Patricia has spent a lot of time thinking about what comes after this life. When a cancer diagnosis upended her world days before starting high school, she found herself dealing with unexpected changes. Here, she reflects on the joy she’s found despite these trials — and what it will be like to reunite with the piece of herself she lost.
I am one of the few people who actually enjoys running. It was central to my identity when I was 13. With my short legs, I was never the fastest runner, but my endurance made me a great fit for the mile. I had plans to compete in high school, even though I was daunted by how much quicker my mile time would have to be to compete with more tenured athletes. Still, I couldn’t imagine my life without it.
You’ve heard the cliche that your life can change in an instant. That’s what happened to me on August 24, 2013, two days before my freshman year of high school when my dad spotted the growing lump next to my left knee. At the time, I jokingly reassured him that it wasn’t like my leg was going to be cut off anytime soon. So when I was told less than two months later that I was losing my leg to cancer, you can imagine how a part of my identity was shattered in an instant.
When I think about death, I think about how a part of me is already dead. November 7, 2013, was my most sorrowful day. It was the last day I was two-legged. I wish I had gotten more time. I wish I had known that I would only get 14 years with my left leg.
But I also think about how I am still alive. And I know it means God still wants me to do more on this Earth. The world still needs me, as crazy as that sounds. So each year on November 8, I celebrate my life — not my birthday, but a celebration of my second life. The one that came after cancer. The one that involved losing a limb in order to live.
It’s an interesting concept. I love my life now, and I wouldn’t trade my left leg for the love and experiences I have had in the last nine years. Yet, when I think about the afterlife and what my biggest hope is (in addition to being with Jesus forever), I often daydream about reuniting with the part of me that has gone before me. I fear death like any normal human being who has a lot of love here on Earth, but this tangible reminder of being incomplete in this world through my physical body reminds me that the next life has more in store. More than I could possibly fathom.
When I see any of my friends competing in running events, I often wish that was me — because I know that if life panned out differently, I would be right there, running the race alongside them. But I also celebrate the joy that I have found in the remainder of my life despite missing a limb. This quote from St. Josemaria Escriva sums it up well: “To live one must die.” Losing my limb at such a young age taught me early on that my identity is not in my failures, my wins, or even what I look like. It is in Christ alone.
Whatever I lack in body parts, I do not lack in love. I am surrounded by people who love me. I have found my purpose in writing, singing, playing music, and in spreading God’s love by making each person I encounter feel seen. While I miss my left leg and I cannot wait for our reunion, I would not trade all of the beauty, goodness, and love I have experienced in the last nine years to have that limb back in my Earthy life. I have accepted that our reunion is not of this world.
I truly believe that in heaven, when we have our glorified bodies, they will be perfected with what we might have lost in our Earthly lives. If you were blind in this life, you will be able to see. If you were deaf, you will be able to hear. If you lost your left leg at 14, you will be reunited with it at last.
This is my hope for the afterlife. I won’t know until I am there, but it is my loss that gives me the motivation to live life with the fervor that I possess. Until then, I am excited for the day that I no longer have to celebrate being cancer free because it means I have joined my left leg in the next life. In the afterlife, I believe that we achieve the wholeness that we spend our earthly lives and broken hearts chasing after. And how wonderful it will be, to be whole — not just in body but also in spirit.