There’s no doubt that Jillian Williams is one of the bravest young women you could ever meet.
The 20-year-old from Odem, Texas, was a keen volleyball player and beauty queen when she received the crushing news that she was suffering from Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer.
Jillian first noticed that something wasn’t quite right when she began to experience pain in her knee whilst taking part in a volleyball tournament.
After visiting an orthopedic surgeon, Jillian was sent for an MRI scan which revealed she had a fractured femur and bone cyst.
Unwilling to accept that the mass was just a cyst, Jillian’s doctor continued to monitor her closely and was shocked to see the cyst grow by two and a half centimeters in just two months.
After an open biopsy, Jillian’s life changed forever as she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma.
Jillian’s mum, Janna Williams explains, ‘It’s every parent’s worst nightmare when you hear your child has cancer. About September of 2016 she started experiencing problems in her knee. She was playing volleyball at college and she was at a tournament so we all just assumed it was tendonitis, just over usage.’
‘We’ve had it twice because Jillian’s dad had cancer in 2014 and I can remember his words exactly. It’s just sort of like you have an out of body experience when someone tells you one of your loved ones has cancer.’
Faced with a range of treatment options, brave Jillian made the decision to have a rotationplasty.
She explains, ‘I could have just had the tumour taken out by salvaging the limb, but from research I had done and people I had met, there was a higher relapse rate and that’s not what I wanted. So I just opted to have the tumour removed and I wanted the best way of life that I could get with doing that so I chose rotationplasty.’
The pioneering procedure involved removing 36cm of the middle of Jillian’s leg, rotating the bottom of her leg by 180 degrees and reattaching her tibia to her femur.
This allows the ankle joint to work like a knee, helping Jillian to use a prosthetic leg and improving her mobility.
Mum Janna says, ‘she’s always had nicknames like ‘Jumpy’ and ‘Sparky’ since she was small child and the other options weren’t going to give her that chance.’
Despite her positive outlook, the transition from beauty queen to cancer patient and amputee was tough for Jillian.
She admits, ‘It has been eye opening because I have always had long pretty hair – I have always been the tall pretty girl. Its difficult being bald and one-legged! I say that all the time but a lot of people tend to shy away because they’re scared.’
‘I have embraced it whole heartedly but I know other people see it as a freakish thing and are taken aback by it.’
‘When I chose rotationplasty at the very beginning I wanted it to be a way of teaching people about bone cancer, about Ewing’s sarcoma specifically and about amputation.’
Whilst the threat of relapse is a possibility, Jillian is determined to carry on achieving her dreams and inspiring others.
She says, ‘I have a lot of end goals. I guess my biggest one that I am reaching for right now is playing Paralympic volleyball.’
‘I want to compete again for Miss Texas so I’ve got to get my body back in shape for where it needs to be for that.’
‘My motto in life is, ‘I want to make a difference by being different’ and I feel like that’s what I’m doing.’
Watch the video above to find out more about Jillian’s incredible story.