Sometimes, the long-shot bet is the one that changes everything.
Twelve-year-old Delaney Unger of Long Island, New York has been an avid dancer since she was just a toddler. Unfortunately, in 2016, she and her family received "some terrifying news.
Delaney Unger's mother, Melissa Unger, told CNN that they were told, "that your child has a mass on her femur and you have an appointment that afternoon with a pediatric oncologist."
Delaney was diagnosed with a rare condition called osteosarcoma, an aggressive bone cancer which would require both chemotherapy and amputation of her left leg above the knee. The illness itself was devastating enough on its own, but because the artificial knee replacements that most osteosarcoma patients receive are unstable in growing bones, limiting the patient's ability to perform intensive physical activity, Delaney's beloved dance career would be over.
However, her doctors at Stony Brook Hospital offered the family a potentially game-changing option: in a rare procedure called a rotationplasty, they could create a sort of makeshift knee replacement. The procedure involves removing the cancerous knee joint, rotating the remaining leg 180 degrees, and using the ankle as a knee joint. The foot faces backward, and a prosthetic leg fits over the foot. The toes provide vital sensory feedback to Delaney's brain that allow her to perform the various kicks and jumps required for the jazz, lyrical, and hip hop dances she loves so much.
Delaney Unger shows us her rotationplasty @StonyBrookMed Delaney's ankle & heel became her knee Amputation becaus… https://t.co/YZo1wIcS0L— Danielle Campbell (@Danielle Campbell)1536599064.0
Delaney's parents were hesitant about the drastic surgery, but their daughter's perspective changed their minds.
Her father Noah, told CNN, "She looked at Melissa and said, 'I would rather have a chance to try and fail then not have a chance at all.'" And it seems to have been precisely the right gamble.
Delaney has had to retrain her body and muscles, and there are still some dance moves she can't quite do. But the functionality the rotationplasty allows Delaney is exponentially more than a traditional amputation and prosthetic. And for a girl who said, "I just want to dance again, because I've never done anything else in my life except dance," that mobility has meant everything.
On social media, people were moved by the happy ending and inspired by Delaney's resilience:
@cnnhealth Hardwork never fails. I know numerous people who would’ve given up even if they received a hairline frac… https://t.co/ywQrcC2oRS— Anant Dubey (@Anant Dubey)1536640900.0
@CNN I'm always amazed by kids, so sad we are to be teaching them, not the other way around. Beautiful story, keep dancing girl!— tracy967 (@tracy967)1536608470.0
@cnnhealth What a beautiful story about a beautiful girl! I’m so glad she survived cancer and can keep dancing! It’s amazing! ❤️💜❤️— ZenaZee (@ZenaZee)1536633102.0
@CNN Delaney. Your courage and passion is inspiring. We adults have a lot to learn from you— Tiwalola (@Tiwalola)1536609546.0
Interesting approach for treating #osteosarcoma. #childhoodCancer suck, but this girl made the best of it. https://t.co/N3iC1W8nqo— Eugene Manley Jr. (@Eugene Manley Jr.)1536611007.0
@CNN This girl can teach us all a lesson. Not once in her press conference did she make it seem like life is unfair… https://t.co/7AUozAdbu4— Nora Abramov (@Nora Abramov)1536627747.0
@CNN Keep dancing, sweetheart! Your leg is unique, fabulous, beautiful & awesome and so are you!!! Dance on, princess!!— Dr. Be (@Dr. Be)1536626933.0
@DCampbellN12 @StonyBrookMed @News12LI She is the coolest and bravest thirteen year old for being the way she is. h… https://t.co/nlRhgv0I73— 코코 (@코코)1536669604.0
When it’s your passion....nothing will hold you back. You are amazing!!! #delaneyunger https://t.co/ToEtrqqCsq— Mia Hammonds (@Mia Hammonds)1536626475.0
Though Delaney's dance career is bright, she's set her sights on a different long-term goal. Inspired by her Stony Brook University doctors, she's decided to become a pediatric oncologist when she grows up. Seems likely she'll be an inspiration in that role too!