How Does He Do It?

With just one leg Darrin Shamo still gets a real kick out of life.

Is this guy completely crazy?

That’s what I asked myself as I talked to Darrin Shamo at his family’s home in Hurricane, Utah.

Sure, he looks pretty normal: tall, skinny, with short blond hair. He wears glasses. You wouldn’t know from looking at him that he has an artificial leg.

But that’s not the strange part. What’s strange is that Darrin is happy. I mean extremely cheerful. His right leg is gone, but he laughs, he jokes, and he tells stories about his artificial leg while holding it in his lap.

How does he do it?

Darrin lost his right leg to cancer in June of 1991. But he hasn’t let his loss hold him back. His only regret is having to interrupt his mission to Chile, where his condition was diagnosed.

“I never wanted to leave,” he says. “I enjoyed every single day.”

But it was decided that Darrin should go home for further tests. Within an hour or two after arriving in Salt Lake City, doctors told him he definitely had a cancerous tumor on his knee.

Surely he was worried, right?

“I was a little bit scared about cancer because I didn’t know what it was,” Darrin says. “When you hear cancer, you think something really scary.”

What helped Darrin’s outlook was a little scripture reading on his plane ride to the United States from Chile. He had been reading in Alma about the Anti-Nephi-Lehis, and how they didn’t fear for their lives when the Lamanites came to attack them.

“I looked at that and I said, ‘I’m not going to fear for my life.’ I told that to people on the plane.”

After getting home, Darrin decided to maintain a positive attitude. “We had some long discussions,” says Darrin’s dad, Ronald Shamo, “and Darrin said, ‘I can approach this one of two ways. I can accept it and make the most of it, or I can be bitter. People don’t like to be around people who are complaining and unhappy. But when you’re positive and can look forward to getting better, people enjoy helping you along the way. They enjoy being with you.’”

And that has made all the difference. Darrin admits chemotherapy sickness had him depressed at times, but he even managed to conquer that. “I made sure no matter what I was doing in the hospital, I was happy. I especially enjoyed going to the fourth floor from three to five in the morning and looking at the babies.”

But Darrin’s condition required more than chemotherapy. His knee had to be removed, and doctors let him choose between joint replacement surgery and amputation just above the knee. Joint replacement would let him keep his leg, but it might leave him with little or no control over that leg because the muscles running through the joint would be cut.

With amputation, however, Darrin could get an artificial leg and soon be back to his old hobbies, like basketball, volleyball, bowling, and rappeling. Yes, rappeling. Having fun with his friends was important to Darrin, so the decision to amputate was not overly difficult. His bowling scores are down since the operation, but he’s confident that will change with practice.

What made Darrin most happy was when he learned he would be able to complete his mission. He was sent to the California Sacramento Mission and returned home this fall.

“Whenever we have a trial, there’s always something we can learn if we’re looking for it. There’s always some blessing,” Darrin says. “Cancer just made me look harder for the blessings, but they’re still always there.”

Hmmm. Maybe I exaggerated about Darrin. Maybe he’s not so crazy after all.

[photos] From his first baptism in Chile (far left) to his mission finished in California (above), his faith in God and joy in life haven’t wavered. (Photography by Darrin Lythgoe and courtesy of family.)