Student who lost leg to cancer stops hiding her disability to inspire others
After being diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma (a type of bone cancer) at the age of six and undergoing three years of gruelling treatment, Felicia Cantone came to a decision.
At the age of nine, she told her parents ‘let’s get rid of this useless thing’.
That ‘useless thing’ was her right leg, which she had amputated above the knee.
Doctors had told Felicia’s family that amputation was the only way she would survive, but the moment her parents had to choose to have her leg removed was still incredibly difficult.
‘It was a big shock to us all,’ says Felicia. ‘Being a minor, I was too young to make the decision, so my parents made it for me. But they did give me the option.
‘When I woke up from the operation I remember being surrounded by family members and flinging off the covers to see my missing leg.’
Felicia, now 22, doesn’t remember much about experiencing illness at such a young age.
‘I’ve just chosen to block out the memories,’ she tells Metro.co.uk. ‘I can imagine it was quite hard for my parents trying to tell a child that they are different and things will be different.
‘I remember when I was told about my leg amputation. I screamed and cried but dad gave me some money to go to Hamleys and I soon calmed down.
‘I always wished I was older before loosing my leg so I could have more of a normal lifestyle. But losing my leg so young was probably a good thing as children learn to adapt quicker.’
While Felicia adapted quickly to getting around with one leg, she felt a lot of shame about her body.
Growing up, she wanted to be ‘like the normal kids’, and as she grew older and started using social media, she found herself consciously hiding her disability.
‘I would never post pictures where you could see my disability,’ Felicia explains. ‘Even on dating apps, I’d hide it too.’
Felicia started a separate Instagram account, hidden from her friends, family, and anyone she knew, where she was comfortable sharing photos embracing her disability because she thought no one who knew her in real life would see them.
But then she began to get positive feedback from the strangers who followed her page.
Soon, she was building up followers and receiving comments and messages from people thanking her for her openness.
In 2017, Felicia made another decision: to make her body positivity page her main Instagram account and ‘come out’ as an amputee.
‘I’ve never looked back,’ she says. ‘It’s who I am – why hide it?
‘It’s something I wanted to do for my own self-esteem but also, I’ve realised there are so many people in the same position as me before, that are insecure and scared to show there disability.
Now, Felicia is a body positivity advocate, and shares photos with her body on show, to inspire people to embrace their differences.
She tells us: ‘It’s really empowering to know that I’m helping other individuals in a similar position to me to gain confidence within them self.
‘I didn’t realise how much I had an influence on other disabled people.
‘I don’t plan to stop and I hope my page will help more disabled people become more confident just by looking at me doing it.’
Felicia, from Essex, has ditched the prosthetics, in part to stop hiding that she is an amputee, but also because they’re simply too uncomfortable.
‘I don’t use my leg because it hurts too much to wear,’ says Felicia. ‘I’d love to use a leg and not using my crutches as I hate being reliant on people to carry things for me.
‘But I feel restricted in my prosthetic leg and I get sores in my groin so I’ve decided not to wear it anymore and embrace my disability.
‘Day to day I use crutches, for long distances I’ll use a wheelchair and I rely heavily on my car.’
While Felicia has overcome the struggle of feeling ashamed of her body, she still has to battle against her illness.
The student has been told that her condition is incurable, and while she has had multiple chemotherapy and gone through alternative treatment in Mexico, her tumours continue to return and grow.
For now, she’s on chemotherapy tablets, which cause the skin around her mouth to break and become sore.
‘At the moment it’s not my illness that affects me too much, it’s the side effects from the chemotherapy,’ Felicia says. ‘I’m constantly neutropenic, which mean my immune system is low and I’m susceptible to infection. I’m constantly tired and can’t do too much physically. Also, my mouth gets bad ulcers, which affects eating and talking.’
Felicia is now raising money on GoFundMe to go towards alternative treatments that will help her live with less suffering.
‘I only have two more options once my chemotherapy tablets stop working, and I’m worried about my options in the future,’ she explains. ‘Having the funds will allow me to potentially find a cure and stop chemotherapy once and for all.
‘Any contribution will really help my future plans to being cancer free.’
While she waits for further treatment and raises money, Felicia refuses to let her illness hold her back.
She says: ‘I could be worse. I try to not let my illness affect my life as I still crave a good quality of life.
‘I socialise as much as possible and I’m in my last year at university.
‘I find it hard to say I’m proud of myself. Even when people say I’m an inspiration I find it hard to acknowledge because it’s just normal to me how I do things.
‘I’ve been told I manage so well, but it’s life for me. If I complete uni and get the grades I want I will be proud of myself for that because I’m not that academic, and if I can do it anyone can.
‘My dreams for the future, first and foremost, are to become cancer free.
‘I’ve always wanted my own business. I just want to be really successful so I can enjoy life to the fullest – because being ill makes you realise that anything can happen at any time.’
Proud Of What We’re Made Of
This article is part of our weekly series, Proud Of What We’re Made Of, celebrating inspirational women with powerful stories.
Each Wednesday we’ll share the story of a woman who’s overcome challenges to achieve something amazing. You can read every Proud Of What We’re Made Of article here.
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