I never imagined as a young teenager in 1980, in the infancy of my life's journey with cancer, how relevant this day would be to my current life! Many of you know about my life from an athletic point of view but what has been the most meaningful and satisfying experiences for me have been the countless opportunities to engage with people, educate people and connect with people (young and not so young). Thank you CJW for sharing a small piece of my story on this very important day.
Chippenham & Johnston-Willis Hospitals July 26 at 12:00 PM
Today, July 26, is National Disability Independence Day in honor of the anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The legislation, enacted in 1980, aimed to address discrimination and lack of equal access for those with disabilities. Today we pause to not only honor both our disabled colleagues and patients, but to also recognize the inclusive work that has been and will continue to be done in our communities. In doing so, we'd like to introduce you to our colleague Robin who is both a member of and a passionate educator regarding care for the disabled community, here is her story:
When Robin is counseling cancer survivors at Johnson-Willis Hospital’s Hawthorne Cancer Center or developing sports programs for the amputee community, she is not just talking the talk. She is sharing the knowledge and experience she has collected herself as a cancer survivor and amputee.
In 2021, Robin was profiled on WTVR TV6 in Richmond, where she told firsthand her story of overcoming cancer at age 18, only to lose her right leg to the disease later in life. The scars from those surgeries are not the only reminders she carries of learning how to adapt to a world where those with physical challenges have to overcome daily obstacles to live, work and thrive.
Robin’s teenage cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries saved her leg, but she was soon off to a college campus that was difficult to navigate. She was placed in a college dorm for disabled individuals, but it was a confusing time.
Unlike other students who adapted quickly to life on campus, Robin faced challenges that others were spared. Going to the cafeteria but not being able to carry a tray intimidated her, so she didn’t eat for the first week of school. Many of her classes were on upper floors of academic buildings without elevators that she couldn’t physically access. When it rained, she couldn’t hold an umbrella because of her crutches. She was also personally exposed to people with physical differences for the first time. She experienced the feeling of being an “other” along with so many of her peers with disabilities. She felt shy about asking for help and not being self-sufficient.
Over time, ADA regulations made things easier. Aids like ramps, rails and other structural building changes became more commonplace. When she later lost her leg to cancer, she had to adapt again to using a prosthetic leg to walk.
For Robin, the experience of becoming a member of the disabled community has been humbling. She has learned to ask for help. To ask colleagues to walk slower. To be vulnerable. To learn how to use ADA tools to enhance her mobility.
She’s made advocating for others facing disabilities her mission. Today, as a social worker at Johnston-Willis, Robin uses her own story to educate others learning to live with the label of “disabled” and works to make able-bodied community members sensitized to those with physical challenges. She encourages people to engage with those who are differently abled, such as prompting, “Do you mind me asking what happened to your leg?” When Robin sees parents trying to keep their kids from looking at her, she offers to let the children touch her prosthesis and ask her questions.
“One time, when I was at the beach, a 3-year-old followed me around the entire week but never said anything. At the end of the week, the little girl finally came up and asked where my leg went.” Robin told the little girl her story so that the next time she met someone with a disability, she would better understand.
“Rather than leaving folks feeling embarrassed, or having those with disabilities feeling ignored or ostracized, I choose to help each other grow and lean into having these conversations,” she said.