By Alyce Collins
THIS STUNNING mother-of-two was just ELEVEN-YEARS-OLD when she had to make the difficult decision to have her entire right leg amputated to save her life.
Entrepreneur Tessa Snyder (29) from Philadelphia, US, was diagnosed with cancer at just 11-years-old after doctors wrongly diagnosed it as growing pains for months.
After seven months of chemotherapy, doctors held a meeting with Tessa and her family to discuss finally getting rid of her tumour through amputating her leg. Although she was young, Tessa knew that an amputation was her best chance at minimising any chance of having to face cancer again.
Tessa spent the next three months being closely monitored and confined to a wheelchair, but in January 2001 she was told that she was finally free of cancer, a day which she will always remember.
Since her battle, Tessa has grown stronger and learned to love her prosthetic leg as it’s given her back her life. Despite fearing that her life couldn’t be normal, Tessa now hopes to inspire other survivors and amputees to love themselves.
Tessa embraces her prosthetic at every opportunity she gets, and she’s incredibly proud of her determination to beat cancer at such a young age. Tessa now lives with her husband, Casey and their two sons.
“I first noticed pains around the spring of 2000 and I went to the doctors who misdiagnosed me with growing pains,” said Tessa.
“Little by little I would wake up every day for school and the pain would get worse every morning. One morning I woke up in tears because it took a good couple of minutes for me to be able to bend my leg.
“Eventually the pain became unbearable to the touch. I was then ordered in for an MRI a couple of months later.
“I had a biopsy done on my leg, then 10 days after I was sitting in a room being checked out by the surgeon, making sure the stitches had healed.
“He stood in front of me and explained as simply as he could to an 11-year-old that I had cancer. Osteogenic sarcoma on my right femur bone to be exact.
“Once I was diagnosed, things happened fast. Looking back, it feels like such a whirlwind. I had a central line inserted into my chest to administer the chemotherapy into my body.
“When I was first admitted into the hospital I had long brown hair which I loved. The doctors and nurses explained the side effect of chemotherapy and how I would be losing my hair, so I should think about cutting my hair.
“I felt like I was weird looking, and it made me feel vulnerable.
“Chemotherapy completely took over my life. I was administered the strongest treatments to attack the cancer aggressively. So I would throw up numerous times a week.
“I couldn’t keep food down, so I had a feeding tube inserted in me. I had no outside life because I was in hospital for five days a week most weeks. My immune system was so low that I couldn’t really be around people.
“My health was deteriorating from the treatment, so I was always lethargic and weak.
“I had chemotherapy almost every week for about seven months. After the first two months of chemotherapy, the idea of an amputation was brought up to me.
“The procedure would involve cutting above where the tumour was to limit any chance of the cancer coming back. I think my parents wanted to give me some sort of power by giving me the chance to decide what I wanted to do.
“Even in my 11-year-old mind I thought if I could get rid of my leg and never have to go through this again, why not? They showed me pictures of people who went on to live great lives and explained I’d be able to walk, run and play sports again.”
Tessa’s amputation was on September 29th, 2000 and she then faced a rocky journey to recovery as she had three more months of intense chemotherapy. Tessa’s supportive friends and family were around to help her, and they were around her when she awoke from the amputation.
“I heard people talking and crying around me. I remember a lot of pain coming in intervals,” said Tessa.
“I was hooked up to a morphine drip which I’d press every time I felt the pain come. My parents came over to greet me and they gave me hugs and kisses.
“My dad recalls a line which he’ll never let me live down, as he shouldn’t, which was ‘Dad, I did it’. That little girl had a better mindset than most adults.
“The year of 2001 was a new year for the new me. I focused on becoming stronger while learning how to walk with a prosthesis. My first prosthetic didn’t bend at the knee, but it was specifically designed to gain strength and mobility.
“It was so I could ‘feel’ what it was like to stand on two feet again after three months of not being able to.
“There were countless times of frustration and anger, but not once did I want to give up.
“School with a prosthetic was difficult. I felt different to everyone else. I felt out of place and like I wouldn’t be accepted or have any friends.
“As I was so young at first, I just didn’t know any different. But when I was in my teen years that’s when I had the most difficulty liking my prosthetic.
“It’s taken me almost 20 years to fully accept my prosthesis. There are days when I don’t want to wear it or days when it hurts, and it gives me sores. But one thing I realised is that I couldn’t keep living my life hating something that I couldn’t change.
“My prosthetic is a part of me and it’s who I am. It gives me the ability to take me places I want to go and to be able to experience life with my children and partner.
“The closest people in my life had loved seeing me open up recently and inspiring others who are going through similar circumstances.
“I’ve learned so much, but mostly how to grow. Growth is such a beautiful thing that we all have the ability to achieve.
“Self-acceptance, growing and learning to love ourselves are the keys to happiness in my eyes.
“I can’t even remember what life was like on my original two legs. This is normal now.
“I love that at almost 30-years-old I feel more beautiful and sexier than ever. I can’t believe I used to let so many things get to me. Cancer sucks, and having one leg may not be ideal sometimes, but I was given a second chance at life.
“If I get to help one person through my journey, then my purpose on earth is worth it. Almost 20 years later, I am proud to say to that little 11-year-old girl, thank you for not giving up.”