Still on her Harley: Determined to ride again after leg amputated

Motorcycles are Marcia Thomson’s life. They’re a social outlet, her form of therapy and her freedom. They connect her to people from all walks of life, and take her places she never imagined going.

Cancer took Marcia Thomson’s lower leg

Cancer took Marcia Thomson’s lower leg

Motorcycles are Marcia Thomson’s life.

They’re a social outlet, her form of therapy and her freedom. They connect her to people from all walks of life, and take her places she never imagined going.

She’s not about to give that all up.

But Marcia, 57, faced just that prospect three years ago, following a below-the-knee amputation of her left leg.

“You won’t be able to ride again,” her doctor told her.

“Whatever,” she said.

“It could be dangerous. What will you do if you have to stop suddenly?”

“Yeah, and I could step out in front of a car and get hit or I could get cancer,” she said, emphasizing the last word.

“Point taken.”

Marcia, an Abbotsford resident, had already made up her mind as soon as she was informed that she needed an amputation: She would again ride her beloved purple 2005 Harley-Davidson Heritage Softail.

That goal motivated her through her recovery and rehabilitation.

She was also fuelled by a “life is too short” philosophy, having faced a cancer battle many years before. Marcia didn’t want to be one of those people who let a dramatic life change alter who she was.

She was a motorcyclist.

She loved it so much that she was an active member – and director for five years – of the Harley Owners’ Group in Chilliwack.

Marcia was also a key volunteer in the Fraser Valley Toy Run. One of her best friends was event founder Lenore “Ma” Hopkins of Mission, who died in a car accident in October – the day before the 2010 toy run.

Marcia and her husband Steve took many road trips together and with friends. Every chance she had, she would ride.

It made her happy.

“You just get on and you go,” she would say.

Even the problems she had with her left foot for several years didn’t stop her. Marcia had a troublesome growth on the top of her foot, but doctors told her it was a “fatty cyst.”

The lump grew bigger and became increasingly uncomfortable, particularly in the steel-toed boots Marcia wore on the job as a finishing carpenter. She insisted the growth be removed.

Two weeks before she married Steve in 1996, she found out the lump was cancerous. Thirty-six radiation treatments followed.

In 1999, Marcia took a course and learned to ride a motorcycle. She didn’t want to sit on the back of Steve’s anymore.

Riding was often painful, as gear shifting on a motorcycle is done with the left foot, and the radiation treatments Marcia received had caused permanent damage. The bones in her foot were brittle and broke often, and she suffered a series of infections that never seemed to heal, and she had become allergic to the antibiotics.

There were increasing concerns about the infections attacking the heart valve replacement she had in 2007 to repair a congenital problem.

In one seven-month period, Marcia was hospitalized eight times.

By the time an amputation was suggested, Marcia was ready for it. After 12 years of pain with every step, she had had enough.

Her surgery took place in February 2008.

She spent five months in hospital due to complications that required a second surgery, as well as the rehabilitation phase in which she learned how to walk using her artificial limb.

Meanwhile, she thought constantly about her goal. Soon after she returned home, she was ready to get back on her motorcycle.

Although Steve had an electric shifter installed on her bike so Marcia could shift gears by hand instead of by foot, she couldn’t tolerate the change.

The technicians adjusted the foot shifter assembly to accommodate the positioning of her artificial limb, and she was off.

She rode five hours that day and all day the next for a poker run. It was the most joy she’d felt since getting her new leg and being able to walk without pain.

Even having to place both feet on the ground during a stop wasn’t an issue. She could still “feel” her left foot, a phenomenon common to amputees.

Marcia, who now works as an office and rental rep at Northern Trailer in Aldergrove, has since helped start the Fraser Valley Amputees Support Group. She also offers peer support to new amputees while they are in the hospital, and is assistant director of the Vancouver chapter of the Association of Injured Motorcyclists (AIM).

In September, she organized a motorcycle show-and-shine with the support group and AIM. She called it “Out on a Limb.”

She believes that nothing should stop those who have a goal.

“Never give up on your dreams. A good attitude will get you through a lot,” she says.

– The Fraser Valley Amputees Support Group meets the third Wednesday of every month from 7 to 9 p.m. at Abbotsford Community Services, 2420 Montrose Ave. A daytime meeting will be considered if there is enough interest. For more information, call Marcia at 604-626-0711 and leave a message.