Cancer survivor who lost her leg at 19 now training for a half-Ironman

Alma Faz was just 19 when her right leg was amputated.

It was “the lowest point in my life: 85 pounds, cast on one leg, surgeries and chemotherapy,” Faz said.

That was two decades ago, just months after the Houston native was diagnosed with bone and ovarian cancer.

“I was athletic. I was a cheerleader when I was in high school, so I liked to exercise,” she said. “I wanted to go to college. I wanted to build a career. You know, just do what normal people do.”

Instead, Faz dropped out after just six weeks of college to undergo chemo and multiple surgeries.

“The reality became: Am I going to survive?” she said.

Inspired to help save lives

Alma Faz was just 19 when her right leg was amputated. Now, she’s preparing to complete a race with a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run.

Six months after her amputation in 1998, Faz took her first steps. Inspired by the dedication of the staff at MD Anderson Cancer Center to saving her life, she decided to go back to school to study computed tomography, a medical imaging technology.

“I’m in a wheelchair, post-amputation, having a CT scan, and it came to me that this is what I want to do, and this is where I want to do it,” said Faz, now 39. “Everybody was very caring and had a common goal for me. And so you can’t put a price on that.”

Faz has now worked at MD Anderson for 15 years and manages a clinic that sees more than 100 patients a day.

“There were so many people working to save my life,” she said, “So I thought, ‘One day, I can work to save someone else’s life.’ ”

‘I really wanted to run again’

After losing her leg, Faz was determined to get active again. But running was not an option.

“I did try, but the prosthetics were not as advanced.” she said. “So, when I tried to run on that foot, there was no natural movement to it. It was more just for walking.”

In 2009, she started an adolescent and young adult support group at the cancer center, a resource she didn’t have at the time of her diagnoses — and realized she could do more.

Alma Faz was just 19 when her right leg was amputated. Now, she’s preparing to complete a race with a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run.

“Through them, I went to kayaking camps, ski trips, and then there was the ‘aha’ moment,” she said. “I really wanted to run again.”

Faz’s leg was stable enough by the next year for doctors to build her a running prosthetic. She started an eighth of a mile at a time.

“Before I knew it, it was the whole park,” she recalled. “Then, it was a 5K, then 10K.”

Faz has completed 21 half-marathons and a 26.2-mile marathon. And now, she’s training for a half-Ironman triathlon, with a 1.2-mile swim, a 56-mile bike ride and a 13.1-mile run.

“I have plenty of scars, and I have a missing leg that reminds me every day of the sacrifices,” she said. “But that pushes me every day to give more, because I had the chance to survive.”