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Contact the Amputee Coalition at 888/267-5669 or amputee-coalition.org 31

by Elizabeth Bokf

Although the media tends to focus on the more common forms of cancer (breast, prostate and colon), the rapidly growing statistics of limb loss as a result of cancer receive less coverage. For patients who must undergo amputa-tion surgery as a life-saving measure against cancer, it’s a double-whammy diagnosis. Not only are they learning they have cancer, but they are dealing with the reality that they will lose a part of themselves, and all that this implies in terms of mobility and motor skills. Some patients never recover emotionally from the loss, succumbing to feelings of defeat and loss of quality of living. Then there are the ones who accept the hand that was dealt them, and turn it around to their own advantage, going on to achieve great personal growth and success in all other aspects of their lives. For Petra Tepper of New Jersey, at a time when her young adult life was just beginning and full of prom-ise, the diagnosis of synovial sarcoma in her right leg couldn’t have been more devastating. Diagnosed in 1986 at age 26, Tepper was told amputating her right leg above the knee was her best option for survival. Waking up from surgery at Memorial Sloane-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, Tepper’s frst recol-lection was meeting Paddy Rossbach, nurse and peer visitor for amputees, and an amputee herself. Rossbach was then in the process of building ASPIRE (Adolescent Sarcoma Patients Intense Rehabilitation with Exercise), an organization dedicated to helping children and young adults return to an active lifestyle following amputation. Rossbach eventually served as president and CEO of the Amputee Coalition from 2001-2008.

Tepper was inspired. Ten days after her surgery, she was discharged, sporting a temporary leg fashioned by the hospital prosthetist at her insistence. With no rehabilitative therapy other than learning to use crutches, she left the hospital facing a daunting life challenge and 6 months of chemo, determined to not let it get her down. “I remember being a patient on the women’s ward...the orthopedic unit being full,” recalls Tepper. “My room-mate had been diagnosed with end-stage breast cancer. She told me I should do whatever I had to, to go on living [and that] she would never see her kids grow up.” That’s not to say there weren’t moments of diffculty for her. “I had an issue with body image,” Tepper says. “I was self-conscious about not having a lower limb, and didn’t want people to stare at me or feel awkward around me. It wasn’t [how] I had envisioned my future, and my new lifestyle was challenging. I had to fnish my chemo, learn to walk on a permanent prosthesis, how to dress, shower safely, drive and deal with expenses while being out of work. Friends and family were always about for my well-being. I kind of just went along with this being my lot in life. Don’t get me wrong, they were very

It is estimated that in 2011 there will be 1,596,670 new cases of cancer diagnosed between both sexes of the American population. This number will continue to grow each year, as the country’s medical diagnos-tic technology continues to improve and American lifestyle habits continue along an unhealthy course.

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