Ready to lose a limb

Denise Sheaks Burke, center, poses with her daughter Taylor and son Austin. (Photo provided — Denise Sheaks Burke)

How can I begin to express how I feel about losing a limb? I have had months to process that I will be losing my right foot in a below-the-knee amputation on Jan. 9. How does one wrap their head around that? This journey, like most crisis we all face in life, comes with loss, change and new beginnings.

My journey began with a cancer diagnosis of synovial sarcoma this past June. My emotions could only handle so much at the time, so even though I knew an amputation was probably in my future, I needed to contend with four rounds of intensive chemotherapy first. Now that I am over that hurdle, I can attempt to prepare for the amputation surgery.

I watch people running around shopping, doing after Christmas returns, while preparing for New Year’s Eve. I wish for a moment that everyone could stop and connect for one minute into the life of someone battling cancer, or feel the pain of losing a home in a wildfire, or feel the overwhelming sadness of someone who has lost a loved one. In the world I find myself in now — filled with hospitals, a cancer support group, doctor offices and scans — I am now surrounded by fellow travelers in the cancer fight. We all are fighting hard, but we are not just surviving; we are thriving.

As you all reflect on your past year, and as you make your New Year’s Eve plans and set your goals for the new year, do not forget that life itself is a gift. Each day is a new opportunity to begin anew, to forgive, to reach out and help someone and to remember that we grow in connection to each other. Of course we enjoy the celebrations like the New Years Eve parties, but life itself is pain and joy and everything in between, and all of it is worth celebrating.

Life can be hard at times, but it is also filled with simple joys of a hug, laughter, enjoying a sunset, or time spent with family and friends. The simple things are the things that fill my heart now. People marvel at my strength, but I cannot imagine being any other way. Yes, I have cancer. Yes, I will have a below-the-knee amputation in less than two weeks. Yes, my cancer journey is far from over. However, cancer does not define me; nor will the amputation.

I am still me, and I can tell you that I continue every day to grow into a far better version of myself. Adversity challenges us to rise up, develop courage you never thought you had and to forge forward with the strength of a tiger. If you are struggling and you have lost your way, borrow the strength of others like myself and remember that adversity is all a matter of perspective. The things that I used to worry about are no longer concerning to me. Now I think about learning to walk again with a prosthesis, and looking forward to hiking and driving with my new leg. Whatever your challenges are, know that you too can find strength and courage lying quietly within, waiting to be discovered. Reach out and offer support to someone struggling, since helping others not only helps the receiver but helps the giver as well. Marvel at life’s small and simple pleasures. Most of all, live each day with the promise that New Year’s Eve offers — the promise of hope.

Denise Sheaks Burke spends her summers in Saranac Lake and lives the rest of the year in Thousand Oaks, California.