JOSEPHINE Bridges’s family were advised to “say their goodbyes” when the teen was given a devastating terminal cancer diagnosis.
Nearly a decade on, however, the now 29-year-old is planning on becoming a Paralympic canoeist – thanks to a recent leg amputation.
Josephine, from Birmingham, first knew that something was wrong with her health when she broke her leg stepping off a bus, aged 17.
It was when she was having her leg X-rayed that doctors discovered that she had stage three osteosarcoma – a rare form of bone cancer.
Weakened by the tumour, her leg had crumpled and she had to plead with docs to replace the diseased bones with metal.
“I demanded treatment and we fought for leg salvage through tears and arguments,” she said.
“What followed was a solid nine months of chemotherapy – three rounds in four weeks with one weekend off.
“In the middle of my treatment, around late May, the time came for surgery. We had been to three surgeons before we finally found one who agreed to give limb salvage a go.
“It was an experiment and the surgeon repeatedly told us it was unlikely to be pulled off.
“I went into surgery not knowing whether I would come out with my leg.”
Thankfully, she did and managed to walk out of the ward in November, spending the following years getting used to living with the new leg.
But the limb soon became troublesome.
Josephine, now 29, started getting infections and was increasingly in agony.
“The problem with having any metal in your body is that infection latches onto it, and so the whole bone and knee had to be replaced in order to rid me of the infection,” she explained.
Symptoms of bone cancer
Primary bone cancer is a rare type of cancer that begins in the bones.
Around 550 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK.
Bone cancer can affect any bone, but most cases develop in the long bones of the legs or upper arms.
The main symptoms include:
- persistent bone pain that gets worse over time and continues into the night
- swelling and redness (inflammation) over a bone, which can make movement difficult if the affected bone is near a joint
- a noticeable lump over a bone
- a weak bone that breaks (fractures) more easily than normal
There are three main types of bone cancer:
- osteosarcoma – the most common type, which mostly affects children and young adults under 20
- Ewing sarcoma – which most commonly affects people aged between 10 and 20
- chondrosarcoma – which tends to affect adults aged over 40
“When I started university in 2009 I had all of the usual experiences of halls, freshers and badly cooked food.
“In my mind my leg was great. I couldn’t do stairs well, run or sometimes even walk well, but my leg allowed me to dance all night, so at 19 that was the compromise I made.”
One day, however, she noticed that her leg “felt loose” as she walked.
She took a photo and emailed it to her surgeon, and within a week, was having her kneecap reattached as it had moved up her leg.
Eventually, her body began to reject the cement in the artificial joint.
Surgeons reckoned that the wound had never healed and that was why the leg kept coming loose.
“The initial infection happened at the area where my ankle met the metal tibia, and this was always the area that became loose.
“It was nearly always surrounded by fluid – a sign of previous infection.”
So last summer, she started researching into leg amputation and in October, had her leg removed just above the knee.
She had her first prosthetic fitted in November.
“Although amputation was no guarantee that I’d be without pain, it gave a greater chance of me being able to do what I loved without compromising,” she said.
A massive sports lover, she’s since tried out loads of different activities and has decided that she’s going to have a go at becoming a Paralympian.
“We returned to the surgeon in September with a decision in mind, and it was during this drive to the hospital that I announced to my husband, ‘if I’m going to become an amputee, I want to become a Paralympian,’ and I settled on paracanoeing.
“Towards the end, my old leg was useless and difficult to move. I already feel freer and more able.
MORE ON CANCER
“I want to live without the fear I had before that my leg would get damaged or the pain would return.”
Josephine said that there are “so many opportunities out there waiting for you as an amputee.
“If you have to choose between living life with a limb that doesn’t work or an amputation, make the decision for you – you have to be sure of your choice.”
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