Photo Credit: Heather Hazzan (center) and Evan Whitney (right).
Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.
I grew up in Haiti in a big, white house, on top of a mountain overlooking the ocean — with fresh air and organic fruits at my fingertips. My childhood was nearly perfect. And Haiti was my home for nearly a decade until I was 14, when in the spring of 2004, I fell and started experiencing severe pain in my hip.
After eight months of countless doctors’ visits, I was finally diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that had metastasized to my lungs. I immediately moved to New York to start chemotherapy. After an intense year of chemo treatment, I underwent a 12-hour hip replacement surgery to remove the rest of the cancerous bone and to get a metal implant.
Unfortunately, my body rejected the implant. As a result, the doctors had to amputate my right leg, along with half my pelvic bone.
Cancer took a great toll on me, but the magnitude of how much my life changed didn’t hit until they removed my bandages. I looked at what would now be my body forever. Scarred. I broke down in disbelief, barely able to look at my own body. The hip surgery involved a reconstruction of the abdomen and a muscle flap, leaving many scars.
This was the exact moment I started developing severe body image issues. My generic prosthetic leg didn’t match my skin tone. It barely looked real. I’d spend my time avoiding the beach or wearing anything that would expose my scars.
But hiding wasn’t a way to live
It took me a while to understand this: Body positivity doesn’t mean always being in love and accepting my body. Rather, it means unlearning the idea that there is a perfect body.
If I was going to spend the rest of my life in this body — and to one day, eventually, embrace my scars — I needed to learn to tolerate them. And so began my journey as “Mama Cax” on Instagram, a pseudonym I began using to share my journey of self-love.
To my surprise, I found an online community who could relate to my story and experience — not only cancer survivors and fellow amputees, but others who were simply coming to terms with their bodies. At one point, I also got in touch with Alleles, a company that makes fashionable, beautiful prosthetic covers. What was once a shameful part of me became a badge of honor.
This shift in attitude affected how I acted and how others saw me. It didn’t take long before I started to receive emails from all over the world, especially from others who were afraid of showing their prosthetics. In being earnest, honest, and loving toward my own body, I was able to encourage others to feel less insecure and more empowered in theirs.
Embracing my body is still a continuous journey. I’m still learning to love my 30-inch long scar and other markings. But I’m not the same girl I was when I was 16. I no longer feel disgusted looking at my scars. I now see them for what they are: proof that I survived, that I’m still here, and against all odds, won a vicious battle with cancer.
And that’s nothing to be ashamed of.