Overcoming challenges and helping others

In October 2018, 11 years after surviving cancer, the metal rod inserted into her leg to replace the cancerous bone failed for the last time. After enduring the ever repeating cycle of learning to walk, Josephine opted to have her left leg amputated above the knee and hasn’t looked back since. 

In the 12 months that followed, Josephine focused solely on getting up and about and was determined to rediscover her freedom of movement. To drive towards this goal, Josephine visited Dorset Orthopaedics’ Midlands Clinic to understand the prosthetic solutions available to her. “I was self-funding my prosthesis and the guys at Dorset were so incredibly kind to me”, explains Josephine. “They loaned me a Genium Microprocessor knee which I got to use for a decent amount of time, and this really helped me to progress quickly. I was also able to have some Residential Rehabilitation which was such a help to me and just six weeks after my amputation, I was up and walking”, said Josephine. 

While trialling her potential new leg, Josephine turned her attention to fundraising to enable her to buy the key to her future freedom of movement and undertook “some really cool things” to raise the money. She organised a ball where everyone could come and have a good time, dance and enjoy themselves. One of Josephine’s friends kayaked from Port Scatho in Cornwall to France and Josephine herself embarked on a kayak journey of her own, travelling 40 miles from Birmingham to Burton on Trent. Along the way, she had to physically get out and carry her craft over the styles and locks along the way, in what she describes as ‘a symbolic voyage to her new leg’.

Josephine set herself a fundraising target of £100,000 and exactly one year after her amputation, she managed to raise almost 90% of that and, bought her ‘dream leg’ and has enjoyed her new found mobility ever since.

The journey so far has not been without its challenges and setbacks and Josephine has experienced extreme ‘Phantom Pain’ since her amputation which really affected her mental health. Phantom pain is experienced by amputees, and is pain that feels like it's coming from a body part that's no longer there. During this dark time for Josephine, the pain and mental health became so extreme that she had to leave the job she loved as an interior designer. “I have always been a very positive person and going through my cancer I was always very stoic about it”, said Josephine. “My downfall was a combination of the extreme pain, having to quit the job that I love and I felt as though I’d failed. I’d failed at being an amputee because I thought I was going to smash it and when that didn’t happen, it made me feel like I was sailing in this recovery and considering my expectations versus the reality, I just crashed and burned”, Josephine continues.

After going to see her surgeon about her phantom pain, he referred Josephine onto a pain specialist. ”She understood that I was a strong character and where I was struggling with it”, said Josephine.

Many pain management techniques were tried including Mirror Therapy which is essentially tricking the brain out of pain but as a result of Josephine’s strong mindedness, this didn’t work for her. Instead, she learned to accept that pain would be part of her life. “The pain specialist asked me to close my eyes and really focus on my pain”, explains Josephine. “She said I want you to tell me if it is really as painful as you think it is when you focus on it; and actually how I imagined the pan would be, was actually stronger than it was when I really focused on it. So it was just about accepting that pain is going to be part of my life and learning to focus my mind on the present, the things at hand and learning to focus on being in the moment” Josephine continues. “So I accepted it and thought, ok pain is here, it’s in the room like a friend at the table, but I don’t have to talk to it. Just because it’s here, I don’t have to engage with it. I gave my pain a name; he is called ‘Phantom Phil’ and these kinds of little tricks really help”.

With her pain having an identity, Josephine is able to manage it much more effectively than she was able to previously. Her pain is triggered by stress or tiredness or if her body is unwell and out of sorts, and this knowledge helps her to mindfully manage these triggers and stay on top of her mental health.

To support her recovery, Josephine took her career in a new direction, and became an Interior Design lecturer at Birmingham City University and is doing what she loves at a slower pace.

Early on in her fundraising, Josephine had rediscovered her faith in human kindness and any negative perceptions she had developed as a result of the impulses around her in everyday society, were instantly replaced by pride in humanity. “It wasn’t until I did the fundraising, that I realised how incredibly kind and generous people can be”, explains Josephine. “We had people that had never met me donating towards my leg and that type of stuff really blew my mind”.

This level of human kindness drove Josephine to set up a charity to enable her to pay it forwards and show others the same kindness she had been shown. Josephine decided early on that she would start a charity and it existed solely in her thoughts for a time. After completing her fundraising, Josephine took the plunge and started the charity, which is built on light-heartedness and fun. Very soon, Positive Bones will be offering grants to help others rediscover their own freedom of movement and embark on their own journeys to happiness.

“Positive Bones encapsulates all the kindness I had received. It’s more than just providing grants but for providing community and wellness and overall support”, said Josephine.

“Had I not had my private prosthesis to enable me to get out and do all these wonderful and exciting things, especially through this dark period, I don’t know whether or not I’d be here”, said Josephine. Having spoken to many other amputees about their personal challenges and after being on a cancer ward with 14 beds, of which she was one of just three survivors that her purpose in life was to do something extraordinary for others. “It can’t just be me”, said Josephine. “I went to 11 funerals and this made me realise that I’ve got to live for them”.

 “If I could give a piece of advice to others who may be going through a tough time”, said Josephine, “Be compassionate with yourself. It can be really easy to sit there and think I'm not doing very well or not recovering at the same rate. Don't compare yourself to others, because everybody recovers at a different speeds and recovers in different ways”, Josephine continues. “Give yourself the time to get used to it and for it to become part of your life, it takes time. It’s not the end of your life, it’s just the beginning”.