This post is one of a series to support my 39th Birthday Wish.
After my amputation, the surgeon put a cast on the stump of my right leg to protect the wound as it healed for the first few weeks. He replaced the cast occasionally as the swelling decreased. The day I got the cast off for the final time, the first thing I did was head to physical therapy in the hospital’s swimming pool. What an amazing feeling that was to float in the water after weeks of being confined to hospital beds and wheelchairs…
I still feel more at home in water than on land. Here’s a picture of me taking a leap into Walden Pond last fall:
Having lost my leg at such a young age, there have been some times I’ve felt the loss very keenly. It’s hard to explain what it feels like to have such a significant part of oneself gone, but there’s an ache that’s similar to what I’ve experienced when a loved one dies. Last fall when I was in Denver for an academic conference, I did something rather unusual–I visited the hospital where I had my cancer treatment, and asked to view my medical files. I learned many things from going through those files, but the most profound moment was when I received the pathology images that included pictures of my leg after the amputation surgery. The images showed the extent of the tumor, via cross-section of bone and tissue.
To work through the complicated emotions that I felt about those pictures, I went to the pool for a long swim, taking the laps slow and hard while my mind chewed on what I’d seen. As the light cast dappled patterns in the water around me I felt past and present collide: I was a little girl with two legs, I was a young teen swimming for the first time after her surgery, I was a grown woman who was still making sense of her loss. I was swimming, stretching, remembering, and moving on.