When I Finally Felt Free

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I can remember the chill that ran down my spine. The tingle of antiseptic in my nose, and the throbbing burn running down my leg from surgical wounds. They had stopped mid-surgery when they saw how bad the tumor was. It was supposed to be simple: a bone replacement, after weeks and weeks of grueling treatments. It was supposed to be my success story, the step forward and recovering and returning to a normal life. Now we were sitting in the bright white hospital room with my surgeon telling me that there was no chance of saving my leg. That we would have to cut it off.

Well, he didn’t say that directly, but I knew better. Double the chances the cancer would spread with the normal operation? There was no way I could make that choice. Amputation was the only real option. Still, I could feel the anxiety numbing my limbs and slowing my brain, making it impossible to respond. The tingling in my fingers and the incessant drum of a single thought in my head: No. No, there was no way this was happening to me. No, after all this I wasn’t going to cut my leg off. No…no, there really was no choice.

Not if I wanted to have a life. Not if I wanted to live.

They were staring at me: my dad and my surgeon. Waiting. They would’ve waited forever if they needed to. For the sake of my sanity, my independence, and my hope…this needed to be my decision. At only fourteen-years-old, I was looking at taking on a disability while still being treated for cancer. Nothing would ever be the same again.

I can remember the moment. I took a deep breath, and the moment came where the clouds parted in my head, and I could see what I needed to say. Looking my surgeon in the eyes and—with surprising confidence— I agreed to do the amputation. His eyes dulled for a moment when I spoke, but I could tell he and my dad were both relieved. Relieved that they wouldn’t have to force that choice on me. All I could feel was the cold certainty that my life was going to change. I wouldn’t know how for a long time.

I can remember the day they told me I was clear. With a smile on his face, my oncologist celebrated the five years that I’d been free from cancer. This time I was surrounded by the bright colors of the clinic. The first time I had come to one of these appointments by myself. I was eighteen then. All hormones and independence and full of life. I had announced my arrival with the click of a cane on the ground, and the thump of my prosthesis hitting the floor. It had taken five years, but I was finally walking almost completely on my own.

Those words flooded my body with relief. A tingling sensation just like the one all those years ago, but this time for a good reason. My eyes stung with tears as I thanked my oncologist for everything he’d done. Now, there was no smell of antiseptic and cleaner. No beeping machines and liquid-filled tubes. I simply stood up from the chair, shook my oncologist’s hand, and walked out.

The sun burned when I stepped outside, another layer of tingling on my skin. My lips pulled into a smile, and I pushed down into my prosthetic as I walked back to my car. A confident stroll. My shoulders had lifted, the weight of that fear gone. The fuzzy thoughts in my head had settled into a single word: finally. The aches and pains of treatment had faded after about two years. The phantom pain from the amputation after three. The fatigue had lingered longest, but even that faded by year four. And at the end of everything, I had mastered my prosthetic and walked myself into and out of the appointment where they finally told me I was cancer-free.

I will always remember that moment when I finally – finally felt free.

By : Cheyenne Heflin