Hero Stories: ''How Battling Cancer and an Amputation Led Me to Realise My Sporting Dream''
Hero Stories is an original Medical Travel Compared blog series. It highlights the extraordinary work done by genuine heroes – people who have dedicated a part of their lives to helping others in need. This month, we interviewed Martin Heald – who, at 26, has already beaten cancer twice. However, Martin’s second battle with the disease came at a cost – after his left leg was amputated during treatment for Osteosarcoma. Since then, he has represented England in two different sports, and become a shining example to amputees all over the country in the process. Read on to find out more about Martin’s journey…
At the age of four, Martin Heald was diagnosed with stage 4 Neuroblastoma.
This is a tumour of the sympathetic nervous system, and most commonly affects babies and young children.
Stage 4 refers to its level of aggressiveness, and by the time it had been discovered – the cancer had spread to other parts of his body.
At that point, Martin was given just a 15% chance of living.
The year that followed, saw him undergo an intense course of chemotherapy and several operations.
Throughout his treatment, he didn’t stop smiling – still attending his reception class to be with his friends when he could.
The best possible news was given to him just a year later when he was placed into remission aged 5, and thankfully, he resumed life as normal – enjoying a happy childhood as you’d expect.
But soon after Martin turned 15, his life changed forever…
Life as a Teenager
Pain is often normal for children to experience, as it can sometimes be seen as growing pain.
Martin began to complain of pain behind his knee.
However, when Martin’s complaint of a pain behind the knee persisted – it soon became clear that medical attention was needed.
A series of tests later led to a diagnosis of Osteosarcoma – a rare type of bone cancer.
Osteosarcoma is common to teenagers and young adults, that develops in growing bones.
Martin was given two choices. He could either undergo knee construction surgery, or have his leg amputated.
He chose the latter.
Because, surprisingly, the knee construction would’ve actually been more limiting for Martin than the amputation. The specialist told him that he wouldn’t be able to participate in sport ever again after undergoing knee construction surgery.
With an amputation – there was still a glimmer of hope, and an opportunity for Martin to live out his passion for sport.
So, once the treatment finished, and the left leg was amputated – he set his sights on discovering new sporting opportunities.
Fast Forward to 2018
What followed was a long road to recovery.
That being said, Martin was vindicated in his decision.
Sport is a massive part of his life.
And, his determination and dedication to doing something he loves led to a place in the GB Paraclimbing team, whilst also playing amputee football for England.
Not only has he been able to carry on playing two sports – he now represents his country.
And it doesn’t stop there.
He also made a TV appearance on ITV’s Ninja Warrior UK earlier this year – if you haven’t seen this, catch a preview here.
For someone who has beaten cancer twice, what he has gone on to achieve really highlights that life really is for living – and he’s certainly making the most of it!
What could we know more about life with an amputation?
“I think one thing that I wish people knew or were aware of, and one thing that sometimes annoys me is when people start trying to help you even when they haven't asked if you need that help but just assume,” Martin reflected.
“I know it’s in their best intentions, and it is a great gesture – but just because we are amputees doesn't mean that we always need help. Obviously if it looks like we’re struggling then maybe offer to help but respect our independence.”
Independence is key for amputees, and often people can assume help is needed, when more often than not – the person in question is managing just fine.
Martin added: “It’s okay for your children to look and ask questions.”
They're only young and it might be the first time they have ever seen a man with one leg. Educate them about the things that can happen, don't just shush them and get them out as quickly as possible.”
Advice for those whose life has been impacted by Cancer or Amputation
The most amazing aspect of Martin’s journey so far is that the way in which he has taken everything in his stride
He has never enabled his condition to restrict him, or prohibit his desire to achieve his goals as a sportsman.
This is very much reflected in his own advice to those whose life may have been affected by similar events.
He said: “It is a long journey, but keep going.
“Everyone's journey is going to be different, try and find something you enjoy and use that to help you.”
Advice for those recovering from amputation who are looking to get back into sport
Martin’s love for sport has very much been the driving factor in him achieving all he has so far.
“Have a look what is out there and try as many different sports as you can, before you commit,” he said.
Don't be scared of joining in. There will be so many people who have been through similar scenarios you can relate to – and will give you that support you need.”
You’re not alone in the journey and there are plenty of sporting groups to get involved with, you just need to read Martin’s story to see this.
So, if you are considering going back to sport after recovering from an amputation, Martin is living proof that it’s perfectly possible – and the potential is there for you to excel at whatever you love to do.
The biggest positive from his story so far
Martin qualified to be an MTC Hero as his journey shows his persistence and dedication to doing what he loves, regardless of the hurdles he has overcome.
This is something we can all admire and take inspiration from when reflecting on your own life circumstances. Even if you haven’t been directly affected by cancer, we all know someone who has.
While Martin’s positivity and motivation is truly admirable, as we finished the interview – we were desperate to find out from him what he believed was the biggest positive from his story so far.
He said: “If I hadn't have lost my leg I probably won’t be playing sport at an international level in two sports.
“I wouldn't have travelled the world as much as I already have done, either. It completely changed my life – and I feel it has changed it for the better, like it was meant to be.”
The belief in ‘everything happening for a reason’ could not ring any more true, here.
How you can help make a difference
Alongside becoming more educated on the topic, there are certain charities you can support to help other people going through similar situations.
The organisation closest to Martins heart is the children’s charity ‘When you Wish Upon a Star’.
“I will always do my best to give back to them,” he said.
“For me they gave me that one thing to look forward to when I was better, and that was to swim with dolphins in Florida. One of the best experiences of my life!”