Tag Archives: Surgeries

Finding Determination Through Fear.

19 Oct

A few days ago I was talking with a friend of mine, and he asked me to explain my absolute worst fear in life. Though some classic answers popped into my head, like ending up alone and losing the people I love, I knew my absolute worst fear. I tried to say it, but couldn’t. I felt like I was about to cry. However, after a period of silence stretched over us like a blanket, I finally spoke.

“I’m afraid of the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk.”

I spent my entire childhood learning to walk so I could be as independent as possible, despite my Cerebral Palsy. Before my intense operations, I learned to walk in my own way, my knees knocking together as I put one foot in front of the other. During the years I spent on a t-ball team, I loved the feeling of running to first base. Even though I typically got out before making it to first base, I ran with all my heart just like everyone else on my team. I ran in my own way, but it never stopped me from trying.

After my first operation at the age of 10, I had to completely relearn to walk after having my femurs straightened out and kept in place with rods. One year later, when I got the hardware removed that was placed during my first operation, I had to relearn to walk yet again. See, not walking was never even an option for me. I wanted to be like the other kids my age, and to do that, I had to be able to walk. I had to be as normal as I possibly could. Even when I was faced with physical pain that made me want to curl into myself and give up all together, I kept going. Every day, I literally walked towards my own independence, one step at a time.

Because I spent so much of my life struggling, and ultimately succeeding, to walk, the thought of reaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to walk is completely terrifying. In so many ways, when I reach that day, it will feel like a kind of giving up. Though I plan to walk for as many more years as I can, I am scared of the day when the pain will just be too much, when walking will be putting too much strain on my body. It’s especially frightening because I know how much physical pain I’m in on a daily basis currently. The realization that I am in so much physical pain and I’m only 21 is terrifying. Trying to imagine my level of pain when I reach age 30 is nearly impossible.

That is one great thing about fear though. It has the ability to help us find the determination and strength we didn’t know we had. Yes, my worst fear is seeing the day when I will no longer be able to walk. However, I’m not there yet. I am a long way off from that day. Today, I am able to walk and do the things I love, despite being in pain. Today, I am able to push through the pain, because the result…the view at the top of the mountain…is worth it. The happiness, joy, and pure bliss of the destination weighs so much more than the pain of the journey.

The fear lingers in the back of my mind, the fear of knowing one day I won’t be able to get to the top of Max Patch, my absolute favorite place in the world. However, the fear also gives me the strength and determination I need to continue doing what I love. Yes, one day I may not be able to walk because of the amount of pain I am in. But I’m not there yet. I’ve still got plenty of fight within me.

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

At the top of Max Patch (October 2013)

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When the stars align…with Easter Seals UCP.

1 Dec

Easter Seals UCP is a non-profit organization that supports families dealing with disabilities and mental health challenges. Over the past few months, I have been researching different Cerebral Palsy organizations to see if I could come across any information tailored towards adults with CP. Though I still haven’t found much useful information, I did find Easter Seals UCP. Upon looking at their website and the numerous blog posts by families dealing with disabilities, I was inspired. I was inspired not to focus on my own physical issues at the moment, but instead chose to focus on something that has just been coming to life since I started sharing my story of CP: my role as an advocate.

If you would have told me two years ago that my current primary focus would be using my own story and my personal experience with CP to advocate for kids with disabilities, I probably would not have believed you. I have never imagined that talking about my own struggles would be something I’d be able to do…much less want to do. However, since that is how things seem to have evolved, once I realized there were numerous Easter Seals offices across every state, I knew I had to get involved. The need to get involved led me to find out if there was an Easter Seals UCP office in Asheville, and I found it.

After connecting with some people in the Easter Seals UCP Asheville office through email and phone conversations and getting such a positive response regarding my desire to get involved within the Asheville community, I could not be more excited. At this point, I’m unsure how things will progress. However, after learning that the Asheville office works directly with families in the community, I asked if there had ever been any kind of program implemented that deals with the emotional barriers that a disability presents. Though there isn’t currently a program in place within the Asheville community that deals with the emotional side of disabilities, I told the Easter Seals Asheville office that I felt it would be incredibly beneficial for the community and that I’d be willing to help in any way I can. Long story short, I’ll be meeting with those at the Asheville office to discuss ways in which this kind of program could be implemented as well as general ways in which I can work with Easter Seals as a CP/disabilities advocate within the community.

