FORT MORGAN, Colo. (KDVR) — A high school graduate of Fort Morgan High School shared his story of one of the hardest decisions he’s had to make in his young life: amputating a portion of his right leg.

“I would start running then immediately stop,” Thomas Matson, who is nicknamed “TJ,” said.

TJ is no stranger to hospitals. As a 1-year-old, he had to have a liver transplant, Pam Schreiner, TJ’s grandma, said.

When he was a teen, TJ started running cross-country. He said one day he started having a sharp pain in his right ankle. He said he went to doctors for several X-rays that didn’t show anything. But eventually, after other tests, he learned he had cancer.

“It’s always a hard discussion with patients to tell them they have cancer and what that means for their lives,” Dr. Nathan Donaldson, an orthopedic oncologist at Children’s Hospital Colorado, said.

TJ was one of Donaldson’s patients. He diagnosed TJ with synovial sarcoma near his ankle. It’s a type of cancer that can come from soft tissue. The doctor had to give TJ three different choices on what he could do to either fight or get rid of the cancer.

“My heart dropped. I was devastated. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought I was going to die,” TJ said.

The teenager made the ultimate decision to have the lower part of his right leg, below the knee, amputated.

“I just didn’t want to chance it. I wanted to be able to run again,” TJ said.

TJ had the amputation surgery on Aug. 22, 2018.

“I was bound and determined to get off the couch,” TJ said.

On Nov. 13, 2018, TJ received his first prosthetic. Schreiner said the first prosthetic was heavy, around 5 pounds, but TJ could still run.

“The first week I got it, I was up and running and I was walking to town and stuff,” TJ said.

In 2019, TJ received his blade prosthetic from Amputee Blade Runners, a nonprofit organization based out of Nashville. That year he was able to rejoin the cross-country team at Fort Morgan High School.

“Whenever I put my leg on, it’s like I have a leg again,” TJ said.  

TJ is free of cancer but requires checkups every six months, at least for a decade.

“Tommy is one of the most positive people I have ever met. With everything he’s gone through in life, his attitude is amazing,” Donaldson said.

Now at 19 years old, TJ just graduated high school and is working for the parks department in Fort Morgan. He thanks his grandparents who raised him, especially his grandma, who quit her job to take care of him.

His grandma credits Children’s Hospital Colorado for everything.

“Without them, he wouldn’t be here,” Schreiner said.

TJ has a message for anyone else battling cancer: “If you see this story, never give up. You need to fight like hell.”