so that I’ve been compensating for you with my other leg. You’ve lost a considerable amount of muscle definition which is now visible to the naked eye. I can’t help but feel like I could have done more for you, and that makes me a bit sad.
It’s not like I didn’t try though. After a few years of pain coming and going I saw an osteopath and got treatment which seemed to work for a while. A year or 2 later I self prescribed high strength Guatemalan anti-inflammatories which dulled the pain for a bit. Another year passed and I went to my GP who ordered an MRI of your knee. We thought there was a small cartilage tear and a cyst so we saw a knee surgeon. That’s when things went a bit downhill though.
You see, Leg, when the knee surgeon got inside your knee it didn’t look like it was supposed to. It wasn’t a cyst. He took a sample, closed you up and sent it off to investigate. That was on the 16th of September. The thing is, that the results came back inconclusive. It was time to see a new doctor and this time there was no messing about. We went straight to the Head or Orthopedics at St Vincents Hospital, Professor Peter Choong. He specializes in knee and hip replacement, in salvaging limbs.. and in cancer.
I was scared. Professor Choong ordered a thallium scan, which involves injecting a radio active liquid into my blood stream and taking heaps of internal pictures, head to toe, to track where cancer is active in my body. He ordered a CT scan of my chest to check if there were any tumors in my organs. And he ordered another MRI of your knee to really accurately see what was going on in there. And while I was getting these tests done he was going to personally look at the sample taken from your knee and tell me what it was.
I thought I was going to die. It’s hard not to think like that when you’re being dragged around a hospital having tests done. I was so scared and so sad. I thought I wasn’t going to be able to see my daughter grow up. I would close my eyes as tight as I could and try to imagine what Sofía is going to look like when she is 5 years old, when she is 16, when she is 30, but I just couldn’t picture it. I planned on writing her letters to open on the birthdays that I wasn’t going to be there for. I wanted Valerie to learn how to cook my favourite dishes so that Sofía would know what my cooking tasted like. I thought I wouldn’t be able to marry the woman that I love. I thought that my 2 grandmothers were going to outlive me. I thought about how the faces of my friends and family would look at my funeral. I thought about the possibility of dying having never seen StKilda win a premiership (this last one is still a bit of a concern to be honest).
My life had finally started to make sense to me and it was about to be taken away. I finally have my own little family, we couldn’t be happier, and now this? How cruel is that?
When I met with Professor Choong again on the 25th of September to receive the test results I knew that there were 3 possibilities. 1; that it was all a big misunderstanding 2; that it was cancer, but it was treatable 3; that I was going to die. I prepared myself for the first 2 possible outcomes and I told myself that whatever happens, as long as I will live, I will be happy. Just please don’t let me die. Please.
Somebody must have been listening because I got a result that I was looking for. I do have cancer, but it is treatable. I have a rare type of cancer called synovial sarcoma. In the words of Prof Choong, “it’s not good. It’s bad. In fact, it’s really, really bad”. Turns out that the chances of me getting this crazy rare cancer are like winning the lottery. So I guess I won the cancer lottery (although I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to buy a ticket). Lucky for me, the tests showed that it had not spread anywhere else in my body other than to you and your knee. It usually heads straight to the lungs, hence the CT scan of my chest, but like I said – no cancer there.
There are only 2 treatment options presented to me.
One is to remove everything that was affected by the cancer. This includes bone, tissue, ligaments, muscle, cartilage… I would basically need a bionic knee. Followed by extensive chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and other nasty business that could leave me sterile and cut years off my life. The risk of the cancer returning after this sort of treatment is considered very high. It would almost certainly come back and it would come back with a vengeance.
The other type of treatment is to remove, you, the leg, from between the knee and hip. It’s called a transfemoral amputation. Since the cancer hasn’t spread anywhere else, if the leg is removed above where the cancer is, then there is virtually no chance of it ever coming back. No chemotherapy. No radiotherapy. Just lots of check ups over the next 8 years to be safe. Synovial sarcoma is not genetic. That means that I can’t pass it down to Sofía. It also means that I am not predisposed to getting it again. If we remove this cancer now in a drastic way, then I will never, ever have to worry about it coming back.
I’m sorry that my decision came so quickly and without considering you or your feelings, but for me there was just no choice. You have to go. I’m sorry if my reaction to the news of losing you came across differently to what you might have expected, but I told Prof Choong with a smile on my face that I wanted to amputate. I certainly don’t blame you and I will absolutely miss you each and every day of my life without you, but Valerie needs a husband, and Sofí needs a dad. Not everybody gets a second chance at life. I’m taking mine with both hands (sorry, that’s not supposed to be a joke about only having one leg).
I don’t want you to worry about me though. I know it’s not going to be easy going on with out you, but I’m ready for it. When faced with death we can do some pretty amazing things. I’m going to race Sofía to see who can learn (or re-learn) how to walk first. It will be quite embarrassing if I get beaten my a baby but she has two legs so, if it happens, it happens.
I’m heading to surgery soon. It’s an emotional time. I will miss you like a brother and I will never forget you. I love you Left Leg. I’m so sorry that it has to end this way. I want you to know that I will dedicate the rest of my life to your memory and live it fully and happily, surrounded by family and friends. Thank you for being there for me. And thank you for letting me go on without you.
By the time you read this… You’ll probably be gone.