Words cannot even express how excited I am about this possible opportunity. However, I know that without this blog and the incredibly supportive community of WordPress, I would not have been able to reach the point of talking so openly about my disability and what I’ve faced. For my entire life, I have struggled with the concept of belonging. However, I guess the part of my life that I was trying so hard to escape from was where I needed to be all along. Even though I didn’t have the opportunity to talk with someone who knew what I was going through during the years of my intense surgeries and physical therapy, I want to be that person for other kids with disabilities, and I want them to know they don’t have to go through it alone. Therefore, to all the families dealing with disabilities and the entire Easter Seals community, thank you. Thank you for helping me find another dream to strive towards.

Copyright: Easter Seals UCP.

Copyright: Easter Seals UCP.

It’s an everyday battle.

15 Nov

When I started writing my memoir of living with Cerebral Palsy last January, in the back of my mind, I think I believed that I’d be able to write everything out and then I’d feel tons better or that my past wouldn’t control my thoughts so much. No, my Cerebral Palsy doesn’t define who I am. However, I’d be lying if I said that it didn’t have a constant effect on my thoughts. When I first starting writing out the hard memories, it hurt, but it felt good too. It made me cry to bring up so many memories that I didn’t want to ever look at again, but it also brought me closer to those around me. My mom and I started getting along better. My friendships improved. For the first time, I could honestly say I was completely myself because I wasn’t allowing myself to hide behind the pain that dominated my life for so many years.

However, despite the beginning benefits of writing about my life, currently I don’t always feel like the benefits outweigh the pain that still lingers from my past. Truthfully, this wouldn’t be so hard to handle if things weren’t so physically hard for me lately. I’m falling more, but it’s not even the falls themselves. It’s the fact that I’m able to feel them before they come. My muscles get super tight, I start to walk on my tip-toes, and I get nervous. Since I know that I am about to fall, I become afraid to move. However, the more nervous and afraid I get, the more I tense up, which increases the likelihood that I’ll fall in a number of minutes. It’s heartbreaking, truthfully. Heartbreaking in the sense that I know I’m only 20 years old. I don’t even want to imagine how my muscles will be cooperating 10 years from now.

Even though I may have finally faced the pain and memories that dominated my past, will I be able to deal with the struggles that are in my present just as easily? Will I have to wait 20 more years before I can come to some kind of understanding? Truthfully, will I ever understand? Will any of this ever make sense? On the good days, the days that I’m happy and I have people around who love me, I’m able to stay pretty upbeat and optimistic about my situation. However, on the bad days, the days when I’ve already fallen 4 times and my back hurts, all I want to do is sit on my bathroom floor and cry. Though I know that may not seem like the greatest decision, what do you tell the person who’s been strong for so long? My entire life, the gusto has pushed through. My pure love of life has pushed through. However, as the years go by and the back pain and falls increase, it’s hard to carry that same level of strength. I’m trying though. I’m trying because I want to find enjoyment in my life, and I know there are so many people who love and support me and want to see me succeed.

I think what many people don’t realize is that living with Cerebral Palsy is an everyday battle. It’s not as if I can say, “Oh, my past is behind me. The hard part is over.” Though that may be true and though I am relieved to not have to undergo any surgeries right now, that doesn’t mean things are “easy.” I wake up every morning with back pain. Though I fall asleep best on my stomach and I’m not a restless sleeper, it becomes a problem when I wake up with a stiff back and normally stiff legs. Some days, it’s hard to walk easily. On mornings when I wake up extremely stiff, I debate whether I should crawl to the bathroom rather than risk falling and getting yet another bruise. Even though the bruises normally end up in places that people aren’t able to easily see, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t there. Though living with Cerebral Palsy may be something that I’ve gotten used to just because I’ve had no other choice but to adapt, that doesn’t mean that it’s still not a struggle to simply be happy. In all actuality, it would be so easy to slip into pity and just curl up in my bed and cry. For me, every single day is a battle. But I get back up, even if it means that I’m still crying.

