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20th July 2015

One woman’s fight against cancer – and the system

It was a busy but exciting time. Eileen Casey’s three kids were all in college and she was moving house. But when her doctor told her she had bone cancer, everything was turned upside down.

Eileen embarked on a journey that would take her through chemotherapy and amputation, to a legal battle that saw her named Advocate of the Year by the Amputee Coalition of America.

After her diagnosis, she spent a week getting her affairs in order and tying up loose ends at work before beginning 42 weeks of treatment. Next she had her lower leg removed to prevent the cancer from spreading.

“Through all that, I found myself cut down and completely, devastatingly helpless with this diagnosis. I did not know what to do and was in complete shock for a long time after surgery,” Eileen has said.

Thankfully, she recovered. The cancer responded to treatment and the amputation wound healed.

But when the time came to replace the first temporary prosthesis with a tailor-made artificial leg, Eileen was in for another shock.

Eileen lives in Vermont, in the north-east of the United States. She learned that her health insurance only provided enough cover for one prosthesis in her lifetime. So having paid for the initial temporary prosthesis, the insurer was not required to fund the permanent replacement.

For someone who enjoyed aerobics and skiing, the thought that the fine print of her insurance contract might stand in the way of her making a full recovery was unbearable.

Eileen spearheaded a legal battle to change Vermont’s laws, requiring companies to cover prostheses for amputees. And she won. How did she feel when she heard the news?

“I did the one-legged Irish jig at my desk… I was crying and everybody in the office was crying”

The law she helped to pass transformed the lives of many more amputees. And along the way she met many more people who had lost limbs from cancer, meningitis, diabetes, car accidents and even in terrorist attacks.

Eileen now volunteers to help amputees adjust to their new realities. The transition can be challenging. “Even now, I’ll get up in the middle of the night to get out of bed and I forget that I don’t have a leg,” she says.

While Eileen understands how hard it can be to accept a cancer diagnosis and amputation, her message is always positive.

“Remember you’re alive; you’re still here with us!”

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