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A woman who survived cancer, The Ellen Show and a YouTube hit: how Jen turned a negative into a positive

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Colin Cosier

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Ellen Degeneres.

Ellen Degeneres.

Jen O'Shea wanted to get on The Ellen DeGeneres Show so badly she made a personal secret about her body very public.

She posted a video online of her mind-boggling ability to twist her right leg at the hip to a 180 degree angle.

"To say I have above average range of motion at my hip is a bit of an understatement," she says in her video pitch for Ellen DeGeneres' Here's My Talent competition, before twisting the sole of her foot towards the ceiling.

Jen O'Shea.

Jen O'Shea.

But it's a talent that came about through unfortunate circumstances for the 28-year-old from Ontario, Canada.

O'Shea had a rare form of bone cancer called Ewing's sarcoma and in 2011 she underwent surgery for an internal hemipelvectomy where the entire right side of her pelvis was removed. The bone wasn't replaced, so while her right leg muscle still functions, it's not attached to her skeleton.

Months of physiotherapy and rehabilitation followed as she learned to walk again with the help of crutches and a frame.

Jen with her friend Steph.

Jen with her friend Steph.

But she didn't know of her own talent until about a year after the operation when, back at work, a colleague asked her to move her foot to allow for some space at their desk.

"It was actually really shocking," she recalls of trying to move her leg out of the way and finding it twisted further than expected.

"We both went: 'how high can it go?'

Jen O'Shea.

Jen O'Shea.

"I slowly lifted it up and I freaked out and he freaked out and we were at work so a co-worker comes by to see what's going on and they freaked out," she says.

She says it does not hurt her, and it only starts to stretch when the leg twists past about 180 degrees.

Since discovering her party trick, only a handful of friends and family have known about it. But that all changed when she entered US TV star Degeneres' contest. Not only did she show off her moves on camera, she also recorded the reactions of everyone she showed her trick to.

O'Shea says she gets a few standard reactions.

"A lot of people kind of recoil a little bit and laugh because they don't know how to respond," she said.

"A couple of people have been pretty grossed out by it and have to kind of turn away … but then they have a lot of questions after which I find funny.

"And some are just so shocked that they don't respond at all," she says.

When O'Shea twisted her leg towards the roof in front of an entire assembly of students at her old high school she was given an enourmous round of applause.

"It's kind of a positive thing that's come out of such a negative thing … it's fun to go around and laugh at it with everybody," she says.

O'Shea didn't make it onto Degeneres' show. The winner of that competition, announced on Monday, went to a young woman who could use a skipping rope while seated, bouncing up and down off her bottom.

Her video pitch however, Ellen, Here's My Talent, has gone viral, receiving over a quarter of a million hits and counting since she posted it on YouTube last week.

What's not clear in the video though is that her hip operation was not O'Shea's only brush with serious illness.

In August last year, O'Shea was re-diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in her skull. It led to more chemotherapy and a craniotomy to remove the piece of her skull effected by the tumour.

The new diagnosis meant she had to stop working again in her administrative position for a local university. She had only been back at work for six months after her hip operation.

Thankfully, the operation was successful and "since then things seem to be going well and there are no new signs of any kind of cancer", she says.

Now O'Shea has just restarted physiotherapy on her leg and can be seen getting around wearing T-shirts that read "SO HIP I only need one' and "hip hip O'Shea".

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