Battling cancer is a struggle that few can imagine, particularly when it comes to pediatric patients. This man faced his illness head on, and made a bold decision that not only changed his life for the better, but motivated him to show others they could live their lives to the fullest.
Dan Bastian is from Poughkeepsie, New York, and is one of nine children. Bastian was an avid athlete as a teenager. He played basketball, football, and ran track.
During winter track season, Bastian noticed he was having a significant amount of pain in his right knee.
Bastian’s father was a dentist, and sent him to a friend who was a radiologist to get an X-ray.
Doctors discovered a tumor in his right femur that had almost eaten all the way through the bone.
He was taken immediately to the hospital so doctors could perform a biopsy. They diagnosed him with osteogenic sarcoma, an aggressive form of bone cancer.
Oncologists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital told 15-year-old Bastian he had about six months to live.
“Absolute devastation. I couldn’t imagine it. I was extremely active, playing sports, doing everything I wanted to do, and then they told me that this was ending, so I kind of just shut down,” Bastian told Humanity.
Bastian underwent a year of chemotherapy in New York.
He was understandably devastated, and felt hopeless.
“I just kind of sat around with my head down, seated, just assumed my life was over. This was it, I was just waiting. I saw a lot of kids die next to me in the hospital rooms. They would just wheel them out, and that was it,” Bastian recalled.
However, Bastian’s mother wasn’t having it.
She finally yelled at him, and told him that he was going to survive. She told him that she never wanted to see him put his head down again, to smile, and to be determined.
For Bastian, that was the turning point. He was driven to beat his illness.
He had tremendous support from his family. His siblings would visit him on the weekends, and his older brother was particularly supportive.
Every time Bastian had to spend the night in the hospital, his brother was by his side. He would take off from work to take Bastian to Yankees baseball games when he didn’t have chemotherapy that day.
After six months of chemotherapy, doctors removed the tumor and a large part of his femur, his tibia, and his knee, and placed metal rods in his leg.
Bastian underwent 18 surgeries over the next decade in an effort to save his leg. During that time, he tried to continue living his life.
He met his wife in college, and they got married when he was 23. However, Bastian’s quality of life was deteriorating.
“By 25 she was becoming my nurse, and I just couldn’t live like that anymore with the pain. Finally, my wife and I decided lets just amputate it, and let me get on with my life,” Bastian remembered.
The surgeon who had performed his previous surgeries called Bastian a “quitter” for wanting to amputate the leg.
So Bastian had another surgeon perform the amputation. A week and a half later, he walked out of the hospital with a prosthetic leg.
Six weeks later, Bastian was riding his bike. Three months after that, he was downhill skiing.
“I just made this big life change. I’m going to learn how to use this thing, and I’m going to learn how to do this the best I possibly can,” Bastian recalled thinking after his amputation.
Another two months later he was ski racing against competitors with both legs.
“I got my life back. I got back to being active, doing everything I wanted to do, out of pain,” Bastian explained.
He started doing volunteer work at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital counseling pediatric patients who were going to become amputees.
He assured them that their lives were not over, and that they would be able to continue to do the things they loved after their amputations.
“I don’t think of myself as an amputee first. I’m just a guy that happens to be missing a leg, and I just find different ways to do things,” he said.
At the time, Bastian was a systems programmer for IBM. However, after volunteering at Memorial Sloan Kettering, he had found his calling.
“I came home one day from Sloan after meeting with a kid that was about to lose his limb, and I said to my wife: ‘You know what, this is what I’m supposed to be doing. This is what I was meant to do,'” Bastian remembered telling his wife.
His wife was entirely supportive. He left his job at IBM and went back to school at the University of Connecticut where he earned a degree in prosthetics.
In 1999, Bastian and his business partner Sal Martella founded Progressive O&P to help other amputees.
“All through my life so many had helped me tremendously. I just felt I needed to give back. I needed to help people that were in my same situation,” Bastian explained.
Bastian is passionate about his work, and looks forward to going to his practice every day.
“I never get tired of seeing someone take their first step again after an amputation,” Bastian explained.
Bastian talks to a lot of patients who are considering an amputation. He tells them his story, but then lets them make the decision for themselves.
For those that do undergo an amputation, Bastian is adamant that amputees use their prosthetics and live their lives to the fullest.
He has a patient who has been with him since he was a kid. One day he called Bastian and asked him what the melting point of his prosthetic leg was.
Bastian was a little taken aback by the question.
His patient was trying to become a volunteer fireman, and Bastian assured the department that he prosthetic was up to the job.
“This kid just amazes me. He’s another kid that just doesn’t let anything stop him. He comes in with stuff broken all the time because he just beats up his leg, which is what I want him to do,” Bastian explained.
Surprisingly, Bastian doesn’t look back at his experience negatively.
“It made me a stronger person. I wouldn’t give it up for a second, everything I’ve been through,” Bastian said.
“On this side of it now I have a business where I’m helping people. I wouldn’t have met my wife. I wouldn’t have my two children. All these things I wouldn’t have if I didn’t have the cancer originally.
“I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. I’ll take it just so I can be able to do the things that I do right now, and have the life that I have.”