By Alyce Collins
THIS INSPIRING woman was diagnosed with cancer at just SEVENTEEN after her leg BROKE while she was GETTING OFF THE BUS and was left terrified after doctors told her family to ‘SAY THEIR GOODBYES’ until a leg amputation saved her life and she now dreams of becoming a Paralympian.
Head of interiors Josephine Bridges (29) from Birmingham, UK, was diagnosed with stage three osteosarcoma at the age of only 17-years-old, requiring intensive treatment before turning her life around and having the leg amputated in 2018.
In 2007 Josephine had scans taken which showed hotspots on her leg, leading doctors to the cancer diagnosis. The illness had significantly weakened Josephine’s left leg, so when she was stepping off the bus at college her leg broke underneath her weight.
Doctors told Josephine and her family that her cancer was terminal and warned them to say their goodbyes soon. However, Josephine fought for treatment, including chemotherapy and leg salvage surgery, despite the doctors’ reluctance to operate on a terminal patient.
Leg salvage surgery involved removing the infected bone and muscles in the leg and replacing it with a false knee and tibia, but infection following the surgery led to five more surgeries. Josephine required many revisions of her leg, especially when her kneecap dislodged and travelled up her leg.
Josephine had her leg amputated on October 4, 2018, and during her journey she decided that she wants to show other amputees that there are many opportunities out there, and her goal is to become a Paralympian in paracanoeing.
Josephine received her prosthetic leg in November 2018 and soon began physiotherapy to learn to walk again, and has since celebrated her progress by kayaking, as she hopes to further her dream this year.
“The night before my diagnosis we received a call from the hospital to say that the scans were showing ‘hotspots’ on my leg,” said Josephine.
“My mum’s a nurse and she immediately knew what they meant so she sat me down to let me know that it was bad news and I likely had cancer.
“In my true stubborn style, I still went to college the following day. I arrived at college and as I stepped off the bus my leg broke under my weight. An ambulance soon arrived, I told them it was likely I had cancer, and they thought I was just being dramatic.
“It wasn’t until we reached the hospital and they saw the X-rays that they realised and they sheepishly apologised. They were lovely, and they didn’t do anything wrong, it’s purely because bone cancer in teens is so rare.
“I demanded treatment and we fought for leg salvage through tears and arguments. What followed was a solid nine months of chemotherapy, three rounds in four weeks with one weekend off.
“In the middle of my treatment, around late May, the time came for surgery. We had been to three surgeons before we finally found one who agreed to give limb salvage a go.
“Like my treatment, it was an experiment and the surgeon repeatedly told us it was unlikely to be pulled off. I went into surgery not knowing whether I would come out with my leg, but thankfully I did, and I walked out of the ward in November.
“They were hesitant because I was considered terminal and it’s a risky surgery with a heavy physio programme.
“Life continued, and I went straight from the ward into college and from there to Leeds Art University.
“It was the summer before university that complications began, and I started suffering from pain in my tibia, where the bone joined the metal. Nothing was found but for reasons beyond us, the wound never healed.
“The area became badly infected and after an investigation it became clear that the whole leg was infected. The problem with having any metal in your body is that infection latches onto it, and so the whole bone and knee had to be replaced in order to rid me of the infection.
“When I started university in 2009 I had all of the usual experiences of halls, freshers and badly cooked food. In my mind my leg was great. I couldn’t do stairs well, run or sometimes even walk well, but my leg allowed me to dance all night, so at 19 that was the compromise I made.
“In 2010 I noticed my leg looked a little funny and it felt loose when I walked. I took a picture and emailed it to my surgeon, and within a week I was back in hospital to reattach my kneecap which had wandered up my leg.
“In December 2012, after graduating and landing a great job, life was brought to a halt when it was clear that my leg had failed again. This time, my body had rejected the cement and loosened the fix between the metal and the bone.
“As always, I went back to living life as best I could. I got married, travelled with my job and we bought a house. My final revision was 2017 and at this point surgeons mentioned it could be my last.
“We think because the wound never healed and that was the cause of the leg repeatedly loosening in following years. The initial infection happened at the area where my ankle met the metal tibia, and this was always the area that became loose. It was nearly always surrounded by fluid – a sign of previous infection.”
In June 2018, after months of constant pain, Josephine discussed amputation with her surgeon and she carried out plenty of her own research to learn more about becoming an amputee. Josephine learned about various prosthetic options and she wanted to finally stop having relentless pain.
Josephine loves to travel with her husband and has tried her hand at many sports, including kayaking, hand-skiing and canoeing. So, she announced that if she was going to become an amputee, why not become a Paralympian?
“My surgeon and I talked openly about the options, with amputation on the cards. I went away and spent as much time researching prosthetics as I could,” said Josephine.
“Although amputation was no guarantee that I’d be without pain, it gave greater chance of me being able to do what I loved without compromising.
“We returned to the surgeon in September with a decision in mind, and it was during this drive to the hospital that I announced to my husband, ‘if I’m going to become an amputee, I want to become a Paralympian,’ and I settled on paracanoeing.
“Towards the end, my old leg was useless and difficult to move. I already feel freer and more able.
“I’ve been documenting my journey through Positive Bones. The main goal is to help others facing life changing illness by reminding them that they’re not alone and providing useful information.
“I want to live without the fear I had before that my leg would get damaged or the pain would return.
“There are so many opportunities out there waiting for you as an amputee. If you have to choose between living life with a limb that doesn’t work or an amputation, make the decision for you – you have to be sure of your choice.”