'There's life after losing a leg'

When a small lump turned out to be cancer, Graham Bound faced amputation. Now back on his feet – and even his skis – he recounts an emotional journey

Some information can be dispensed in bright and breezy, ask-the-expert newspaper columns; some cannot. This truism was vividly illuminated while I was enduring forced rest following the amputation of my lower right leg. Leafing through a Sunday newspaper, I stumbled on a health Q&A column that addressed the precise symptoms of the disease that had just done its best to kill me.

"Recently," wrote a reader, "I have noticed a hard, bony lump around my ankle. It is not particularly uncomfortable and my GP said I should not worry about it. But is he right?" The columnist (and his byline suggested he is a qualified doctor) replied confidently. "Your GP is right. It is almost certainly a bony spur, inflammation of the tendon – tendonitis – or the beginning of arthritis. But," (and the casualness here was notable) "do keep an eye on it, trust the GP and have another word with him if it continues to bother you."

There was, as I knew only too well, another possible diagnosis: sarcoma, the type of cancer that had recently afflicted me and which had led to my amputation. This rare disease – it accounts for about 2,000 of cancers diagnosed in the UK each year, roughly 1 per cent – can develop in many parts of the body, but it often favours tendons and other soft tissue around bones of the leg. If undiagnosed, sarcoma will spread, often leading to secondary tumours in the lungs and liver.

I was fortunate – though that is a relative term – because my tumour was around my ankle, about as far from my chest as it was possible to be. But there was still a risk that it had metastasised.

Far too few GPs, and even orthopaedic specialists, know much about the disease. A GP may encounter only one in a career, if that. But I still feel angry about the absurd amount of time it took doctors at my GP surgery to refer me to specialists. Those consultants in turn had no excuse for taking months to pass me on to the UK's centre of excellence for sarcoma, the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital in Stanmore, north-west London.

The early stages of my illness were not alarming. I had been grumbling about the small bump on my ankle for some time, and after a walking trip in Spain, during which the bends and bumps of the rocky trails caused severe discomfort, I saw a GP. He was very reassuring, and I was content that the lump was probably "a bony spur, tendonitis or the beginnings of arthritis". But under pressure from my wife, I returned to the surgery frequently. The increasing discomfort was not responding to the anti-inflammatory drugs I had been prescribed and the lump was growing, slowly at first and then with a spurt that made it extend to both sides of my ankle. By this time, I too was becoming concerned. GPs treated me politely but with a hint of the disdain reserved for hypochondriacs. Eventually, I was given the choice of seeing a physiotherapist or an orthopaedic consultant. I was shocked. The choices were poles apart. After so many months, it dawned on me that the GPs had no idea what was wrong.

Two months would pass before I could see an orthopaedic specialist, so in the meantime I visited a physio. Deep furrows in her brow suggested this was a problem she had not encountered before. After an hour or so of painful exercises, I left and did not book another appointment. At last, I saw the orthopaedic specialists. Over several consultations, I was examined, X-rayed and, finally, given an MRI scan. The procedures reassured me that, at last, something meaningful was being done. That reassurance evaporated, however, when I was told the scan results would not be available for a further four months. My dismay must have been obvious because the receptionist said, "Don't worry, you'll be called before then if there is anything to worry about."

I was not called in early, but four months later, when I turned up to see the specialist, it finally emerged that I had a tumour. But, he said, it was probably benign. They would have to take a tissue sample to be sure. The procedure was carried out a week later. Another week passed before I was told the results of the tissue sample were confusing. The clinical evidence was dispatched to the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, and a few days later, I was told its leading consultant wanted me to see me.

By now, I thought I knew the way this was going: goodbye "bony spur, tendonitis or the early stages of arthritis", hello cancer. The consultant had left his operating theatre specially to see me. His first question chilled me. "Why has it taken you so long to get here?" I stammered a reply: "I'd like to know that too." But going through my mind was one thought: he is about to tell me that we are too late.

Thank God, he did not. Looking up from the MRI scan imagery on his computer, he said: "You have a tumour and it is malignant. It's called a clear-cell sarcoma, and it is rare. I'm afraid there is no easy way to say this: we will have to amputate your leg below the knee. That is the only way we can be reasonably sure of stopping cancer cells from moving to other parts of your body."

He was right; there was no easy way of saying it, but as I watched my poor wife's face dissolve in shock and tears, God, how I wished there had been. I felt numb. I reasoned that it was actually better than I had feared. It was the cancer that terrified me, not the amputation. Almost as an afterthought, the consultant asked a member of his team to arrange a chest X-ray as soon as possible. "Why?" I asked. He said, "Well, there is a chance that the tumour has metastasised to your chest. It probably hasn't, but we need to know one way or the other."

I then suffered the worst week of my life waiting for the results, but thankfully was told: "Everything is fine. No sign at all of secondary cancer. Let's get you in on Sunday and we'll operate on Monday."

The relief was tremendous. But still, I was about to lose my leg, a limb that had never carried me to any sporting glory or even won a knobbly knees contest. But it had helped me cycle, walk, swim, drive and even sail through 50 years of life. Later, I would suffer a strange sense of bereavement at its loss. But the alternative to amputation was so frightening that, as I entered the cancer ward, I felt content and at peace.

Post-surgery, my stump was heavily bandaged and bulbous, like a giant Chupa Chups lollipop. I ingested copious painkillers, the physiotherapists got to grips with me and the psychiatrist checked my brief depression to confirm, I think, that I was not about do anything "silly".

Ten days later, I was home, to begin six months of recuperation.

Gradually, normal life has begun again. I can walk and drive again. This year, I even got back on my skis, albeit on the beginners' slopes. I continue to visit Stanmore to see the prosthetists who made me a new leg, the physios who train me how to use it and the Macmillan nurse consultant who monitors signs of resurgent cancer. So far, she has found nothing.

Sometimes, I am asked to meet sarcoma sufferers who are about to go into surgery. I am exhibit No 1, walking and talking evidence that there can be quality of life after such radical treatment. I have also met fellow sarcoma survivors during sessions in the gym and in the prosthetists' surgery. Seriously delayed diagnosis is a common theme in our conversations.

A greater degree of knowledge among GPs would have helped us all. There is a movement to boost awareness in the medical profession, but education will take a long time. Unfortunately, I have no doubt that many more sarcoma sufferers will make their slow way to Stanmore, where they will hear my consultant utter his chilling question: "Why has it taken you so long to get here?"

Sir David Attenborough
Life and Style
Young girl and bowl of cereal
food + drink
Comic miserablist Larry David in 'Curb Your Enthusiasm'
peopleDirector of new documentary Misery Loves Comedy reveals how he got them to open up
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Life and Style
David Bowie by Duffy
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
advertisingVideo: The company that brought you the 'Bud' 'Weis' 'Er' frogs and 'Wasssssup' ads, has something up its sleeve for Sunday's big match
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Vivienne Westwood speaking at a fracking protest outside Parliament on Monday (AP)
Life and Style
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: This post arises as a result of the need to...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Class Teacher Required ASAP In Uminster

    £120 - £150 per annum: Tradewind Recruitment: I am recruiting on instruction o...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wimbledon, SW London

    £24000 - £28000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Wim...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness