Emma was born on July 25, 2003 and from that very day that she was born, it was clear she would accomplish great things. She grew up as an active, healthy little girl with her mom Claudia, her dad Emil and eventually her little sister Lizi. When Emma was 3 years old she began taking gymnastics and quickly fell in the love with the sport. She began with only one class a week, however by the time she was 11 she was working in the gym for close to 16 hours a week. She was placing at exceptional levels in provincial level competitions, as well as club level competitions. At one point in time Emma was balancing school, competitive gymnastics, and dance and managing to excel at each of those. In April of 2015 after a prestigious gymnastics competition, Emma made the transition to focus on dance instead of gymnastics and practiced in acro and jazz classes on the part-time competitive team at a local dance studio. She truly did the best, and was the best in everything she took part in; she was a valued member of each team, and family she was apart of.
One evening in the beginning February of 2016, Emma was at home practicing when she fell and injured her knee. In the days after her fall she noticed increased pain in her knee but when ice didn’t do the trick as it had before, they knew something was different. Throughout all of the pain Emma continued dancing and competing on her injured knee, until one day when the pain became severe and was accompanied by swelling and hardening of the area. After an X-RAY and examination of a doctor, it was concluded that there was no broken bones and she was to continue her regiment of ice and anti-inflammatory medications. Despite her best efforts the swelling and pain continued and during a routine visit to her pediatrician it was concluded that the swelling and hardness in her knee was a hematoma. A hematoma is an abnormal collection of blood outside of a blood vessel. She was told to stop all of her extra curricular activities and allow time for her knee to heal, in the mean time an ultrasound and physiotherapy were prescribed to help It heal. Two weeks and four physiotherapy sessions later, Emma’s doctor received the results of the initial X-RAY and explained that there was a strange image around her femur bone that could not be explained by a fall. The results were sent to our local children’s hospital for a second opinion, it didn’t take long for them to get a call back. While she waited Emma participated in a dance competition on her swollen and hardened knee, her first and only that year as she refused to let her team down.
In mid-March (2016) Emma went to the hospital for her appointment. Emma, her mother and father entered the hospital intending to see an orthopedic specialist but instead found themselves in the cancer clinic where the heard the word “osteosarcoma” –a form of bone cancer. After an MRI, a biopsy in the following days the doctors confirmed their worst fear, Emma had cancer. When Emma tells this story she says, “I thought the worst I would hear was a broken bone, cancer never crossed my mind”. March 28th, 2016 brought the final and official diagnosis that Emma’s “hematoma” was actually a cancerous tumor along with the devastating shock that 2 small additional tumors were found on both lungs–indicating that the cancer had spread. Here we have a 12 year old girl, and her mother and father who had known nothing but a healthy, active, passionate and unstoppable little girl having to swallow the news that she not only has cancer in her bones but in her knee as well.
“Despair–again, shock–again, denial–again. This can’t be true” – Claudia, Emma’s mom
Emma’s treatment protocol included 16 rounds of chemotherapy, after facing the devastating reality that she would lose her hair she was faced with another decision…a decision no family, nor child should ever have to make. Emma’s femur bone and knee joint needed to be amputated, she had a few options for surgery including a traditional amputation that would include inserting a metal rod as her leg or a less traditional limb sparing amputation known as a rotationplasty. In Emma’s words, “a rotationplasty is a surgery where they removed my tumor and knee joint where the cancer was; then used my healthy tibia bone, rotated it 180 degrees backwards and reattached it to my remaining part of my leg (the upper thigh). Now my ankle faces upwards and acts as my knee. When I put my prosthetic on and flex my foot, its like bending my knee; and when I point my foot it straightens out my prosthesis.” This decision didn’t come easily for Emma’s parents, but for Emma she knew instantly. The rotationplasty was a perfect decision that she made because it would allow her to dance again; it’s not a traditional amputation, it’s not something you see every day but Emma did it for no one but herself and her love for dance.
After her rotationplasty chemotherapy continued, but those rounds of chemo did not come without struggle, side effects, and difficult symptoms. Emma lost 5 kg during her first chemo rounds and required an NG (nasogastric) feeding tube to help supplement her with nutrition. Her taste buds changed drastically making even her favourite foods taste like metal, it was difficult to gain weight let alone eat when everything tastes vile. In between completing her rounds of chemo, Emma had her two lung surgeries to remove the tumor metastasis. Emma faced both surgeries with grace, poise and an optimistic attitude–and that grace paid off. Despite some unexpected hurdles during the second surgery, Emma got through each experience and came out stronger. I know it is cliché, but it is true in every sense of the phrase in her regard. Emma truly takes and has taken every obstacle and experience and treated it as an opportunity to learn and grow from, instead of to simply overcome them.
Finally, on December 30th Emma had her final chemotherapy treatment. She celebrated in her hospital room with a few of her favourite visitors, her central line was removed and Emma is back to resuming her life as the active, passionate, intelligent young woman she is. Only days after having her line removed Emma was already swimming and back in the gym that she grew up in training to get her strength back for dance, and for life. Emma is still in the process of getting fitted for her prosthesis; she needs to go through three models accompanied with extensive physiotherapy for each to gain stability and learn to walk, run, and eventually dance using her prosthetic leg.
When I first met Emma and her mom at the hospital, one of the first things she said to me was that everything happens for a reason and that was their mantra throughout Emma’s treatment. I find so much beauty and importance in that because they used it to remind themselves of the beauty that can exist even when your world crumbles. I’ve spent so much time with Emma since meeting her only a few months ago, and I find myself in awe of her every word. There are not many adults, let alone children, that act with the dignity and grace that she possesses and understands. She truly has learned the hardest lessons life has to offer, in the most poised manner. I have nothing but love and admiration for Emma, for her strength, for her grace, for her willpower and passion, for her love for life and those in her life, and her understanding that difficult paths will lead us to beautiful destinations. At the end of the day, Emma is not just a girl who had cancer or an amputation; Emma is a daughter, she is a friend, a cousin, gymnast, a dancer, a fighter, a lover, and a courageous human being that this world is blessed to have in it.
Emma, you are a reminder of all things good and beautiful in this world and a reason why those things exist. You are a gift to me, to us, to this world and I know it has magnificent things in store for you. I’m humbled by your courage, inspired by your wisdom, and honored to be your friend. This world is yours.