A Door of Hope
Bone cancer took a girl from Zimbabwe’s leg, but gave her purpose and new opportunity.
When I was diagnosed with bone cancer at age 12, I didn’t understand how serious it was.
Growing up in Zimbabwe, my earliest encounter with cancer was in elementary school. We were often told, “Don’t write on your arm; the pen ink will give you cancer!”
It had all started months before. I was a softball athlete and took a bad fall. My left leg swelled up, but we weren’t concerned as I often had injuries. Initially we were told I had a fracture, it would heal, and I just needed pain killers. When things grew worse instead of better, we went to another hospital.
That’s when they told me I had bone cancer.
Wrestling with my diagnosis
At first my family didn’t accept it. We felt the doctors didn’t know what they were talking about. I’d always been so healthy!
In Zimbabwe, there are two routes for handling health problems: western medicine, and the culturally traditional, spiritual route. So, my mom took me to several herbalists for treatments and to church for prayer. But when the pain and swelling continued, we returned to the hospital. The doctors said we needed to make a medical choice before it was too late, as left without treatment, bone cancer can prove fatal.
They said my leg would need to be amputated.
In Zimbabwe, having a disability carries such a stigma. I wasn’t concerned about the possibility of dying, but I wondered: would I still be “me” without my leg? I was only 12 years old.
How I found hope, strength and peace
Still, I never felt hopeless. People said I had such a positive mindset, and I believe it was because I was surrounded by people who loved me.
Growing up my family attended church and believed in God, but he felt hard to reach. Even out of reach. When my mom was seeking prayer for my sickness, someone invited us to their church. We wanted healing and weren’t honestly looking for God. But this is the beauty of it: in seeking a solution for my bone cancer, we found The Solution for everything.
Our search led us to Jesus. Before this, we didn’t know what it meant to have a relationship with him. Nobody wants to go through cancer, but for me, it was a door.
It opened the door to finding God, experiencing His love, and discovering His purpose for my life.
But before I could look to the future, I first needed to face surgery.
Losing my leg
The doctors said they would have to open my leg to see if they could simply remove the tumor, or if they would have to amputate. I went into the operation hopeful of coming out with both legs, but deep in my heart I somehow knew this was not going to be the result.
Still, nothing prepared me for waking up post-surgery without my left leg. I felt a mix of pain and denial as I tightly held my mom’s hand and screamed, “They have taken my leg.” This was both a question and an affirmation of my new reality.
That night, I awoke to see the curtains around my hospital bed swaying hard, like in a strong wind. No one else saw this.
I don’t know if I was influenced by pain medication, but seeing those curtains blowing was symbolic for me of the battle being won. The swaying showed me God was moving. God was fighting for me. There was more pain ahead in recovery and learning how to walk, but from that moment on, I felt God’s supportive, protective presence. I’ve taken it with me to this day.
Re-learning to walk
The first time I tried standing after amputation was very disorienting. I felt dizzy and had to spend a long time holding onto the bed.
Learning to walk post-surgery required a completely new way of navigating space. It was an adjustment I hadn’t thought about.
I now have both a prosthesis and crutches as options depending on my mood and schedule. My prosthesis is cool, but it’s more difficult to balance so when I’m in a rush or feel like wearing heels, I use crutches. I view both as my tools.
While my body began to adapt to my new reality, it took longer for my soul to.
Not defined by cancer
Someone once told me if you put salt in a canister labeled sugar, and sugar in a canister labeled salt, it doesn’t change what they are. Only the packaging is different.
After losing my leg, my packaging changed, but I remain. I’m not defined by bone cancer.
I’ve learned that despite cancer, my spirit and soul remain intact. This is true for others, too.
More doors open
The 12-year-old me, even with all my hope, never imagined how far God wanted to take me after losing my leg. So many doors have opened, in part because of my story.
I’m currently a junior at Columbia University in the United States, which I attend with a scholarship.
I’m also actively involved in cancer-relief and awareness efforts in Zimbabwe. At age 17, I founded my own organization, Youth Against Cancer.
After I graduate, I plan to go into neurosurgery or neuroscience research here in the States, while continuing to help shape public health policies in Zimbabwe.
Advice for others
When I was going through treatment and things were dire for my family, we didn’t let cancer steal our joy. Bone cancer sat with us at the dinner table and saw us still laughing. In the hardest moments, we helped each other move forward.
There is no secret ingredient that guarantees peace when you face cancer. Every person’s cancer journey is different, but I would tell others on this road: keep moving. Don’t say, “I’m done.” It’s easy to give up, but don’t. Cherish the little things that give you joy.
You’re not ignoring cancer or pretending it’s not here, but cancer is not the only thing. Hold on to God. If you don’t know him, maybe now can be your opportunity. He has a plan, and He’s the one who opens doors.
For more about how to find spiritual hope, see Knowing God Personally.
For how spiritual hope can help you on your journey, see God’s Help in Cancer.
For help with fear, see Fighting the Fear of Cancer.