Alex Parra on Embracing Today
By Jewel Connelly, Communications Specialist
Photos of Alex Parra
2024 is a big year for Alex Parra, specifically because Jan. 11 is the day the 23-year-old was officially declared cancer free. The last seven years have been a roller coaster of emotion filled with twists and turns, which began when he was first diagnosed with osteosarcoma at 15. After facing both stage 2 and stage 4 cancer as a teenager and surviving (even after being declared terminal), not much can wipe Alex’s beaming smile off his face. In his own words, he’s “just happy to be here,” and his exuberant personality and zest for life have resonated with over 2 million followers across his social media platforms. Considering it all started with wanting to create videos for his 15-year-old self, Alex continues to be grateful for the support and opportunity to reach so many people through his journey.
The first diagnosis came in 2016. After brushing off knee pain for a couple of months, Alex was shocked to find out he had stage 2 osteosarcoma with a 40% chance of survival. One of the biggest decisions of his life would come soon after, when he was given two options: knee replacement or amputation. “My dad sat me down and said, ‘We can’t make this decision for you. I know you’re 15, but this is your decision that you have to make,’” Alex recalls. “My parents introduced me to people who had knee replacements and amputations, and if it wasn’t for that it would have never pushed me in the right direction.” During that time, he met a young amputee girl, also named Alex, who showed him that even though she had a disability she could still do all the things she wanted to do. Still unsure, he decided to flip a coin but ultimately went with what was in his heart and became an above knee amputee on Dec. 1, 2016.
While the expectation of staying active drove the decision to amputate, the ability to access the right prostheses would prove just as crucial. The reality was that the hefty price posed a significant barrier but, thanks to a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, Alex got a running blade in 2017. In his videos, Alex often enjoys showcasing his leg collection, but he’s also personally aware of the struggle many face to access prostheses. From his perspective, the level to which someone thrives is directly tied to accessibility.
“What our community has to deal with is, No. 1, the price and how expensive prosthetics are,” Alex said. “In order for us to have good physical ability, we need to have access to the proper medical equipment. Not everyone can thrive, which is the scary part because not everyone has access to the different prosthetics they need.”
Even with insurance, finding a good fit has taken many years and several attempts. “I started walking comfortably for the first time just two years ago,” Alex continued. “And, just the fact that it’s taken me five years to even get to a point where I feel I can do all the things I could do with two legs – why was that not sooner? I’ve had maybe five microprocessors, which is insane to think of because all the bad experiences I had with prosthetics could have been avoided if I simply had the proper one at the beginning.”
This frustration motivated Alex to enter the 2023 San Francisco Marathon and raise awareness by using only his crutches. After completing 16 miles in his first attempt, his biggest goal for 2024 is crossing a marathon finish line.
Despite all he’s experienced (or perhaps because of it), Alex’s authenticity, humor and vulnerability shine through and allow him to connect across the screen. “When I was 15, there wasn’t someone who had one leg that had all these answers to my questions,” he shared when talking about his start on social media. “There wasn’t someone who was going through cancer that could voice how I truly felt.”
Through the videos, Alex answers those questions and shares the story of when he was diagnosed again, this time with stage 4 lung cancer, and given three months to live. He created his cancer bucket list as a way to cope and now happily documents as he crosses goals off the list. Whether he’s hiking a national park or just going to the gym, Alex approaches every day with bountiful enthusiasm. For a guy who at one point thought he wouldn’t see his 18th birthday, every day is a gift, and he encourages others not to wait until they’re dying to start truly living.
Ultimately, the enduring lessons learned from cancer have profoundly changed Alex’s outlook on life and serve as powerful reminders of how to appreciate each moment in a new way. “Appreciate the little things in life,” Alex emphasized. “My experience was such an eye opener because you realize how easily life can change in an instant.” Of course, there are still obstacles, but Alex lives with a strong belief that you can come out on top by maintaining a positive perspective and remembering why you set your goals in the first place. “Even though we have a disability, there’s still hope at the end of the tunnel,” Alex said with a confident smile. “Life can still be amazing in every single way.”
Keep up with Alex (@Alex1Leg) on TikTok, Instagram and his YouTube channel.