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Pediatric CancerSarcomaSurvivorship

My New Perspective After Losing a Leg to Cancer

Overcoming body image issues and fitting in can be difficult for any teenager, but for Josh Morkert, the challenge became even greater after a life-altering surgery because of cancer.
August 2015 Vol 1 No 4
Tracy Wright
Josh Morkert

Josh was diagnosed with sarcoma when doctors found a tumor on the bottom of his left femur. He was just 17 years old.

“I started feeling pain in my left knee in the fall of 2013 and just assumed it was tendonitis,” says Josh. “By March 2014, the pain got so bad I could barely walk. I went to see a doctor and had x-rays taken. They immediately called me back for an MRI and referred me to the Children’s Hospital in Colorado.”

Josh started chemotherapy immediately, with the knowledge that surgery would be the next step approximately 10 weeks later.

“I was looking at 3 options for surgery, none of which was ideal,” says Josh.

These options included a full amputation above the knee; replacing the affected bone with plastic or metal, limiting his mobility and ability to play sports; or undergoing a procedure known as rotationplasty.

During rotationplasty, the portion of the leg affected by cancer is amputated, and the ankle and foot are reattached backward to the remaining femur so that the ankle becomes the new knee joint.

“With rotationplasty, you can do nearly everything you did before the surgery,” explains Josh. “I went with that, because it offered the most functionality.”

Although the surgery went well, Josh faced some struggles with the healing process–popping stitches, regaining his flexibility and strength, breaking the steel plate used to hold the bones in place, and infection.

“The hardest part was coming to terms with my new appearance,” Josh confesses. “I had a lot of problems with body image. The surgery made me feel like Frankenstein. I finally figured, ‘I’m never going to blend in, so why bother?’ I started putting bright colors on it. What really got me were the people who would walk by, see me, and then suddenly look away—like it was something to be ashamed of. I’ve taken that as an opportunity to explain. A lot of people are just curious.”

Josh was also lucky enough to meet someone who went to the Paralympics after having the same surgery.

“He showed me that I can do whatever I want—run, jump, ride bikes—anything,” explains Josh. “I didn’t have to be held back. Already I’m really good at walking with my prosthesis.”

Now 18 years old, Josh will begin college in the fall at Metropolitan State University, where he plans to study aerospace and aviation science in hopes of becoming an engineer. He also hopes to start volunteering at the hospital where he was treated.

“It was presented to me by the surgeon who performed my surgery,” says Josh. “I’ll go back and show others with the same cancer what rotational surgery is, and how my leg functions now.”

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