Mirrored in Truth & Beauty.

5 Nov

Last night, I started reading Truth & Beauty by Anne Patchett, which is a memoir of Anne Patchett’s friendship with troubled author and poet, Lucy Grealy. Here is a synopsis according to GoodReads:

Ann Patchett and the late Lucy Grealy met in college in 1981, and, after enrolling in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, began a friendship that would be as defining to both of their lives as their work. In Grealy’s critically acclaimed memoir, “Autobiography of a Face,” she wrote about losing part of her jaw to childhood cancer, years of chemotherapy and radiation, and endless reconstructive surgeries. In “Truth & Beauty,” the story isn’t Lucy’s life or Ann’s life, but the parts of their lives they shared. This is a portrait of unwavering commitment that spans twenty years, from the long winters of the Midwest, to surgical wards, to book parties in New York. Through love, fame, drugs, and despair, this is what it means to be part of two lives that are intertwined . . . and what happens when one is left behind.

This is a tender, brutal book about loving the person we cannot save. It is about loyalty, and being lifted up by the sheer effervescence of someone who knew how to live life to the fullest.

Since starting this book, I have seen myself in Lucy Grealy. Though I have not faced what she went through, the loneliness, fear, and desire to belong are all feelings that I have known all too well. Lucy’s words throughout the novel (seen especially in the letters she writes to Ann), are heartbreaking and brutally honest, but in more than one point in the book, I have felt like the words have been taken from my own soul. Even though this is definitely not the first time that I have seen myself mirrored in the emotions of someone else, I feel like this is one of the few times that it’s been so spot on. Throughout the book, Lucy exhibits numerous times when she is down on herself due to her situation. However, that being said, she is a poet, and writing is the way that she comes back to herself. Writing and her friendship with Ann are what allow her to come back to her reality with gusto. Though I am only about halfway through the book at this point, I have found myself, on more than one occasion, clutching the book almost like a life-line, holding it close to my heart and whispering words from the novel that seem to apply to my own life.

“Writing is a job, a talent, but it’s also the place to go in your head. It is the imaginary friend you drink your tea with in the afternoon.”

When I came across the above quote, I smiled. I smiled with the realization that during certain times in my life, I too have viewed writing as a friend, as the friend who is always there, day or night, waiting to welcome you home with open arms and a carton of ice cream. Yes, the ice cream addition was my own tid bit, but it’s what writing has been for me for so long: the one thing that I can come back to, again and again, like a long-lost friend that you never seem to lose touch with no matter how much time has passed. A friend with whom you can pick up right where you left off, as if you saw them just yesterday and not years ago. Thankfully, I have had the pleasure of having more than one friend like that in my life, and it is one of the best feelings I have come to find in this life. Sure, there are other things that come close to that kind of magic, but they aren’t moments that are also full of deep conversations that last into the early hours of the morning or moments of laughing until your stomach hurts.

“That is one thing I’ve learned, that it is possible to really understand things at certain points, and not be able to retain them, to be in utter confusion just a short while later. I used to think that once you really knew a thing, its truth would shine on forever. Now it’s pretty obvious to me that more often than not the batteries fade, and sometimes what you knew even goes out with a bang when you try to call on it, just like a lightbulb cracking off when you throw the switch.”

Truth & Beauty is full of more honesty than I can only hope to achieve one day with my own memoir. It’s not even just honesty that causes you to pause and think, That’s got to be truth. Those feelings are so raw that the only place they could have come is from the deepest and most authentic part of the soul. It’s more than that, if at all possible. It’s sitting on the kitchen floor with a cup of coffee in one hand and the book in the other, staring down at the page and thinking, I can only hope that one day I am as in touch with the deep and dark parts of myself like this author is able to portray. Though I have become incredibly introspective since beginning my memoir in January, I have not reached this level of raw authenticity. To do so, I believe it takes many more months, if not years, of sitting in the dark corners of your memories patiently awaiting the day when they decide to come out into the harsh light of day. You’ve got to sit in the dark and get to know them on a level that’s more true than you’ve ever known. You must sit with them, day and night, until you know their features and ways in which they move through the world. Until your breathing matches their own with such accuracy that you can no longer tell the difference between your breaths and theirs.

“Our friendship was like our writing in some ways. It was the only thing that was interesting about our otherwise dull lives. We were better off when we were together. Together we were a small society of ambition and high ideals. We were tender and patient and kind. We were not like the world at all.”

Though I am lucky to have an incredible best friend, when I read the above passage, the first thing that popped into my head was the level of comfort that can only be achieved through a childhood friend. I thought of a friend that I have known since kindergarten, and the nights that we would lie in my bed and stare up at the ceiling, talking about our futures like they were millions of miles away. The nights that we would hold hands when we got scared in the middle of the night, only to end up burying our faces in pillows a moment later when we were overcome with laughter. We looked at each other then, smiling and breathing heavily once the laughter subsided, not even knowing what we found so funny, and yet realizing that nothing could top the happiness that had been wrapped up in that moment. It enveloped us, that pure bliss, wrapping us up like a quilt that was stitched with every happy memory of our relatively short lives. We knew, no matter what, that we had each other.

The good things about surgery.

24 Oct

What doctors don’t emphasize too much when it comes to surgery is that the actual surgery is the easy part. It’s the intense physical therapy afterwards that kills you. That being said, surgery is still a very scary procedure. Through all 3 of my intense surgeries, I was scared every time. Before each surgery, I had nightmares about waking up during surgery and seeing the doctors putting their hands inside my legs to straighten out my femurs. In my nightmares, I couldn’t speak. I remember screaming as loud as I could to try to alert the doctors that I was awake, but nothing worked. The doctors were too focused on straightening out my crooked femurs to pay attention to the traumatized girl on the operating table. However, thankfully, all of this was a dream. That doesn’t mean that it felt any less real though. I remember countless times when I woke up from this particular nightmare screaming and struggling to look at my legs to make sure they weren’t split open to expose my bones.

Despite the decent amount of fear and uncertainty that accompanied the intense surgeries I had, there were some pluses. First off, before each surgery, I got the autograph of the head surgeon. However, not in the sense that he signed a picture of himself and gave it to me. He signed my legs though. I later learned that he had to sign my legs so that he would be sure to do the correct procedure on the correct patient, and I definitely think that’s important. I didn’t want my femoral derotational osteotomy to be confused with a sex change. However, in my opinion, it’s more fun just to imagine the head surgeon wanting to give me his autograph.

Since the surgeries I had were incredibly intense, I was placed in the ICU following each operation. Though the groggy feeling and getting sick from anesthesia wasn’t fun at all, I had an epidural. Therefore, the pain wasn’t nearly as bad as it would be once the epidural was removed. Also, even though I slept a lot while I was in the ICU, when I was awake and finally ready for food (or when I could enjoy it without getting sick), I got to have as much ice cream and chicken noodle soup as a wanted. I even remember one particular time when I got my dad to go to the Chick-fil-A that was in another part of the hospital so that I could have some chicken nuggets and waffle fries. Though Chick-fil-A is normally incredibly yummy anyway, it was 100 times better after a huge operation. Trust me.

Most people don’t really think of presents when they think of surgery. However, they are connected, especially when you have your operations in a children’s hospital like I did. When I was younger (before all of my surgeries), I never quite understood why people received flowers and other gifts when they were in the hospital because, to me, the flowers didn’t really do much when they didn’t also include sunshine, birds, blue skies and everything else that’s connected with the outdoors. However, when I was in the hospital following my surgeries, the flowers were a comfort. Though it was hard to accept that I couldn’t just go sit outside and look up at the clouds, the flowers were the closest thing I had to being outside, and at that point, I’d take anything I could get. However, besides flowers, I also received tons of “Get Well Soon” cards and all sorts of presents from family, friends, friends of my family and pretty much anyone else who cared about me and wanted me to know that they were thinking of me. Though I don’t remember specific flowers or specific cards that I received, I do remember getting a stuffed animal hippo from my horseback riding teacher, Miss Mary. Though I ended up accumulating many stuffed animals throughout the time I spent at Shriner’s, my hippo is the one that is still very close to my heart since I got him after my very first surgery. He’s been with me through it all (including college), and I know that it will stay that way for quite a while.

