Anne Pantazis had become familiar with the pain that had been shooting through her right leg for years.
It had started towards the end of 2018 during a trip to Europe with husband Alex, 62.
“I started noticing a really weird feeling in my shin at the front of my right leg,” she tells 9Honey. “It started to get tingly, like there was ice on it, then it would go away.
“I thought, ‘Hmmm something weird is going on there.”
When she returned home Anne, 55, visited her GP and it was concluded she must have been suffering from sciatica, a benign condition in which the sciatic nerve in the back and legs causes pain.
“But the numbness in my shin was what I couldn’t let go of,” she says. “Sciatica feels different. If you sit down or lie down with sciatica the pain goes away but with this the pain would increase. It would intensify.”
She explained this to doctors but felt they were “dismissive”.
Up until then she’d been in “fantastic” health, regularly attending the gym for pilates and enjoying long walks.
She was eventually referred to a neurologist and explained she felt something was wrong with her leg.
“From there, three spots developed in my inner thigh,” she explains. “They kind of looked like mozzie bites. Of course I showed them to my doctor but they said they didn’t think they were related to my leg pain.”
She was sent to Chris O’Brien Lifehouse for further testing where it was discovered she had an aggressive cancer in her right leg called sarcoma.
“I had this kind of sixth sense that my leg was going to come off,” she recalls. “I had 10 days to get used to the idea. I knew my leg was going to come off but I didn’t know how high up it would be.
“I thought I would be able to keep my hip, I thought I could cope with that. But they had to remove it as well. By then I had found this really strange strength. I had no more tears to cry.”
She credits her husband and boys with helping her stay strong, with her sons telling her: “You can get through it mum!”
Her entire right leg was removed including her femur, meaning she lost the ability to bend on her right side at her hip.
“The cancer was basically like an octopus or the root of a tree, it had intertwined itself and wrapped around the main artery in my leg. That’s why I had so much pain when lying down, it was cutting off the circulation and was around a bundle of nerves.”
“I remember the day before the operation,” she says. “Imagine someone told you tomorrow you won’t have a leg. I walked in the park one last time. I remember feeling the ground. I felt the stairs. I realised I was never going to feel like this again. I had a really long shower and thought this is the last time my right leg is going to feel it.”
She says waking up from the surgery was the “strangest feeling because I felt extremely light on my right side”.
“You lose six or seven kilos because that’s how heavy your leg is,” she says. “The worst thing is you are left with phantom pain and sensation after the surgery. And it felt like my right leg was hovering about the bed. It was weird.
“When they sat me up it felt like my leg was there but it had gone through the mattress. Then they sat me in a chair and it felt like my right leg had gone through the chair.”
Following her surgery Anne underwent radio therapy and suffered a “massive infection” in the residual area where her leg had met her hip, requiring another surgery.
“Unfortunately it took me 13 months to heal on top of everything, which meant that it delayed my rehab, plus the COVID lockdowns,” she says.
Because she lost the ability to bend at the hip on her right side, her prosthetic wraps around her waist.
“Only one per cent of all amputees in the world can’t use their hip,” she explains. “Many of us don’t use prosthetics so we can’t walk.
“For me it hasn’t been too long but I’m doing really well,” she says. “Maybe because I have a fitness background.”
She is currently working with a specialised physiotherapist as well as a gait trainer who specialises in prosthetics.
“We meet four to five times a week,” she says. “I am at rehab all the time.”
Watch the video above to see Anne using her prosthetic.
Today, Anne is doing as well as can be expected.
“I get up and try and do things as normally as possible,” she says. “I live in a two-story home so I use crutches up the stairs at the moment, mainly for safety reasons, but not my prosthetic yet. Yes, you can make a bed with one leg and crutches, it’s just a bit slower.
“Then I have breakfast and go to the gym or pilates. I do drive, I had a left foot pedal installed and it’s really good, so I have my freedom.
“What I don’t have yet is the confidence to go out with my prosthetic,” she explains. “I get out and about okay and to shopping centres but it is tiring. I’ll have a rest in the afternoon and in the evening I still cook dinner with one leg or with my prosthetic.”
She also misses wearing the clothes she used to wear and heels.
“Dressing as an amputee, you don’t feel like yourself,” she explains. “I used to wear really tight clothes but now I wear looser clothes so they fit over my hip prosthetic. I’ve started wearing wrap skirts and things like that.
“And I wear Sketchers at the moment. I’ll be able to wear a block heel later but not right now or I’ll fall over.”