Some can laugh in the face of fear

Perspective. It’s a word we hear a lot as an adult. We probably heard it from time to time as children, too, but we’re carefree. We brush it off as some deep word parents use. You find out why they do when you get older.

You realize life can change in an instant, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it. It’s a helpless feeling. It can infuriate even the strongest-willed people and send them spiraling into misery.

But sometimes, there are people who think differently — no matter the tragedy or terrible news. Regardless of what lies ahead or what the prognosis is, these people aren’t fazed. In fact, where some may see sadness and fear, they see humor and optimism.

Myself and many others have met such a person. Her name is Skylar Scarnecchia, and she just turned 14 about two weeks ago.

You may have heard her story by now. When she was 10, a tumor was found on her foot and she was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma, a rare soft-tissue cancer that spread to her lungs. Months of chemotherapy eventually took care of the spots on her lungs, but the tumor wasn’t responding to treatment.

Scarnecchia had to have a portion of her leg amputated (essentially from the knee down) at the age of 11. She admits to crying once — just once — about the amputation on the day of the surgery, but she quickly got over it.

Her first thought when she received her prosthetic leg was to name it Felicia. Yep. She named it Felicia, so when the nurses left her room, they had to say, “Bye, Felicia.” She would then waive the leg at them.

Maybe you’ve heard that story. Maybe you’ve heard that she returned to playing sports two months after the amputation. Maybe you know that she’s now a starter on Champion’s eighth-grade basketball team and plays three sports. If so, you’ve probably heard that she created an Instagram account that often features “Felicia” wearing a wig with a face or being used in some other hilarious manner.

Well, I’ve got a few more stories for you if you like to hear about people who think a little differently than most of us.

Not long after she received Felicia, Skylar would be in the back seat of the car as the Scarnecchia family drove through a fast-food restaurant. As the family was pulling away, Skylar would roll her window down and waive her prosthesis at the rather-puzzled worker at the window.

Strange? Maybe a little, but absolutely hilarious as well.

If you meet the Scarnecchia family, you’ll see where she gets her sense of humor. Tricia, her mother, is sweet, extremely kind and enjoys a good laugh, but Jim, her dad, enjoys creating those laughs — as much as humanly possible — and usually with Skylar as his sidekick.

As I was interviewing them for the first time, I was rather nervous because this was a sensitive subject. While they respect the severity of cancer and amputations, the Scarnecchias, as I said, see things a bit differently. About 30 minutes into the interview, they told me the story about “Felicia,” and as they’re explaining things, I’m cracking up and also trying to wrap my mind around this ridiculousness, when Jim chimes in.

“I’ll be honest with you, we really like Felicia better than Skylar,” he said, sounding ever so serious. “She may have lost her leg, but we gained a Felicia.”

Skylar didn’t miss an opportunity to join in on the fun — at her own expense.

“Honestly, I think all my friends (like Felicia better) too,” she laughed. “I’m convinced they love my mom’s cooking, Felicia and Buddy, my dog.”

Insert crying-laughing emoji here.

I had the pleasure of writing multiple articles on Skylar and her family over the past two weeks, and I still find myself amazed and inspired by them when I think about the story. How could someone not be astonished?

Just about all of us know someone battling cancer or who went through the struggle. My brother beat it, and one of my best friends is in a scary bout with it right now. He, too, often takes a ridiculously funny approach to his prognosis. His sense of humor is one of the many reasons he’s probably my closest friend.

But I know it’s not all smart cracks and jokes. There are tough times, too, where it’s just too difficult to laugh, or so it seems. We’ve all been there. Maybe your fight isn’t cancer. Maybe your fight is something different. Mine is, but people like Skylar and my good friend Jim make me realize you can laugh in the face of fear.

It’s not easy, but there’s always a Felicia to be found, if you think a little differently — if you think like Skylar.


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