I was nine years old when I played in my first youth soccer game. Although I was clumsy and barely knew how to dribble, I instantly fell in love with the sport. I spent the next five years working hard to improve my technique, making new friends, and having fun every step of the way. By the time eighth grade rolled around, I was determined to play for the high school soccer team.
However, my plans abruptly changed when x-rays discovered a bone tumor in my lower left ankle. I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer, in February 2019, and underwent my first round of chemotherapy soon after. Treatment was followed by a surgical procedure to remove the tumor, and when I ultimately decided to amputate my left foot, I planned for a future where I returned to playing soccer alongside my friends, despite this new challenge.
The school year began, and I went to cheer on my former teammates at their first game of the season. However, as I watched from the stands, I became restless and consumed with jealousy; I should be out on the field, I thought, not sitting here by myself. Why did my friends get to play while I did not? And from that question came another: what would my life be like if I did not have cancer?
My frustration only accumulated as I began physical therapy with my first prosthetic. Every movement was painful and exhausting, and the mountain of setbacks in front of me only seemed to grow taller. The months I spent on my crutches exceeded the expected timeframe, and then exceeded it some more. I became increasingly insecure around the mention of soccer, ashamed of the person I was with my pathetically slow progress. I also found myself wondering if my friends were embarrassed of being seen with me, and my once high self-confidence hit rock bottom. As a result, I avoided my teammates and stopped attending their games. I figured it would be better for everyone involved; the thought of my friends’ pity appalled me, and I refused to watch anyone play for the sake of my mental wellbeing.
Eventually, I switched to a new prosthetist and got a working prosthetic. Physical therapy picked up soon after, and I put aside my crutches within a few months. I spent the summer of 2020 relearning how to run and jump, working at a feverish pace in order to play soccer again.
However, summer ended, and the time came to reassess my priorities. I realized that somewhere along the line, I stopped wanting to play soccer for myself. Instead, my biggest motivation was the desire to leave behind my diagnosis and prove to my friends that I was still the same person. For months, I had tried to build a version of myself that would hide the reality of my physical limitations. I had allowed my insecurities to foster a mentality that I needed to be as “normal” as possible, despite my new identity as an amputee. Comparing myself to others with different circumstances was mentally exhausting, I realized, and had come at the cost of my love for soccer.
So, I took a step back and reset. I began to explore different ways to revive my interest in the sport, from watching professional games to passing around a ball with my best friend. Now, more than two years after my diagnosis, I’m no longer consumed with envy and self-doubt whenever I watch my friends play. Instead, I feel content with my progress and truly proud of how far I have come in my journey. And although I’m still unsure of when I will play again, that does not mean that I am letting go of soccer completely. I’m simply expressing my love for the sport in any way that I can, just like any other soccer enthusiast would.
© Kaitlyn Vu. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.