Cancer took athlete's leg but he stayed in the game

College lacrosse player beats bone cancer
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Story highlights

  • Sean Dever was diagnosed with osteosarcoma at 11 years old
  • He chose a surgery that would give him the most mobility for sports
  • A year after his leg was amputated, Dever was playing lacrosse again

Sean Dever, 20, is a cancer survivor, amputee and college lacrosse player. The opinions in this article are his.

Young Harris, Georgia (CNN)I was a normal 11-year-old in the summer of 2007. I went to lacrosse camp at Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, Georgia, as I did every summer -- but this time would prove to be very different from the others.

Sean Dever, top row fifth from left, with his 2007 summer lacrosse camp team.
I was playing against one of my childhood friends when our legs got tangled and I went down. I came up limping badly, and my mother was very concerned. We got X-rays the next day. Nothing showed up, so the doctor suggested an MRI to be safe.
    I had the test July 11, 2007 -- the day my life changed forever.
    I was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a solid bone tumor, in the distal femur of my left leg.
    My parents and I were told I was looking at nine months of chemotherapy with surgery after the first three months.
    We were given three options for surgery.
    The first was called limb salvage, an adjustable artificial knee. I was told I would need surgery every time I grew and the knee would be extremely fragile -- so much so that a strong wave in the ocean might break it. Sports would be out of the picture. I was an athlete, so I ruled out this option quickly.
    Another option was full amputation. I would be able to do anything a typical kid could do, but with limited mobility. This scared me. I had seen amputees, but never thought I would be one.
    Mayo Clinic's rotationplasty animation
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    The third option was a radical amputation called rotationplasty. With this surgery, the cancerous knee and a part of the femur (enough to get clear margins) are removed. The healthy part of the lower leg is rotated 180 degrees and reattached to the femur. Essentially, the lower part of the leg is reattached backward so that the ankle functions as a knee. The foot acts as a regulator for the prosthetic.
    This option would ultimately give me the most mobility. I would be able to get back on the lacrosse field, basketball court and football field. There was no doubt in my mind. I wanted rotationplasty.
    Dever had three months of chemotherapy before surgery.
    The first three months of chemotherapy were the hardest months of my life to that point. I spent days in the hospital with no energy or appetite. I quickly lost 20 pounds and needed a feeding tube.
    If you ever have the option of having a feeding tube or eating a burger, take the burger.
    The only silver lining was my 12th birthday. The entire Blessed Trinity football team visited me in a small room in the pediatric cancer wing. You could say the room was a little crowded! The team chipped in and bought me a Wii game console and the biggest Nerf gun I had ever seen. It was a day I desperately needed.
    Next up -- surgery. My family and I drove to the University of Florida's Shands Hospital. I was scared, but I knew it needed to be done.
    October 3, 2007 was the day I lost my left leg.
    We stayed in Florida for a week, then drove home to Georgia where six more months of chemo and physical therapy awaited. I said the first three months of chemo were the hardest of my life to that point -- because the next six months were the hardest of my life, period.
    I got my first prosthetic leg December 3, 2007.
    I didn't wear it very much until February 2008, because I was so weak from chemo. I started doing strengthening exercises and learning how to walk again, which isn't as easy the second time around.
    My chemotherapy ended March 3, 2008. I don't think I had been so happy in all my life.
    The people in the hospital saved my life, but I was ecstatic to not see them for a little bit!
    Dever plays lacrosse after part of his left leg was amputated.
    That summer was not easy, but it was successful. I had built up enough strength to start playing lacrosse again. Before I was diagnosed I played midfield, but now I was much slower so I tried playing goalie. In my first game I only gave up one goal and we won. I was back!
    Basketball and football were two other sports I enjoyed playing before cancer. I stuck with basketball until high school and picked up wrestling, which I was much better at. I played football until my junior year of high school, but after too many injuries I gave it up.
    Ever since I picked up a lacrosse stick in fourth grade, my dream was to play in college. I devoted my entire high school career to that dream. My hard work and determination paid off the day I signed my letter of intent to play goalie at Young Harris College.
    Today, I'm a sophomore at Young Harris majoring in business and public policy with a minor in sports studies. I'm a captain of the lacrosse team and loving every minute of it.
    I'm also cancer-free.
    There are a lot of lessons I've learned throughout my journey. The biggest one is, don't give up. If I had given up I wouldn't have the friends I have, play the sport I love or be at a college I enjoy. It's worth pushing through. The pain is temporary, but happiness lasts.