Living with phantom limb pain

Shelley Churchill, 26, is a student in Mount Pearl, N.L., who still feels pain in the leg she lost at age five.

Some days, Shelley Churchill feels a sudden, stabbing pain in her right leg, which is weird because the leg hasn’t been there since she was five. “People with phantom limb pain experience it differently, but for me it feels like there’s a cramp and I need to bend my knee.” Her leg was removed two inches above the knee after she was diagnosed with bone cancer.

Now, Shelley speaks about amputeeism, pain and prosthetics for the War Amps’ Champs Program. She often gives talks in classrooms, removing her leg (she has three prosthetics: an electronic one, another for sports and a waterproof one for swimming) and passing it around for the kids to hold. “It’s a good way to get a healthy dialogue going.” Her pain is worse when she’s tired or stressed, so she manages it with rest, warm compresses and soothing cups of tea.

“When I have an exam and the pain wakes me up at 3 a.m., I tell my mind, ‘The leg hasn’t been there for 20 years, so let it go!”