On December 2, 2011, I had an above-knee amputation of my right leg. Even though everyone warned me, I never realized how much it would change my life in ways the doctors never prepared me.
My doctor at Sloan-Kettering told me that the Chondrosarcoma cancer growing from my femur had to be surgically removed. No chemo or radiation would shrink it. This was just the latest bad news in an otherwise tough year, as I had already been mourning over the demise of my marriage.
My separation from my wife already made me feel as if something was physically missing from my body. Everyone could see how I was hurting. My co-workers, my friends and family, even people on the street, could see a person who was missing a vital part of his being.
But now, I really was going to be missing part of my body. I didn’t worry about the ramifications of life as an amputee. Amputation was needed to save my life. And so it did.
When I learned I had a cancer, I immediately called my dad and his wife, my sister and brother, who insisted on joining me at the hospital the very next day. That was when I first started “feeling the love,” and knowing that whatever the outcome, I would ultimately be alright. My family has never been stronger than it is today, ironically, thanks to the cancer. For Felicia and her husband, Gary, spending nearly three months at their house for the various phases of my ordeal, it was never a question. “You will be staying with us.”
The morning I went into surgery, I posted on my Facebook wall: Each day, 507 Americans have an amputation. Unfortunately, today it is my turn. I will have my leg amputated at noon today due to cancer.
The results from my amputation post were swift and staggering. It wasn’t just the usual suspects who posted for me to get well soon. My blog software reported nearly a thousand page views on that first day. Friends reposted links to my blog, telling everyone else to read my “brave” and “inspiring” story. I must say, if anyone had used those two words to describe me pre-cancer, as I was struggling to get my new bachelor life in order, I would have said they were crazy.
Feeling the love continued all throughout that first month, as I had hundreds of phone calls, cards, email messages and gift packages from people from every facet of my life. There was the older generation of Long Island family/friends who were there with me as I took my first steps. There were the oldest of friends from elementary school and new-found Facebook friends from high-school. My college chums, as always, totally had my back, reminding me how they would be there if ever I fell. My church friends, who I hadn’t seen in the ten months since my separation, have been praying for me since. My newest friends, who I met in Westchester through the social network Tweetups, and the regulars on the MetroNorth, have been in close contact. They tell me the train just isn’t the same. I can imagine. I sure did keep the conversation lively… as long as I had my coffee.
In addition to all those people, my co-workers have given me great hope for the future. They have taken such amazing care of me personally, professionally and financially. Their generosity boggles my mind. They truly turned what could have been a tragic holiday season into a magical celebration. They catered my family’s Chanukah party and even supplied gifts for my entire clan because it was nearly impossible for me to shop. A friend of mine just went through a hip replacement surgery and told me that no one from her job even visited her in the hospital, much less wished her to get well soon. I am truly blessed.
Most importantly, I feel the love every time I get hugs from my sons, four and nine years old. Although they miss me, they know that this is a temporary phase. As my youngest eloquently stated, “my daddy will get a metal leg, and then he’ll be all better, and then we’ll have sleepovers again.” It’ll be a great day when I bring my eldest up to Hawkwatch again.
Finally, a special moment of heartfelt and touching love came from a surprising and unexpected place – my ex. A few days before my surgery, she put her hand on my bare foot and held it like no one else could have. It was surprising both because she did it and because I let her do it. It seemed the healing process was beginning even before the operation.
Today, a month after the amputation, the phantom pain in my nonexistent limb is amazing. It teaches me so much about the human body. The varieties of pain I endure include sharp, biting, clamping, electrical, buzzing, humming, tingling, burning, throbbing, pulsing, shooting… oh, so many different ways I hurt. Still, none of the pain compares to the amount of love I feel that helps me through every single day. The love from my friends, family and fans is so much more powerful. It gets me out of bed; it helps me go to 12 reps instead of 10 in my exercises, and puts a smile on my face each and every minute.
At a family get-together, my sister-in-law commented that through the entire ordeal, she had not seen me depressed, not even for a moment. I explained to her that I wasn’t depressed, because the cancer wiped away my depression. This may sound crazy, but getting cancer and having my leg amputated may have been one of the best things to ever happen to me.
For more information about my crazy past month, please read my blog, mydaveblog.wordpress.com
David Streich, 43, is a Creative Director living in Mount Kisco. He has two sons, and loves to bowl, hike and ride his bike… all things he will be doing again as soon as he possibly can.