After Amputation

It’s National Amputee Awareness Week from the 4th to the 11th. Marsha Danzig lost her lower leg to cancer when she was 13. Here’s how she found strength and courage through yoga. 

I was five when I was diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare, cancerous tumor that occurs in bones or soft tissue. It was 1967, and the survival rate was below 20 percent. Laying in my hospital bed with my entire family surrounding me, a priest came to perform last rites (my grandmother told me I was receiving my first communion). As soon as the priest placed the holy wafer on my tongue, a profound spiritual experience took place. I felt a deep sensation of trust settle into my bones—and I knew that I would be OK. Against the odds, I survived, and after about a year of chemotherapy and radiation, I found remission.

Asana came a few years later. I recall thumbing through a Guinness Book of World Records, which contained pictures of yogis in various postures or suspending their breath for long periods of time. As a young gymnast and ballerina, I was curious. I began constantly “playing yoga” anywhere I could—on the couch, in the backyard, during recess.

When I turned 13, I noticed a lump on my lower left tibia. I thought I’d sprained my ankle, but the cancer had actually come back—and it was advanced. I was admitted to Boston Children’s Hospital, and within 10 days, doctors amputated my left leg below the knee and started chemotherapy. I was terrified and traumatized. Throughout high school, I was in and out of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. I was hairless, missing half a leg, and, like so many teenage girls, wondering if I would ever get a boyfriend.

Still, with help from my yoga practice, I persisted. For the next 17 years, I practiced in dorm rooms, on mountaintops, in trendy gyms, and on the linoleum floors of outdated churches. In those days, I had a clunky below-knee prosthetic leg; the design hadn’t changed since World War II. My prosthetic foot had no traction or ankle flexion. I’d stand on towels or blankets and try to balance, but I was sliding all over the place. This forced me to learn how to build a stronger core, move from my center, and stabilize my limbs. I adapted and invented my own poses to work with what I had at the time. Yoga teachers didn’t know what to do with me, yet I kept showing up.

But when I was 33, the long-term effects of radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery took their toll. My kidneys failed, and I was placed on dialysis for the next 11 years.

Read the rest of Marsha’s story in the next issue of November issue Australian Yoga Journal, on sale on October the 18th of by subscription here: