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Dancer relearning steps-minus a leg

August 12, 2012 12:10 am

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Melissa Eadie, 20, lost part of her leg to bone cancer. lo081212dancer2.jpg

Melissa Eadie is planning a performance with other artists to raise funds for a prosthetic leg. She has no insurance. lo081212dancer1.jpg

Melissa Eadie, 20, of Stafford County was diagnosed with bone cancer before she turned 15. Following a surgery to remove part of the bone, she had to have her leg amputated when the cancer returned. lo081212dancer4.jpg

Melissa Eadie, 20, was diagnosed with bone cancer before she turned 15. She had surgery to remove part of the bone, then she had her leg amputated four years later. lo0812dancer.jpg

Melissa Eadie, then almost 15, finished 'The Nutcracker' and learned she had cancer.

By CATHY DYSON

Melissa Eadie and her dance partner were getting ready for rehearsal when she cheerily announced it was time to take off her leg.

Realizing how that must have sounded, she added: "Now that's something you don't hear every day."

It's probably no more unusual than a woman with one leg doing a pirouette, a difficult dance step because it involves a complete spin around the body.

Eadie, who lost her right leg to cancer nearly a year ago, has mastered the move. The 20-year-old also is figuring out how to redo other ballet steps she learned in her first tutus--except she's doing them with only one lower limb.

"It's so much fun, figuring out what I can do," said Eadie, flashing her trademark smile. "Dancing makes me feel normal again."

The Stafford County woman is inspiring others by the way she's coped with what could have been the biggest tragedy of her life.

"We didn't get a physical miracle in this," said Michael Eadie, her younger brother and best friend, explaining that some family members prayed Melissa's leg would be spared.

"But how she handled this is a miracle. How could she take this and flip it around in just a couple days and make it a positive?"

A FLAIR FOR THE DRAMATIC

Eadie credits her strong faith and good support system of family and friends, as well as her choreographer, Sarah Worman, who isn't afraid to push Eadie on the dance floor.

Even so, she's designing moves for a dancer who's still discovering what she can do. Worman and Matt Chambers, Eadie's boyfriend and dance partner, each regularly tie up one of their legs to determine if certain moves are physically possible for Eadie.

"It's the most challenging thing I've ever done in my life," Worman said. "Having a baby was easier than this."

Eadie's perseverance, as well as her flair for the dramatic, makes dealing with her new reality bearable--and even fun.

Eadie uses a prosthetic leg to walk, and practically glides over the floor with it. When she wears jeans or sweat pants, no one can tell it isn't real, said Emily McKinney, her friend and a fellow dancer.

Eadie dances without it for several reasons. The prosthetic is a "starter leg" and doesn't have the sturdy foot or flexible knee a dancer needs. (See accompanying story about a benefit McKinney is having to raise money for a better prosthetic.)

Plus, Eadie is afraid she'd give Chambers a concussion if she hit him in the head with it.

Eadie likes to do tricks with her fake leg, like gross people out with the joint-popping sound it makes when she turns it at awkward angles. She also likes hanging it out the window.

In text messages, she refers to her prosthetic leg as Felipe, but pronounces it, "Phillip-A," because that's how she said it when she was under the influence of pain pills.

Her stump, which is several inches above what used to be her knee, is "Fat Louie," and her former leg is "Blaire."

When she feels phantom pains, she says Blaire is haunting her.

"We're all pretty much theater-dance kids and pretty silly," Eadie said.

"Yeah, literal is calling it a stump," McKinney added. "Non-literal is calling it 'Fat Louie.'"

'SUCH A SIMPLE CANCER'

Eadie started dancing with Stafford Ballet Academy when she was 8. At first, she wanted to be like her big sister, then realized she was born to do the five basic ballet positions in front of an audience.

She was about to turn 15, and finishing a rigorous schedule of "The Nutcracker" performances, when her leg began to hurt. She figured it was a pulled muscle.

When it didn't get better after repeated icings, she saw a doctor.

Tests showed she had osteosarcoma, a cancerous bone tumor that typically develops when adolescents are growing rapidly.

Doctors told her parents, Jill and Jim Eadie of Hartwood, that she'd need to have about six inches of bone removed, then undergo chemotherapy for three months. They said "this was such a simple cancer," Eadie recalled, "and there was only a 1 percent chance it would ever come back."

Once she healed, Eadie started dancing again, this time with Christian Youth Theater. She played tall Alice in "Alice in Wonderland," and on the last show of the first weekend, her leg started to swell.

At this point in the story, Eadie stressed that she still did her part in the show, even when she had to use crutches.

HER WORLD STOPPED

The swelling was caused by a staph infection, and Eadie had to stay on antibiotics for a year and half. The long-term medication caused a blood disorder, which had to be treated, and Eadie still needed another surgery to remove the infection.

This time, doctors planned to replace her infected bone with an artificial one filled with antibiotics.

But when doctors operated in August 2011, they saw the cancer had wrapped itself around a ligament. They had to cut it, making the leg useless.

"My world, like, stopped," Eadie said. "It was the deepest, darkest place I'd ever been."

When she first faced cancer at 15, she asked God to just let her die if she had to lose a leg.

When she confronted the inevitable at 19, she said she was comforted by God's assurance that he had bigger plans for her than she could imagine--and would she please not tell him what to do?

INCREDIBLE ATTITUDE

At first, Eadie told herself that if she didn't look at the amputation, it wouldn't be real. She cried, a lot.

Her father convinced her she'd never be able to live again if she didn't accept what had happened.

"And then the next day, I was like, you know what? I can't change it. I can't be like, 'I have a leg again,' because it's gone," she said in a video produced by the River of Life Worship Center. "I just had to trust that God wasn't going to let me fall."

She was angry for the first three weeks after the Sept. 1 amputation, but not from the loss of the leg. She was upset she couldn't do things for herself, said Chambers, her boyfriend.

"Honestly, her attitude has been incredible," Chambers said.

Eadie went back to Germanna Community College two days after she got out of the hospital. She was on crutches, so she found someone to carry her backpack.

Her boyfriend and brother carried her, from the car to the house, when she got really tired.

Within six months of surgery, she was testing her dance legs again. She realized she never would have been able to dance freely, had her right leg remained. It didn't bend properly after the cancer surgery, and her former teacher always feared she'd hurt her.

"Once it was removed, I realized all the things I could do," she said. "I'm back to where I used to be when I was little, just being able to move without hurting myself."

She and Chambers performed "Held," a duet in which Eadie twirled on one foot, easily went from floor to standing and sprang into Chambers' arms. She's steadier on her feet these days than in March, when the church video was made.

Yet, it still showcases the strength in his upper body, the graceful extension of her arms, and the way the two rely on each other.

"It helps that I have a dance partner who really wants to dance with me," Eadie said, smiling as she usually does. "And I love when people watch me dance."

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425
Email: cdyson@freelancestar.com




Melissa Eadie went off her parents' insurance policy when she turned 18. Four months after her 19th birthday, she had her leg removed due to cancer. VCU Health System in Richmond covered the expenses of her treatment, but her prosthetic leg is another matter.

She has a "starter leg," but would like a permanent prosthetic with a sturdy foot and a knee that's more suited for a dancer. The artificial limb will cost at least $60,000.

Emily McKinney, her longtime friend and fellow dancer, is having a benefit later this month to help raise money and bring awareness to the possibilities of dancing with disabilities. She's putting together a dance recital that includes Eadie, as well as blind and deaf dancers and those missing limbs.

McKinney recently was diagnosed with epilepsy after having 15 to 20 seizures a day.

"It's kind of the same thing Melissa is going through," McKinney said. "I'm like, 'Forget all this.' I'm still going to find a way to dance."

The recital is planned at 7 p.m. Aug. 23 and 25 at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library in downtown Fredericksburg. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for children under 10.

The Melissa Eadie Medical Fund has been set up, in care of Carter Bank and Trust. The address is 175 Warrenton Road, Fredericksburg, Va. 22405.

FAMILY: She's 20, and the third of five children of Jill and Jim Eadie of Hartwood. SCHOOL: Is finishing her associate's degree at Germanna Community College and then plans to go to cosmetology school. She'd like to do makeup for runway models and brides. ACCENTS: She recorded the voice-mail message on her cellphone in a British accent. When she's twisting her prosthetic leg around, she copies the Mexican dialect from the "Nacho Libre" movie and says: "I will take my leg off and beat you with it." HYPER? OH YEAH: Eadie says she's a good dancer, because she's really "spazzy," someone who has bursts of energy. She brought her spaz to a wedding reception recently, when she and boyfriend Matt Chambers threw out as many dance moves as possible. The only problem was her artificial leg didn't roll with the salsa. "I had to literally lift up my hip to move it, and that's kind of awkward."




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