Jess Quinn lost her leg to can­cer as a 9-year-old. In her early teens, she went years without wear­ing shorts. To­day, at 25, the fashion school grad­u­ate is a so­cial me­dia in­flu­encer, blog­ger and brand ambassador liv­ing in Auck­land, in­spir­ing fol­low­ers acro

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Iwas out­side one day play­ing with my older sis­ter in our back­yard and thought I’d show off a lit­tle bit and stand on a soc­cer ball. I lost my bal­ance, heard a snap, and fell to the ground scream­ing. It turned out I’d bro­ken my fe­mur. I was rushed into surgery to fix the break. That whole period’s quite blurry to me. I re­mem­ber be­ing like: “Oh, six weeks in plas­ter – this is hell.” I was su­per ath­letic and just wanted to get back into that.

I started re­hab and my leg just wasn’t re­ally heal­ing. I could walk but I was in a lot of pain. They put me through a se­ries of tests. And they found a tu­mour in my fe­mur, which is what had caused it to break.

The can­cer was quite far along and be­cause of the break, the risk of it hav­ing spread was quite high. I was rushed back into hos­pi­tal and pretty much im­me­di­ately started chemo. The chemo wasn’t shrink­ing my can­cer, so the de­ci­sion was made to am­pu­tate my leg. My surgery was booked in for mid-Oc­to­ber of 2001.

When you’re that young, you don’t un­der­stand the im­pli­ca­tions of what you’re go­ing through. Ob­vi­ously I knew I was re­ally sick. But I guess when you’re a kid, you’re liv­ing day by day. You’re like: “Ugh, I’m vom­it­ing again,” as op­posed to: “Ugh, I’ve got can­cer.” I feel like it would have been much harder for my par­ents. It was the same when I was told I was los­ing my leg. It wasn’t un­til later in life that the im­pli­ca­tions hit me.

My surgery op­tions were quite lim­ited – a full dis­ar­tic­u­la­tion, which would have seen my leg gone from as high up my hip socket as pos­si­ble. Getting a pros­thetic is re­ally dif­fi­cult, be­cause you don’t have a lot to at­tach it to. A lot of people in that sit­u­a­tion end up in a wheel­chair. The other op­tion was a re­ally rare surgery called a ro­ta­tion­plasty. I was, I think, the first suc­cess­ful one in New Zealand.

Af­ter the surgery, I was in ICU for quite some time. Once my im­mune sys­tem was strong enough, I did more chemo. Christ­mas Day of 2001, things got re­ally bad – my im­mune sys­tem was so low. I was in hos­pi­tal over Christ­mas. From there, I don’t re­mem­ber a lot. Things just started to im­prove. From what we could see, the can­cer had gone. I had my last day of chemo – that’s always a big party at the hos­pi­tal – and went home and pro­gressed back into life. That’s how I see it but I’m sure it was prob­a­bly a bit less seam­less than I make it sound.

I was su­per ex­cited to get my first pros­thetic. It’s the naivete of a child, but it was like: “Oh well, I’ve lost that leg but I’m getting a new one, I’ll jump up and off I’ll go.” I was on crutches for a cou­ple of years while I was learn­ing to walk. There was a lot of back and forward fig­ur­ing out how to make a pros­thetic for this kind of surgery. The first three to five years, I had con­stant blis­ter­ing, was in and out of hos­pi­tal, and was kept under re­ally close watch, as all can­cer pa­tients are.

I definitely wasn’t treated any dif­fer­ently at school – people were prob­a­bly overly nice to me [laughs]. I’m not one for sym­pa­thy and I prob­a­bly got more than I needed. In that period, I didn’t get back into any sports. Walk­ing, for me, was hard enough. For years and years I’d sit on the side­lines in PE, but I was always a happy kid. When I got to col­lege I started join­ing in with the things I could do. I was tri­alling for net­ball teams, do­ing goal shoot, so I wouldn’t have to run. It got to the point where I was always put in the bot­tom team even though I could shoot a ball re­ally well. That started to do my head in, so I gave that up. That’s about the time I found my love of the gym and I could just go in, fig­ure out the things I could and couldn’t do.

It got to a point where I could do ev­ery­thing ex­cept run. So I de­cided to or­der a blade pros­thetic.

I’ve had my blade for about three years and it took about a year to ac­tu­ally get used to it – it doesn’t feel like a leg at all. It’s springy and un­sta­ble… I worked with a trainer for about six months to fig­ure out the run­ning mo­tion. I’m still not at the stage where I can go for a run on the street but I’ll do a lit­tle jog to go and fill up my water bot­tle. It sounds so stupid but to me, just those lit­tle things... I was with my friends at that pink bridge in Auck­land [the Light Path]. It started buck­et­ing down with rain and they started run­ning ahead and I had my blade on and I re­alised, I can run!

