When cancer forced doctors to amputate Kristi Loyall’s foot, she was determined to keep it in her life.
The body part — cleaned of flesh, whitened and articulated — is now the star of its own quirky Instagram account, giving Loyall a chance to use humor to heal after the surgery.
“I want my Instagram account to show people who are going through hard situations that life goes on and that there’s hope,” Loyall, 25, told TODAY.
“It makes me feel better about life in general to make jokes out of things. So it definitely makes me better to make a joke out of this situation.”
Loyall, who lives in El Reno, Oklahoma, started experiencing pain and numbness in her right foot several years ago, but it wasn’t until last year that she was diagnosed with cancer: a rare soft tissue tumor called epithelioid sarcoma.
Her doctor recommended amputating the foot right away, warning that chemotherapy and radiation would not be effective. It was essentially her foot or her life, Loyall said.
“I was very surprised. The first thing I asked him was if I could keep my foot,” she recalled. “I like weird things so I thought it would be cool if somebody came to my house and I was like, ‘Hey, by the way, that’s my real foot over there.’”
Her doctor thought she was joking. When he realized she was not, he told her the request should be possible. Some people get their limbs back for religious reasons so they can be buried with their body intact, he noted.
Loyall filled out some paperwork and proceeded with the surgery, which took place in April 2016. The next month, she went to the hospital’s pathology department, where her foot was taken out of a bucket of formalin and put it in a red biohazard bag.
Next stop: Skulls Unlimited, an Oklahoma City company that cleans and mounts skeletons. Loyall paid $650 to have her foot stripped of flesh, whitened and articulated — or connected by wires to show its natural shape. The process took about four months.
“It was really, really cool. I was so happy,” Loyall said of the moment she saw the finished body part, which she has nicknamed Achilles. “It doesn’t creep me out at all.”
One of her cousin’s friends suggested she start an Instagram account for her foot and Loyall thought it was a brilliant idea. She uses dark humor, lots of foot puns and whimsical poses to make light of the situation.
“After [the surgery] happened, I kind of felt like my life was over. I was depressed,” she said. “But now, I definitely don’t feel that way.”
As she takes photos, people around her have no clue the foot she’s carrying around once belonged to the human in front of them — most think it’s a replica. While at a drive-through recently, a restaurant employee commented about the “cool foot.” Loyall thought to herself: “If only you knew.”
She’s now cancer-free, but undergoes scans every three months because her type of tumor has a high rate of recurrence. She’s glad to see other cancer survivors have embraced the project.
“It’s really nice to be able to go on my Instagram and see all these uplifting comments. It makes me feel good about myself,” Loyall said.