Though I don’t recall having any incredibly good-looking doctors like the “doctors” on Grey’s Anatomy, I do remember Ben, one of the physical therapists at Shriner’s that I had a huge crush on. He had red hair, freckles and the cutest smile I’ve ever seen. Even though he wasn’t my physical therapist for an extended period of time, he did spend a few months with me while my regular physical therapist, Beth, was on maternity leave. Even now, it seemed close to perfect that part of my time with Ben coincided with Valentine’s Day. Even in the hospital when you’re feeling all kids of emotional and physical pain, it’s possible to have a crush. Trust me, I proved that. As you can imagine, when Ben gave me a heart-shaped box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day, I was over the moon. I think I may have even squealed a little bit when he handed me the box of chocolates. After all, it was one of the first times in my life that someone other than my dad was my valentine. Although, since I never had Ben as my valentine a second time, I think it was a good decision to stick to having my dad as my valentine from then on.

A conversation with my younger self.

21 Oct

Sometimes I imagine what it would be like if I had the opportunity to speak with a younger version of myself. I wonder what I would say. I wonder what advice I would give to my 7-year-old self, the little girl with the nervous smile who has yet to go through 3 intense surgeries and many, many years of physical therapy. I wonder how it would feel to talk with someone who I knew so well, but yet couldn’t completely relate to since she hadn’t yet gone through all the pain that she would experience in her future. I wonder…

I’m sitting on a bench in a small park that I don’t recognize. There is a playground with swings and a play set, which are all just a few feet from where I’m sitting. Kids are playing in every available space in the park, but I feel like I’m a thousand miles away from their voices. It’s not until I hear her bubbly laugh that I know where I am. As I look over at the play set, she climbs out of the tube slide, practically falling right out into the sand because she’s laughing so hard. A moment later, her eyes lock with mine, and I know. The girl with the nervous smile, bubbly laugh and bright blue eyes is the younger me. However, it’s not until I look down a second later to see the braces on her feet that I’m certain my assumption is correct. Even though my stomach feels like it’s flipped inside out, I get up from where I’m sitting and walk towards the younger me.

“Hi, can I play with you?” I ask. She looks up at me with the hugest grin on her face.

“Yes, but only if we sit right here in the sand. I don’t really want to get up.”

“That’s perfectly fine, Amelia,” I say, as I sit down in the sand beside her.

She is focused on putting her arms as far down into the sand as she can, so it takes her a moment to realize what I said.

“Wait, how did you know my name?”

“Because I’m you. I’m you at 20 years old. We are the same person.”

The younger Amelia looks at me quizzically for a second, and then asks, “Does this mean that we can be friends?”

I can’t help but laugh as I remember what I was like when I was younger. Even at the age of 7, I wanted acceptance. More than anything, I wanted friends. Though those two things are something that I still find myself longing for, it was intensified when I was younger. It was often the only thing I could think about since it held such a strong connection to being just like the other kids, the “normal” kids.

I find myself staring with amazement at my younger self, wondering where to even begin.

“You have a wonderful best friend waiting in your future. In fact, there are many, many friends that will be in your life. However, the one I’m referring to, she’s everything you’ve ever hoped for in a best friend.”

“Why can’t she be here now?” the younger me asks.

“She hasn’t met you yet. She won’t come into your life until you’re 16, but I promise you, she’s the kind of best friend that you have always wanted.”

Instead of concentrating on playing in the sand, I now have the attention of my younger self as she looks up at my face with curiosity, so I continue.

“You’ve got a long road ahead of you, and it’s not something that anyone is going to able to prepare you for. It’s going to be incredibly hard. However, trust me when I say that you can get through it. It’s going to feel close to impossible some days, especially on the days when the pain gets really bad, but I promise you’ll get through it.”

