The gift of canes
JEN COSTELLO SAT ON THE COLD examination table. The doctor lifted her legs one at a time, testing their function. Jen’s leg braces were supposed to keep her from falling, but they just weren’t cutting it lately. The Jeannette, Pennsylvania, resident had battled chronic nerve damage for decades, and now she’d developed drop foot, a type of neuropathy.
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “But it’s time to quit your job. It’s too strenuous for your body.” Jen was stunned. She loved her work as an addiction counselor. She’d already had to give up a previous job as a paramedic due to her physical limitations. She had always felt called to help people. If she couldn’t do that anymore…
“I’d also recommend getting a cane,” the doctor said.
“Seriously?” Jen’s heart dropped. “
There’s no other option?” She was only 44 but suddenly felt twice her age. She’d struggled physically almost all her life, and she was tired of it.
At age four, a fall from a backyard slide landed her in the hospital. Doctors initially thought she’d ruptured her spleen. What they uncovered was far worse. Jen had Wilms’ tumor, a childhood kidney cancer. “It’s in her left kidney, and it’s very aggressive,” doctors told her mother with somber eyes. “We can try surgery.”
They removed Jen’s left kidney, but the cancer had already spread to her lungs. The only thing left to do was chemotherapy and radiation.
Treatments for Wilms’ were still new in the 1970s. Doctors didn’t know the correct dosages for children. They had no idea they were giving 26-pound Jen enough chemo and radiation for a 300-pound person. That eradicated the cancer, but it also destroyed most of the muscles in her left back and led to chronic conditions as she grew older.
Continue Reading with Magzter GOLD
Log-in, if you are already a subscriber
Get unlimited access to thousands of curated premium stories and 5,000+ magazines
READ THE ENTIRE ISSUE