In 2011, as a 9-year-old girl, cancer was very far from the forefront of Gabi Shull’s mind. She loved to occupy her time mostly by dancing, ice skating, and cheerleading. Although, one day when she was ice skating, she suffered an injury to her knee that wouldn’t heal. It turned out that this injury wasn’t just a minor problem. This injury changed Shull’s life forever.
After two months, Shull’s knee was still swollen and painful, so doctors decided to do an MRI and the results were shocking. Shull was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in her knee, which is a rare bone cancer that eats tissue and bone. Immediately, she completed months of chemotherapy, and endured all the sickness that came with it. Even though the chemotherapy was successful in shrinking the tumor, Shull would still have to have part of her leg amputated. Surprisingly though, Shull’s doctors had a trick up their sleeve that would offer her a better quality of life in the long run. They suggested that she participate in a new kind of surgery called Rotationplasty. During this surgery, doctors would amputate part of Shull’s leg, and use her healthy ankle to replace her knee.
In this video by The Truth 365 , a cancer awareness organization for kids, Shull explains exactly what happened during her Rotationplasty surgery. Per Shull,” They took out my knee area, which was the portion the cancer was in. Then, they took my lower leg and foot, twisted it 180 degrees backwards, and attached it to my thigh. Whenever I point my foot, it straightens the prosthesis and whenever I flex my foot, it bends the prosthesis.” Although this surgery probably isn’t for everyone, it allowed Shull to continue to pursue dance at a high level.
Before Shull could get back to dancing, she had to learn to walk with her new prosthesis, which proved to be a struggle. When she first attempted to walk after surgery, her prosthetic leg felt foreign and uncomfortable. Motivated to get back in the studio, Shull fought through her frustrations and took her recovery step by step. She progressed from using a walker, to crutches, to holding someone’s hand, and finally to walking on her own. 'It took me about a year and several personal trainer sessions to take my first steps without any assistance and a year after that I was dancing on stage again,” Shull told Daily Mail. Even though the surgery made her leg look different, it was the right decision for her since it allowed her to be more active than she expected.
At the time Shull was diagnosed with cancer, she and her three sisters all took dance at Center Stage Academy of Performing Arts in Warrensburg, Missouri. Dance was Shull’s passion in life, and when cancer threatened to take Shull’s passion away from her, she became more motivated than ever to get well and return to the stage.
Today, at age 15, Shull is cancer free and continues to dance using a prosthesis. She is now enrolled in ballet, tap, hip-hop, contemporary, and jazz classes, in addition to being a member of her school’s competitive team and acting as a spokesperson for The Truth 365. Initially, when Shull returned to dance, she couldn’t figure out how to get en pointe using her prosthesis. Determined as ever, she had a special prosthetic pointe foot made which allowed her to dance en pointe just like any other ballerina. In an article on morethandancers.com, Shull was quoted as saying,” Dance is what motivated me to walk again so I could eventually get back on stage. Even though dancing is different for me now than it was before, my passion for it will always remain the same.” With her miraculous recovery, Shull proved that in life, one’s biggest motivation is their passion.