‘How I let them amputate my leg’: Turkish sports presenter explains
Photos: Muhsin AkgünWhat is it like for someone to give up their leg?
Caner Eler, well-known in Turkey as a presenter for Eurosport and a writer for the Radikal website and Socrates football magazine, was diagnosed with bone cancer 15 years ago. Even though he managed to beat the illness, he came away from the battle with two crutches. He set his mind to getting rid of those two crutches and eventually did what had to be done: He sacrificed his right leg.
Now, Caner is stepping into his new life with a new prosthetic leg. He told his story to Hürriyet:
I had an operation seven months ago. My right leg was amputated 6-7 centimeters above the knee. I made the decision myself. No doctors or anyone else pushed me into doing this.
I made this decision so I could live my life and be able to walk a little: Paradoxically, my leg had to be amputated if I ever wanted to walk again.
I need to start from the beginning so I can tell you what happened.
I was born in 1980. I grew up as a healthy and athletic child. My mother and the rest of my family took good care of me and raised me well, despite the fact that I lost my father when I was five.
I started playing basketball when I was 17 years old, and went on to play in the Istanbul Technical University (İTÜ) team.
In the following years, at the end of the year 2000, I started to get extremely sharp pains in my right knee.
I found out that I had bone cancer just after starting university and when I had dreams for my future. The medical term for my condition is Osteosarcoma.
A bomb had exploded right in the middle of my life. I had been diagnosed with cancer just as I was about to become either a basketball player or an engineer.
It was a life-threatening illness. Treatment had to begin at once.
At that age, all this was really hard for me to get my head around as I waited for the train home at the “train station full of emptiness,” like in a Nuri Bilge Ceylan movie.
But afterwards I was never really alone. Family, friends and everyone else around me took care of me in different ways. That was one thing I was lucky about.
LOSING A LIMB? NEVER!
The sequence of long chemotherapy sessions and operations began.
The tumor was right below my right knee. It was huge. At first, the doctors advised me to have my leg amputated, which would stop the cancer from spreading. But it turned out that the tumor was malignant.
I couldn’t stand the idea of losing a limb. That is how we did some research and came upon a different solution: Opening up the leg and replacing the bone with prosthesis.
It was still a new method at the time. A difficult procedure.
In May 2001, the prosthesis was attached to my leg in a 12-hour operation, right in the middle of a long chemotherapy hell that had me staying at the hospital for five days at a time and struggling with all the hair loss.
There is now a metal part where my bone should be in three quarters of my leg beneath the skin and tissue. Like in the Terminator movies.
The chemotherapy continued after the operation. Then the physiotherapy began. Just when I had started to think that chemotherapy was the toughest test on earth, I met its brother: Nerve pains.
During the operation on my leg the nerves had been cut and re-attached, which meant that the entire nervous system in my knee was restructuring itself. This caused unbearable pain. Imagine someone piercing various parts of your leg with hundreds of thousands of needles.
It only stopped when I passed out from the pain.
All the time, my lung was collecting fluids. I had to walk around everywhere with a tube dangling from my back.
The breakdowns, the cursing, the regrets…
But there was always a part of me that never lost hope.
Holding onto that was vital. Those days are now behind me.
MY GOAL WAS TO USE ‘THE TIME I HAD LEFT’
The illness and its process had changed me.
Nothing bothered me anymore. I set my sights on doing whatever I wanted with my life during the time I had left. Travelling, reading endlessly, watching people…
My senses were much more acute. The light shone on my face in a different way. I used the cancer as a guide. What’s more, I had gotten rid of it…
But “it” didn’t seem to want to get rid of me.
The cancer came up again, just after I had started to ride a bicycle after the lengthy physiotherapy sessions.
I relied constantly on both of my crutches to walk during this period.
Just as I had just started to walk with a single crutch for the first time and started to say to myself “I am finally going to walk again,” the tumor came back with a heavy infection.
My body was rejecting the alien material that had been placed inside my leg. It was a moment of huge disappointment. Once more I had to go through operations, treatment, trying to live abroad…
During that dark time in my life I had already decided to hold on to what I loved.
My entrance into the world of sports media in 2006, through the Eurosport TV station and the Four Four Two magazine, was a result of that decision. I was trying to focus on the things that I enjoyed in life.
My leg, however, seemed to be bent on leaving my body more and more with each passing day. Maybe I had also distanced myself from it.
Eventually, the cancer again left my body.
But I could still only move around with the help of two crutches.
The first prosthesis was removed from my leg. A long nail was put in its place to keep my leg stable. The nail stopped the antibiotic filled cement from breaking while my body tried to cleanse itself.
After a long wait my second prosthesis arrived from Germany. Would it work this time? Well, as I was going through physiotherapy once again, my body rejected the prosthesis for a second time.
More infections, more reversals.
My life had become like the movie “Groundhog Day.”
FAREWELL RIGHT LEG, FAREWELL CRUTCHES
But at the same time, my sports commentary and writing had really started to take off. I held onto what I loved.
I also became a coffee-addict. One of my favorite things to do was to make my own coffee at home, even though I couldn’t actually carry it myself. Actually, I used to move my legs as if I was doing a type of swing dance, and made my way around the living-room in that way.
There was always someone there trying to make my movements easier for me, but the time had come for me to help myself.
All the time, my body had started to give off warning signals. I was nearly 35 years old. Living with two crutches was straining. The constant pain didn’t help either.
I went to the hospital once again. I told them about my idea.
I was constantly reading about my illness and had done endless research on it - checking constantly for a new treatment or procedure, searching for stem cells, etc.
The best method was still the inner leg prosthesis that had flung me back to square one every time I had tried it. However, I was now thinking about what was first recommended to me: Having my leg amputated.
The thought of consciously giving up a limb drifted in and out of my mind.
I went to expert psychiatrists. They said I had come to make this decision in a very healthy way. Some invited me to attend conferences if I did end up going through with the operation. I now needed to break the news to my friends and family.
I told my girlfriend, family and friends about my idea. Their support was important. The process began.
THE DAYS STARTED TO PASS
That’s how I left my leg that had prosthesis in it to medical students.
But it wasn’t so easy to get used to my new self.
First of all, the pains didn’t seem to go away. “Phantom pains” caused the brain to remember the nervous pains, as it didn’t accept that my leg was not there, even though it had been amputated.
It was exhausting.
I kept reaching down to where my foot and knee used to be. I felt nervous pains strong enough to bring down an elephant in a place that wasn’t even there anymore. I was filled with the feeling that I still hadn’t managed to get rid of it.
Those days are now behind me.
First, a new temporary prosthesis was put in place. I tried to adjust to standing up and walking with it. It was a struggle. I found it very difficult to sleep for some nights after the operation. I kept dreaming that I was walking like I used to. Would that ever happen?
It’s hard for me to describe the moment I took my first steps.
I was able to take a step for the first time without crutches in 15 years. It probably wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t matter - it was my step.
I improved slightly as the days went on and my new prosthetic leg called X3 arrived. I had visually improved from Arnold Schwarzenegger the Terminator to Peter Weller from Robocop.
The doctors told me that I will eventually be able to ride a bicycle and even run around in the open air with it.
It wouldn’t be too bad if I could cycle in the 2020 Paralympic Games. But I am just thankful to be able to carry the espresso that I made in the kitchen to the living room at the moment.
The prosthetic leg is now set. But my body has to be stronger to get rid of the last crutch completely. I’m working on that now. Of course it’s not that easy…
Translator: Yasemin Güler