Adenike Oyetunde is a cancer survivor who has dedicated her life and social media accounts to helping and encouraging cancer patients and amputees. She shares her story with Ademola Olonilua
You became more popular on social media when your picture in a brown swim suit surfaced online. How did you feel when the picture went viral?
Yes you are correct. I did not know the picture would go viral. However, I did not have much feeling about that because I have got to a point in my life where I try not to do things that discomfort me. For people who know me, they know that it is not a function of me coming out of my comfort zone; it is more of a living for me. I am trying to teach people like myself, amputees, to love themselves because the society does not accept them even though it is not their fault. I did not know that the picture was going to garner as much mileage as it did but I also did not doubt it. Interesting enough, I think it is about to open more opportunities in terms of advocacy for people living with disabilities.
As an amputee, how has it been for you over the years?
It has been interesting, enlightening and full of ups and downs. The ups are times when random people contact me to talk to people who are also going through what I have passed through. The down times were when I just wished I could snap out of this my new reality and go back to the days when I had both legs. I do not know what the future holds but I am certain that whatever plans that I have cannot transcend what God has in store for me. It has been an enjoyable 11 years for me. Being an amputee has opened doors for me and I have met people that I never thought I would meet. There is so much work to be done but I am grateful to God for where I am today.
How was the journey of self-rediscovery for you?
One thing that had happened to me on my journey was that I did not know that I was going through a bout of depression at a point in my life. I always wore clothes that were long so that they would cover my leg. I went through that struggle for the first few years. I transcended through that to get to a stage where I got to terms with the fact that people would stare and some might find it difficult to come to terms with my new reality. But I later realised that what was most important was the way I felt. I remember the first day I wore a short, I literally felt like I had broken free in my mind because I was always covering up. When I showed up at work, it was a liberating moment for me. The first time I went to work without my prosthetic leg, a lady came to me and said that she preferred it when I wear my artificial limb, though she did not say it with any malicious intent. I looked her in the eyes and said, ‘this is who I am and you either accept me as I am or move on’. I have been thankful to God because even when I was going through depression, I did not know what it was. I did not find myself questioning God; neither did I feel suicidal. I just did not know that I had been fighting depression in terms of what was going through my mind and what I thought people would relate with me. The moment I broke free, it was liberating for me and now I understand to a reasonable extent how people who don’t have both legs and have issues with depression feel. I understand how other amputees feel and my job now is to make them know that it is okay to feel that way but they need to snap out of that feeling of depression and embrace their new reality because the world is going to continue to question your appearance as long as you give them the power to do so.
How come you are not fond of wearing your prosthetic leg?
I have not been wearing it for some months now but I think mentally, I am tired of the one that I have. I think I want a new one. I wear it rarely. I just got tired. Interestingly enough, I have been able to speak to people around the world and motivate them. I just met with someone on Instagram over the weekend who lives in Michigan, USA. He is also an amputee and I asked him why he does not wear his prosthetic leg and he said that it is because it just gets in his way. For me, I have been wearing it for 11 years and I just got tired. I would get back to wearing my prosthetic leg probably when I get a new one or my mind re-aligns back to wearing it.
Do you feel uncomfortable when people stare at you especially when you are without your prosthetic leg?
I honestly don’t feel uncomfortable, in fact, I feel so good. I don’t care if they stare because I do not walk around for people to stare. Their stare does not take anything from me. I am just being myself and I love the way I am. I believe in being myself and wherever I find myself is where I am at that particular moment, just enjoy life as long as you breathe. I have never doubted the value that I have and the value I bring to the table, whether at work or in a relationship. I know that I am valuable and being an amputee does not take that away from me or reduce my existence. I don’t care what you say. Sometimes I bask in the fact that people stare and it has given me access to a lot of things. I have met people, dignitaries who ordinarily would not allow people come close to them but the moment they see me, they tell their security to let me through. I have been to places where there have been long queues and I excitedly say, ‘hello guys, sorry I cannot stand for too long.’ Everybody would laugh and they would let me pass. It is me just being who I am and I owe no one an apology for it.
You are known for your infectious smile. How come you still always wear a smile even after all you have been through in life?