The younger me then looks down at the braces that are on her feet and touches the plastic ever so lightly with her fingertips.

“I’m scared,” she whispers softly.

“I know,” I say. “It’s okay to be scared.”

“You’ll get stronger,” I tell her. “It may seem overwhelming now, but eventually it becomes like second nature. You’ll fall, time and time again. But you know what’s amazing about you?”

The younger me looks at me expectantly, but I know her nervousness lies just below the surface.

“You get back up…every time,” I say.

“Why? Why do I have to keep trying?” she asks.

“Because it’s the only way you can move forward. It’s the only way you can be independent.”

Even though I see the younger me roll her eyes at me, I know that my words are impacting her because she takes my hand and squeezes it. As her fingers link with mine, I am overcome with love for the little girl who has yet to know the intense pain that she will face. I have to look away from her before she realizes that I’m crying. As I wipe away my tears, I look off into the distance to see the sun setting behind the trees.

“I have to go soon,” the younger me says.

I nod, unable to say anything. I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk away. However, I say the one thing I’ve wanted to tell her all along.

“I love you. So so much,” I say, letting the tears fall and knowing that the younger me doesn’t grasp the magnitude of this moment. If only she knew that I would save her from all of this pain if I were able to. However, deep down, I know that I can’t do that. She has to go through it. She has to go through it if she wants to become me.

She hugs my legs tightly, and the warmth of her small body against my own makes me smile.

“I’m so happy that I get to be you when I get older,” she says.

She turns to go, and as I watch her walk away from me, her last words weigh heavily on my mind. Though she may want desperately to be me, I know that I need to remember to be her as well. I know that little girl is still within me, and she is showing me just as much love as I wanted to be sure and show her.

Blazing my own trail.

18 Aug

As I sit at my desk gearing up for the start of my junior year of college (which begins on Monday), I am amazed at how I was able to keep up with my schoolwork when I was in and out of the hospital for my intense surgeries and intense physical therapy following those surgeries. Granted, I had tutors, and without them, I don’t think I would have been able to get all of my schoolwork done. However, it’s hard for me to imagine that I had so much time. I had time for schoolwork even when it wasn’t the highest priority (though it was definitely the second highest). The first concern, of course, was focusing on getting me as independent as possible through intense surgeries and PT.

I think I’m just very thankful that I was able to stay at the same pace as the rest of my classmates. I still am not quite sure how I did all of it. Maybe I didn’t need as much sleep in those days, or maybe I just didn’t have as much schoolwork as I am remembering. I definitely know that if I was faced with the same situation right now, I wouldn’t be graduating in a mere 2 years. However, that was middle school. Even though my academics were incredibly important, they weren’t as heavily weighted as they are in college obviously. Either way, I feel like I got lucky on that front. Thanks to some really great tutors, I was moving at the same pace as the rest of my classmates even when I was doing schoolwork from the hospital and from home.

All things considered, I am happy that I got the same education as the kids that I grew up with despite my disability. My parents could have chosen a different avenue, but they chose to put me in an environment with every other kid my age, and I’m so glad they did. Yes, I was teased and yes I faced some difficulties that other kids my age didn’t have to worry about. However, I also learned at a relatively young age that I had to blaze my own trail. Best of all, I’m glad that I was put in a regular school environment in the very beginning of my education so that I could get used to being around regular kids. Through this immersion, I learned quickly that I was different, but I also learned that in a school setting, I was treated like every other kid in my class. I was held to exactly the same standards as every other student, and I definitely know that I benefited from that.

It is because of my parents’ decision to place me in a regular school environment and my pure love of learning that has gotten me to where I am today in terms of my education. I am grateful that my CP does not limit my intelligence because school has provided me with yet another avenue that I am able to excel in without being limited. Yes, I may have had to work harder in middle school knowing that I had to get my schoolwork done while also going to physical therapy and having intense surgeries, but I did it. I did it because it was expected of me and because I loved to learn. I’m grateful that my parents instilled in me a love of learning, and I’m happy to say that despite having to focus on my CP as I was growing up, I was still able to blaze my own trail.