First published in CosiTalks
by Cosi Belloso
There are many questions I receive from patients in their first visits for physical therapy. Questions such as “Will I ever walk again?” or “How long is it going to take me to learn to use a prosthesis?” One interesting question that I hear from both my male and female patients is "Should I wear a cosmetic skin cover on my prosthesis?"
For those who are unfamiliar with the construct of a basic leg prosthesis, continue below….
Simply put, a prosthesis will attempt to mimic a real leg. It is composed of three basic parts: a socket (where the limb inserts), a shank (which takes the place of the lower leg or thigh bones), and a foot. If a person is an above knee amputee, a knee component is added to simulate joint movement. Thanks to advances in technology, there are now hundreds of combinations of sockets, shanks, and feet with multiple systems, materials, and even computerized parts that can create an artificial limb.
When being fit for a prosthesis, an individual with limb loss has the option of ordering a cosmetic covering to be placed over the entire prosthesis to give the leg a skin-like appearance.
What's a person to choose? Do they show off their "metal" or do they go for a more subtle approach?
While I am not an amputee, I am a recent breast cancer survivor----so I know a thing or two about the impact of your body changing completely from one day to the next…
Seeing myself in the mirror after my first surgery to remove the cancer was a shock---and a realization that I would never be the same, both inside and out.
And then came chemo.
Within ten days of receiving my first chemo infusion, all of my hair fell out. All of it. Not gradually thinning out like many patients experience--all of it in several shopping bags. And it was as horrible an experience as the movies and TV shows make it out to be. Not going to lie.
Little known fact about me---way back when, I actually made quite a paycheck doing modeling--for hair (don't look so surprised!)---hair shows, commercials, and even print. To say that my hair was a huge part of my feminine physical identity would have been quite the understatement.
Did I realize that it would grow back eventually? Yes.
Did I realize that I was fighting for my life and that I needed to focus on winning the battle against cancer? Yes.
Did I understand that true beauty comes from within? Yes.
But all I saw were bags of what used to be my pride and joy sitting on the floor and how I resembled a cue ball----and that bald was not beautiful.
It took a solid week for the shock and grief to start wearing off. In the meantime, I had to explain to my young children (two girls, two boys) what was going on. I told them the chemo was killing the "bad guys" (cancer cells) and that the "good guys" (hair, nails, etc) were getting caught in the crossfire.
My children and my sweet husband saw that I was grieving this loss and to a certain extent, I let them see my sadness. Then it was time to put the big girl pants on. While I think it's important for children to see the hard realities that life can bring, I also believe they need to see how to face these tough situations with faith and strength and courage—and a sense of humor. I prayed with the kids thanking God for the medications that were killing the cancer. We knew that if my hair was falling out, then the medicine was doing its job.
And then came the makeover….[cue “Pretty Woman” montage]
I had the option of wearing a wig but when I tried a couple on, they were uncomfortable and I didn't get that "I feel like my old self" feeling that many women experience when they try on their wigs. Instead, my new look involved a lot of all black ensembles and lots of eyeliner (think soccer mom meets The Matrix).
This helped me channel some of the grief as well as acknowledging that like it or not, this was the hand I was dealt and I had two choices: play or fold. It also gave my girls (and boys) a chance to see that it was ok to be sad about a lousy situation, but that you can never give up.
It's not to say I didn't "cover up"--- there is a great neon blue wig phase I went through:
There were many days where I didn't want to be asked questions by well meaning strangers and I didn't want to be stared at----a lot of "I just want to pull the covers over my head until this nightmare is over" days.
Given my situation, those days were to be expected and I allowed myself to experience them. It was all part of the process of fighting my cancer and eventually, healing from the ordeal.
When I see one of my amputee patients struggle with accepting their new body---it pulls at my heart. Even now, almost 5 years later, I still have moments of wishing I could have my old body back and realizing that those scars are here to stay (battle wounds).
So I guess my (very) long winded point to my patients is this----there is no wrong answer. Whether you choose to blend your prosthesis with your skin or you dare to bare it all, it's all good.
Nowadays, there is a slowly but surely growing awareness in our culture of those who wear prosthetic devices thanks to the amazing accomplishments of athletes such as Amy Purdy and Jessica Long to name a couple. Innovative companies such as Socket Socks provide amputees a beautiful and stylish way to show off their unique personalities with removable covers for their sockets (the mermaid print is by absolute favorite!).
When I see someone proudly displaying their metal, it reminds me of the days when I walked around town with nothing on my head----the days where I felt strong and confident and quite frankly my dear, I didn’t give a damn.
When I see someone with limb loss who chooses a cosmetic covering, I think of the days when I wore a scarf----when I wanted to fade a little into the background and fight my battle quietly but with no less strength or courage.
So, do you dare to bare?