It is because my joy comes from only one person and his name is Jesus. I have entered a place of rest and ever since I discovered Jesus, nothing matters to me. Even when they were wheeling me to the theatre for the surgery, I had an inner peace and joy that came only from Jesus and I had the assurance that everything works together for my good. I do not smile because I am trying to get something or someone frustrated me, I wear a smile because it stems from Jesus. My joy comes from the salvation that I enjoy. I understand very clearly that I am a part of an army and it is okay to fall but I cannot stay down for too long. I would stand up, dust myself and move on. That is that kind of joy that I have. My joy comes from experiencing more in life through God. I love pictures a lot and it excites me. Even when I am upset, immediately I see a camera, it instantly lightens me up and it is who God has made me. The enemy cannot take it away from me. I wake up and I am excited, I have never woken up and begin to cry, no, I have never experienced it.
We learnt you lost your limb to cancer. What kind of cancer were you diagnosed with?
I was diagnosed with cancer of the bone, osteosarcoma.
How did you feel when the doctors informed you that you would have to be amputated?
I never believed the doctors when they told me; I just felt that they did not know what they were saying. It took me several months to come to terms with their proposal because I had tried other options and it was getting worse. There was no saving the leg. I knew that chemotherapy was not going to work. I knew that my leg was going to go but I did not want to bulge to the idea of cutting my leg off.
When they were wheeling you into the theatre to amputate your leg, how did you feel?
Nothing was going through my mind, absolutely nothing. I just wanted to get it over with; I wanted to be myself again. I just wanted my life back. I wanted to go back to school and be free. I wanted my family and friends to move on with their life and not make me the centre of their worries and burden. I just wanted to be back even if it was just on a foot. I wanted to be out of the hospital. I just wanted to be fine.
When you woke up after the operation and realised you just had a limb, how did you feel?
I did not cry. I think the point of reality to me was when I stepped down from my bed and I realised my balance was affected. I just wanted to get out of bed. In the ward that I was, other patients had either their legs or hands being hung but there I was, I could move. So, I just wanted to get down and the moment I did that, I went to my friends’ bed. I did not cry. It took such a long while before I cried and I do not regret doing that. I allowed myself to cry because I allowed certain things to get to me like my new reality. I was not scared of what the future held for me and the beauty about it is that I did not know God half as much as I do now. I was not scared or bother if I would have a future or not. As I speak to you, I have never been bothered or worried about whether I would get married or have a child because I know it would happen except I do not want it to.
It seems you use your social media account to advocate for amputees and people living with disabilities…
I started the campaign called, ‘Amputees United Initiative.’ I also work with an NGO, The Irede Foundation, and what we do is to work with kids who have limb loss and we provide them with prosthetic limbs from when we meet them till they are 18 years old. Despite all that I felt that there was more to do and God has called me to help other people with disabilities, so I dedicated myself to helping people psychologically. Our tag line is holding hands together which means that I would be on the journey with you. If you are going through chemotherapy, I would be with you. I would pray with you and share my story with you; I would make you see that there is life after chemotherapy. I would help you get the best option available and if you do not have the money, I am sure it would come out from somewhere. We are a group of people that helps with your mental and psychological journey of limb loss.
However, what I do with my personal Instagram handle is more evangelistic because I am kind of evangelistic in nature. I am a teacher. I have come to understand that my journey is a lesson and a means for me to help others. I am living my life. I do not go out of my way to preach to people, it is just who I am. If I am able to teach and empower people, then I give glory to God. I want amputees to live to the fullest and realise themselves through Christ. When they realise that they can live optimally, they would understand that nothing is impossible.
How has the feedback been since you have been advocating for amputees on your social media platform?
It has been amazing but I know that there is more we can do especially with amputees united. I have met people with limb loss due to cancer and even people who even feel off the energy that I exude, it has been very good and it is just an indication that there is still so much to be done. I have yet to register the initiative but I would not let money be an impediment to my dreams and aspirations. The feedback has been good but there is so much work to be done.
Has being an amputee affected your love life in anyway?
No it has not.
You mean it does not scare men away?
I know what I bring to the table and if any man feels threatened, that is not my problem. There is nothing I can do in that regard. To be frank with you, being an amputee has not affected my love life and at a point, I thought that it actually endears me to people. I have never been bothered about getting married or having children. I will and it would happen. It has not affected my relationship. I remember telling myself one day that do you think you would have been married if you had two limbs but I don’t think I would have been married. It is going to happen and it would be a different chapter to my life. It is going to be an addition to the story of my life. I would make people understand that you can actually have a fairy tale life even as an amputee.