Albert Espinosa: "I was 15 when I lost my leg but I was lucky enough to give it a farewell party"
Spanish author Albert Espinosa writes about beating cancer and the problems with having an artificial leg
I had cancer from the age of 14 to 24, and during those 10 years I lost a leg, a lung and part of my liver, but it was also a happy time for me. In The Yellow World I do not talk about cancer, I talk about what I learned from cancer, everything it taught me for everyday life.
The Yellow World is a positive book that is full of humour and the desire to live. Many times when I walk through the streets wearing shorts, people pretend not to look at my artificial leg, but two seconds after passing me they turn around to stare at it, but I always turn around as well and catch them staring. And I ask them, instead of staring at it, why don’t they just ask me about what is clearly a very important part of my life.
I was 15 years old when I lost my leg but I was lucky enough to give it a farewell party. The night before it was amputated, my doctor told me to give it a party. And so I did. I invited people who were somehow related to my leg. I invited a football goalkeeper against whom I had once scored 50 goals – well, in reality I only scored one against him, but they let people with cancer say anything they like, so I said I had scored 50; the goalkeeper agreed to go along with it.
I also invited a girl I used to play footsie with under a table, and lastly I danced my last dance with two legs with the nurse. I didn’t have any music with me but my roommate was a fan of Spanish musician Antonio Machín, and so he put on one of his CDs with the song Wait for Me in Heaven. So my last dance on two legs was to Wait for Me in Heaven, which was perfect for the occasion.
A good thing about when they amputated my leg was that I didn’t feel a phantom limb after, which is the feeling of having a leg when you don’t have one. I think I gave my leg such a proper goodbye that even the phantom left. Another really good thing was when they asked me if I wanted to leave my leg to science.
I wanted to leave it to science but then, for some reason, science wasn’t interested in it, so I ended up burying it instead. And that lets me say, and probably I’m one of few people who can say it with complete confidence, that I literally have one foot in the grave.
I always say that humour helps to explain everything. It helps us in any situation. For example, people always think that artificial legs, like the one I have, are made of wood, like a pirate’s. But I have always believed that the best jokes are based on reality.
For example, I used to wear a hydraulic leg but it would often break down and leak oil. I found myself walking in the street and a little old lady told me “You’re leaking oil”, and it was true: there was a trail of oil that led right up to where I was standing.
Or, for example, now I wear an electronic leg and I find myself with the same problem that everyone with an electronic artificial leg faces: you have to recharge it at night. So in hotels, where there is only one electrical outlet, I have to decide if I recharge my laptop, my mobile phone or my artificial leg.
This yellow world is full of this happiness.
Albert Espinosa is a Spanish author, playwright, film-maker and newspaper columnist. The rights to his award-winning TV series, The Red Band Society - about children in hospital - have been bought by Steven Spielberg for the US network ABC. The Yellow World (Particular, £16.99) is his best-selling autobiography.