It was in my teenage years that it re­ally hit home. You’re at an age where you’re go­ing through body im­age and other is­sues any­way, and on top of that, I had lost my leg and it looked very weird and I was just re­ally un­der­stand­ing the im­pli­ca­tions it was go­ing to have on my future: “OK, s..., I’ve got no leg. Forever.”

For eight years I didn’t wear any­thing shorter than my knee. We’d go to Fiji on fam­ily hol­i­days and I’d be in high-top sneak­ers and denim knee-length shorts, ab­so­lutely sweat­ing. At school I was getting my skirt length­ened – not short­ened as all the other girls were. My mum would pick me up and if we were go­ing to the mall I’d ask her to bring me some track­pants, say­ing I was cold when I wasn’t, but I just wanted to hide.

The na­ture of my surgery [means my leg’s] su­per skinny – my thigh area wasn’t the same size as my other thigh. Ev­ery time I would go out I would wrap T-shirts and socks and jumpers and ev­ery­thing I could find around that thigh area, us­ing mask­ing tape to look like I had a thigh. I’d take it off at night and start again the next day. My dad even­tu­ally found some­one who could make a sleeve that would look like a thigh, which was great. I started to be­come more con­fi­dent.

I was at a friend’s place and she wanted me to bor­row a pair of her shorts. I was so ner­vous, I don’t know why – these are my clos­est friends and they all know what I’d gone through – but I put on these shorts and I re­mem­ber feel­ing so free. It was the weird­est thing. Now I just wear what ev­ery girl wears when­ever I want.

Ever since then, I was con­fi­dent in my ap­pear­ance but some­thing I’ve re­alised now is, it was just to a de­gree. I was con­fi­dent be­cause my pros­thetic looked quite real.

When I got my blade I was re­ally ner­vous, be­cause the blade ob­vi­ously has no chance of look­ing like a leg. I thought I’d be con­scious of ev­ery­one look­ing at me but I had the op­po­site re­ac­tion – I felt so free I wasn’t hid­ing some­thing. It was like: “Wow that’s cool,” or: “Wow, that girl’s got no leg,” in­stead of: “I won­der why she’s limp­ing?”

I get so many mes­sages. I had a guy mes­sage me say­ing: “I was so over it, couldn’t do it any more, then I came across your page.” Or they say: “I didn’t want to go to the gym to­day, then I saw you were at the gym.”

I get a lot of girls mes­sag­ing me – whether they’ve had a surgery and it’s left a scar they don’t like or even just an ev­ery­day body in­se­cu­rity, They’ll say: “You’ve given me hope that if you can be con­fi­dent in your in­se­cu­rity, I can, too.”

I do con­sider my­self quite lucky to have gone through what I went through at such a young age. I didn’t see any other op­tion than bouncing back.

When I’m in my ev­ery­day leg, which is very life­like, you wouldn’t know ex­cept for the fact I limp a lit­tle bit. In that leg, I’m just me and half the time I al­most for­get I don’t have a leg. In my blade I’m kind of this ath­lete and I can – or at least, I be­lieve I can – do any­thing I want. I can run across the road if a car was com­ing. I have all these move­ments I don’t have in my nor­mal leg.

I’ve got a third leg which I don’t wear as of­ten, which is my swim­ming leg. It had a stan­dard cover on it and I’ve never liked it, be­cause it looks ugly. I’ve re­cently stripped that leg back to just a pole. I want to cre­ate some­thing in that space in­stead of it pre­tend­ing to look like a leg when it’s not.

They’re all dif­fer­ent and also bring out dif­fer­ent sides of me, or give me dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties.

A lot of people ask me what I can­not do and lit­er­ally the only thing is ride a bike, be­cause I can’t bend to make the pedal go round. Ev­ery­thing else I be­lieve is a mat­ter of mind­set.

“Am­putees have this thing where, you’ve got a leg but it’s not your leg, it’s this plas­tic skin and it doesn’t feel like your own. So I worked with [artist] An­drew Steel and he did a whole lot of art­work that was all per­sonal to me on the blade [us­ing the Sam­sung Note 8]. He sat me down and I was ba­si­cally telling him my whole life, and he was sketch­ing lit­tle icons that came into his mind. I love cook­ing and I love health and box­ing. I was kind of like getting a tat­too, re­ally. It’s a piece that rep­re­sents me.”

On track: Jess Quinn isn’t up to sprint­ing yet, but says she can “do a lit­tle jog”.

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