Dana Pounds is full of gratitude for a life that has truly blossomed despite being rooted in loss, pain and confusion. She has learned not to dread the unknown, but rather to be open and welcoming to all aspects of her life. It is her connection to the outdoors that has helped Dana stay open, gain insight, and heal. Now Dana is giving back, by providing kids in Florida the opportunity to connect with and care about the outdoors through programs with Nature’s Academy.
As a ‘real outdoors girl’, Dana felt stuck both before and after her cancer-related amputation. The advice she received from the ‘experts’ (her doctors and prosthetists) was that a wheelchair and prosthesis would be her only ‘pathways to mobility’. This advice wasn’t well received by Dana: “my bone density was decreasing by sitting in a wheelchair, and I needed to get up and get moving.” She also wanted to access the outdoors more readily.
What Dana has learned since her amputation is, “if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. Listen to your body. There are many pathways to mobility”. SideStix provided Dana with greater body awareness. “I stood upright [engaging core muscles] and held my upper body appropriately. This stance reduced lower back pain”. Her SideStix have also allowed her to access nature and hike local trails.
“I see myself as whole. I didn’t have to overcome my appearance [after my amputation] to return to feeling physically and spiritually whole again.” Perhaps being whole is all about learning to accept yourself and others, despite differences. As Dana puts it, “suck up your pride and try new ways to be more adaptive to change, and to understand there is no one right way to do things”.
If we keep an open heart and a ‘come what may’ attitude, it allows us to remain flexible to change, feel gratitude for lessons learned, and revel in the joy that is certain to follow.
Tell us about your journey as an amputee
When I had my leg amputated in 2008, the conversation totally revolved around how I would be made whole again by getting a prosthesis. Overall, I feel like when the amputation first happened, there was no discussion about any other forms of mobility except for using a prosthesis. My first 10 years as an amputee, I did not think that there was any other way for me to achieve the level of mobility that I desired through any other pathway besides a prosthesis. It wasn’t until I reached a breaking point – literally. I had a stress fracture in my pelvic girdle from cancer treatments, so I could physically no longer wear my prosthesis. When that happened, I kind of accepted it, and said, “Okay, well, in I go to a wheelchair”.
One day, I was at Pilates, and my instructor asked why I was using aluminium crutches. And I said “Well, I’m not using my prosthesis anymore, and I can’t get up here to the third floor without crutches or my wheelchair!” And she said “I hope you don’t take this as an offence, but those crutches are for temporary situations, and you are not in a temporary situation”. And so, of course, I start laughing. I was like “Oh my gosh, I don’t know why I never thought of that before! You’re totally right!” We immediately started researching and found SideStix, and I ended up with a pair.
This is my 11th year as an amputee. I always say “the circumstances that lead you to your amputation certainly dictate your future with it”, and I am so grateful that mine came through a semi-planned process, in a sense that it came from cancer, so I had plenty of time to prepare for it. I refer to it as my “liberation surgery”. I actually donated my leg to 3 different research hospitals. I brought dry ice with me the day I had my leg amputated, because that was the deal I made with my surgeon. He said, “If you bring the dry ice, I’ll ship your leg!”
It was difficult, but I was ready for it when it happened, so it has enabled me to see this as a gift, and to focus on the positive side of it the entire time. I have never seen myself as ‘not whole’ without my leg. I have seen myself as a survivor, and it’s a battle scar that I have from my experiences.
How do you defy convention?
The way I hope to defy convention is to demonstrate to others the vast pathways of mobility that are available to us. At times we have such a black and white view of what we think. We think “A leg is gone, we have to replace it with a leg”. But in all honesty, even if I were able to wear a prosthesis, as an above-the-knee amputee, I have far more mobility with SideStix than with any prosthesis that I’ve ever tried.
What’s your favourite thing about SideStix?
When I first got my SideStix, I did not realize how much my posture had changed as a result of being in a wheelchair and using aluminium crutches. I had a very hunched posture, and I was actually causing a lot of my lower back issues myself because of poor posture and lack of core development. When SideStix came along, it wasn’t only the mobility that they provided me; it was an awareness of myself that they provided. When I finally stood upright, where I was able to hold my upper body appropriately, pull my shoulders down appropriately, and engage my core appropriately, I felt this level of strength come into me. I was like “Oh, there I am again”. It was a return to being whole again, but without the need to be physically whole. My SideStix helped me regain my spiritual wholeness.
It’s been life altering for me. It wasn’t just a return to spiritual wellness, it really was a return to health for me, and a true survival pathway. At the end of my last clinical trial, I was told by my Sarcoma team that my bone density had deteriorated so significantly that I had about ten years left to live. They said there was osteoporosis medications, but I would need to get moving. I was in such excruciating pain at the time, from having a broken pelvic girdle and ribs, that I couldn’t even envision it. I just kind of accepted it, and said “I’m just gonna do what I can with this wheelchair”.
