By Tom Midlane @GoldenLatrine
Scroll down for the full story
Videographer / director: Ruaridh Connellan
Producer: Nora Hakramaj, Ruby Coote
Editor: James Thorne
Jillian Williams, 20, from Odem, Texas, was a contestant in the glamorous world of Miss Teen USA beauty pageants and a talented college volleyball player.
But her world came crashing down in February last year when she was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma - a rare type of bone cancer.
In September 2015 Jillian began to experience pain in her knee while playing volleyball for Texas Lutheran University at a tournament, which she initial dismissed as tendonitis.
She said: “My trainer said he thought it sounded like a torn meniscus. You can technically still play on that as long as you aren’t in too much pain.
“So I played all season on it and the plan was to send me to the doctor and look at surgery options at the end of the season."
While back home in early December, she had an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon in St Antonio, who ordered an MRI.
The MRI revealed Jillian had a fractured femur and a bone cyst - with subsequent MRIs showing that the cyst was growing rapidly.
Jillian said: “It had grown two and an half centimetres in two months. We went to the oncologist who said ‘I think it’s just an infection but I want to go ahead and do a biopsy to make sure.’
“So they did an open biopsy and that’s when it came back positive for Ewing’s sarcoma.
"When they told me that it was cancer, I was so shocked, I didn’t really believe it.”
Doctors outlined a number of treatment options, some of which could have saved Jillian’s leg - but may have increased the risk of the cancer returning.
Instead she opted for a ‘rotationplasty’, a procedure which required surgeons to remove 36cm of the middle portion of her leg, since the tumour was in her distal femur.
The foot, ankle and shin were then rotated 180 degrees and reattached to her upper leg to act as her knee joint - which then slips into a prosthetic lower leg.
Jillian said: "I could have just had the tumor taken out and salvaged the limb, but from research I have done and people I have met, there is a higher relapse rate if you go that route and that’s not what I wanted.
“Instead I opted just to have the leg removed and rotationplasty offered me the best way of life once that decision had been made."
But despite her cancer ordeal, Jillian has managed to stay upbeat throughout her diagnosis and treatment.
"I don’t know how I remain so positive. I have always been a very happy, bubbly person and I have carried that into my current situation,” she said.
“With my dad especially when I was first diagnosed, I was like, ‘You got to stop making the sad dog face and start, like, smiling. I am going to need your help to fight. I can’t do this alone. I don’t want any crying.’"
Despite Jillian’s can-do attitude, the transition from athletic Texan beauty queen to cancer patient and amputee has required a big adjustment.
She said: "I have always had long hair and been the tall pretty girl and it’s been eye-opening.
“A lot of people tend to shy away from me because they are scared, like ‘Why does she look like that? Why is she bald like that? Is she crazy?'
“But I have embraced it full-heartedly, but I know some people see it as a freakish thing and are taken aback by it.
"At first it was tough adjusting because in the beginning I did have a lot of pain being on chemo.
“But I've started working out now, I have a chair when I shower and luckily I can still drive."
And with the help of her new leg, which Jillian calls ‘Leni’, she has set her sights on becoming the first amputee Miss Texas.
She still pushes her limits by working out three times a week with her trainer and now dreams of playing volleyball professionally.
She said: "I do not miss my leg, which is crazy.
“My biggest goal that I’m reaching for right now is to play Paralympics volleyball for the women’s national team. I hope that it is there in my future.
"I also want to compete again for Miss Texas, so I want to get my body back in shape to where it needs to be for that.”
And while the threat of relapse remains a possibility, Jillian is determined to inspire other cancer patients not to give up on their dreams.
"Ewing’s can come back. I know the survival rate is 75% and so all we can do is pray that I am part of that 75% and I will survive,” she said.
"My motto of life is to make a difference by being different and I feel like that’s what I’m doing with rotationplasty, with cancer, with anything I do in life."