When Scarlette was born in December 2013, her left arm and shoulder looked swollen—and kept getting worse. After five months, we finally had a diagnosis: undifferentiated high-grade spindle cell sarcoma, a rare cancer that can affect the body’s soft tissue. Her arm and shoulder had to be amputated, and skin grafts were placed on her left torso to replace the skin that was removed.
During this time, I had picked up crochet as a hobby. Since Scarlette, then about 11 months old, had developed a fascination for cats, I made a stuffed cat. To make her feel normal, I gave it only three legs. She loved her new toy so much that I thought to myself, “Why not get a real one?”
In December 2015, after months of internet searches, I came across a story about a three-legged cat on a news report. Three days of calling led me to an animal shelter in San Jacinto, way out in Riverside County. The cat had somehow gotten her paw cut off, was rescued by locals, and operated on by veterinarians. We jumped right into the car, drove 2½ hours, and met the fluffiest cat you’ve ever seen: Doc.
We named her after Scarlette’s favorite cartoon character, Doc McStuffins. Since the cat was still healing from her amputation, we had to drive back out a couple of days later and pick her up.
Scarlette was overjoyed. She immediately understood that Doc was just like her. “Cat has owie,” she said, taking her right hand and putting it where her left arm socket used to be. She couldn’t stop hugging her. To this day, they have an incredible bond. And I’m convinced that Doc is one reason why Scarlette is handling it so well.
Both are pretty sassy. We call Doc “the hunter” because she’ll catch bugs with one paw in mid-air. I have no idea if she realizes that she only has one front paw, but Scarlette sure knows she’s only got one arm—and she loves to joke about it.
Ask her, “Where’s your arm?” and she’ll give you different answers:
“It’s in the dishwasher.”
“Dr. Rose (her doctor) took it away.”
“It’s over there,” she’ll say, pointing out the window.
On Halloween 2016, it was Scarlette’s idea to go as a skeleton—and carry a skeleton arm around.
My favorite is when she wants to show me some attitude. Since she can’t cross both arms across her chest and pout, she throws the right arm far around to the other side and puffs her chest way out.
Scarlette, now 4, has a 5-year-old brother, Kayden, and a little brother, Lincoln, born last March. Kayden and his sister are inseparable. She has figured out how to do everything with one hand that he does with two.
I’ve reached out to other parents with one-limbed kids. None of them have three-legged cats or dogs, but they love the idea. I’ve asked them how they handle backpacks, car seats, and all the things that usually require two arms and shoulders.
In the big picture, these are minor inconveniences. The main thing is to get kids in environments where they feel normal.
After all, what’s normal, anyway?—R.M.W.