I truly did not think that I would be able to get up and moving out of my wheelchair, and that has been the real cornerstone of survival for me. I have a long life ahead of me, and my SideStix have enabled me to literally take that whole limitation back away. Now the bones are healing. I’m strong. My lower back pain has been diminished significantly, and I’m able to get up and get out, and live and be physical the way that I needed so I could help my bones.
What are your passions?
I love nature, and being outdoors. Nature is so meaningful to me. It’s so healing. I’m pretty addicted to the trees out here in Washington, and to the ocean. We have this lovely trail – the Olympic Discovery Trail – that they’re working on making contiguous all the way from one end of the peninsula to the other. When we moved here, I was just using my wheelchair to get out in nature, and there’s over a hundred miles worth of paved nature trail here. That was like amputee heaven! I wanted to scream from wheelchair mountaintops that this was the place to come ride! It’s awesome!
I volunteer a lot. I feel like it’s a gift I’m even still here, so I just love to keep giving the gift that I’ve received. It all kind of always revolves around nature in one way, shape, or form. There’s an organization here called Sequim Wheelers. It’s a non-profit that was started by a local gal here to support physically-challenged people that want to get out in a bike. We have bikes with a wheelchair on the front for the ‘wheeler’, or physically challenged person. The ‘pilot’ rides the bicycle, and then we have two safeties that ride with them.
We bring the bike to different facilities, and we take folks out for rides so they have an opportunity to get out in nature – that thing I love so much – and engage with people. The engagement you receive when you’re riding with your pilot is such a gift. The experience of engaging and connecting with people that happens to us as amputees, or elderly folks living in a home, is a little isolating. I’m a board member for them, and help out as much as I can.
Tell us about the outdoor education organization you and your husband founded in Florida
The first half of my life, I was a marine scientist. My husband and I founded Nature’s Academy, which is a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) environmental education project, and I love it. Our mission is to enhance STEM literacy and foster environmental stewardship. Essentially, in the not-so-fancy terminology, we just take kids outdoors, and engage all their senses. We teach them that the outdoors is their backyard, and we need to love and care for it, and hopefully, as adults, they’ll make better decisions than some other adults have made as far as resource conservation.
We are extraordinarily proud of the fact that we have been able to launch a program where we support every 5th grade student in our local school district in Florida to come through our education programs free of charge – that’s about 3,500 students each year. We provide field trips and ways to expand learning that are literally outside of the box.
What projects are you working on right now?
My husband and I are building a house right now. It’s so funny how we often don’t give ourselves permission to live the life that we require. I have always felt like a one-legged person living in a two-legged world, and houses that are completely meant for two-legged people. Doorways are not wide enough for my wheelchair, there are bedrooms upstairs, and bathrooms have accessibility issues, and all these different things. I’ve always had this attitude of “I’ll just make it work,” but eventually, over time, that kind of wears thin on you.
We realized that in order to make it work, we’d just have to start from the ground up. We are not people of financial means by any stretch of the imagination, but we just gave ourselves permission, after we survived long enough, to say “we deserve to have a place where I don’t need to struggle to get in and out of the shower”. We’ve never done this before! I’m just a marine biologist that runs a non-profit! I don’t know anything about construction – except that I can use my SideStix to point pretty well!
What motivates you?
I get motivation from people’s pictures on social media. I belong to a group called the Olympic Peninsula Hikers, and it’s just pictures of nature, people hiking, and sharing trails. When we first moved here, I thought to myself “Oh, I’ll join this group just so I can see where they’re going, and dream about going there too”.
For months, I just looked at their pictures – I was kind of a stalker, not a talker – and then I started to feel sorry for myself, and I could feel that victim role come into play. I appreciate the need to go through the process of mourning things, and it brings us better self-awareness to honour those feelings as you go through them, but I don’t like them to stay forever. I said to myself “feeling sad for yourself isn’t gonna get you any closer to the top of that mountain – what would?” So I just got up and starting moving and talking, and that’s how I ended up with the aluminium crutches at my Pilates class!
What advice would you have for other crutch users?
Always listen to your body. There’s no “Amputee 101” book out there. When you’re in this situation, you look to your prosthetist and your surgeon to be the experts in the field. I was so sure that they knew best, because they’ve gone to school, and studied all of these things, and they should know what’s best for me. I gave all the control to them, and stopped listening to my body, even though it was telling me, over time, that the pain I was feeling wasn’t good pain. I kept deferring to the experts.
If your body is telling you it’s not right, by all means, get on that almighty Google and start talking to people, start searching, ask questions! That’s where I came across Sidestix! I was sent to the Amputee Coalition Facebook page and wrote about how I thought I would have to invent a pair of crutches with crampons, shock absorbers, and interchangeable tips; at least 20 people responded and tagged SideStix!
At the end of the day, we live all day every day right inside this skin, and we need to be comfortable and feel as though we can achieve what we want to achieve. No one else out there can tell us that except for ourselves. If it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. If it doesn’t feel like it’s enough, it’s not enough. Ask questions and reach out, because there is a whole community of people out there that will help you.