On Dec. 8th 2015, I awoke to a sharp, shooting pain in my right leg. Frightened by a sensation I had never felt before, I immediately jumped out of bed. I angrily glanced over at the clock, which read 3:47 a.m. Little did I know, this same pain would soon grow completely out of control.
As Spring semester began, this painful experience quickly developed in intensity and frequency. Early mornings of excruciating pain consumed my entire ability to sleep or relax in any possible horizontal position. I was subjected to numerous scans, probing needles and a medley of medications. I slept during the day because I couldn’t at night. I was a zombie. I often skipped class and fell behind on all of my schoolwork.
In early April, I was diagnosed with a schwannoma, which is a benign tumor of the spinal cord. Like a birthday present, this mass grew about one millimeter each year for 17 years. Except this time, there weren’t any Hallmark cards from Grandma with a 20-dollar bill stuffed inside.
This small tumor managed to grow between the cavity of my spinal cord and spinal sleeve. It literally crushed my leg nerves. I guess that explains the excruciating pain.
My life took a turn for the worse after two emergency room runs, several potent pain medications and continued sleep deprivation. I could not physically bear the pain any longer. I could not continue to function, let alone hold out for the surgery planned at the beginning of May.
The day after my last emergency room run, my parents drove straight to Columbus. We all had had enough and were desperate for relief. On April 11th, 2016, I was admitted to the OSUCCC – James and scheduled to have surgery the next day.
At 7 a.m. the nurse woke me to inform me of the pre operative protocol. I took one last shower, threw on a new patient gown and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. I was ready. My parents pushed me downstairs to the surgical floor and hugged me for good luck. Just before the nurse gave me the good stuff, I said, “give me everything you’ve got.” She laughed and pressed her thumb down on the syringe. Just like that, I was able to sleep.
Six hours later I was lucid. I was leg pain free, although one nerve was sacrificed. As the sleep comma wore off, I discovered a new aching pain stretching six inches down my lower back.
Every morning while I was in the hospital, my sister, Katie made me breakfast and my mom treated us to specialty coffees and pastries. While eating my eggs and kale, my sister slid a box onto my side table. Surprised, I looked up and she nodded at me to open it. Inside was a silver necklace with a tiny hourglass pendent. She told me she knew when she saw it that I needed to have it. I wore that necklace every day during recovery.
Each day was a battle. It took all summer long to regain my stamina. I began by setting goals for myself like bending down to tie my shoelaces, lifting a gallon of milk or twisting to reach the alarm clock on my nightstand. My 86-year-old grandma could walk faster than me. As fatiguing and challenging as all of those tasks were, I was determined to get back on my feet. Whenever I felt discouraged, I looked down at my necklace watched the sand flow through my hourglass. I remember thinking I still had time.
Eight weeks post operation I was making considerable progress. I was jogging on the treadmill, lifting groceries and unloading the dishwasher. By the beginning of July, I was outside running on impact. After that, I knew the real game was on.
Sixteen weeks later, I achieved a major life milestone. I completed the Nationwide Children’s Columbus half marathon; a race I signed up for before I was diagnosed. I could hear the crowd cheering and felt my necklace pulsate against my chest. I crossed the finish line and tears streamed down my face. I finally won; a feat my own doctors didn’t think I could achieve. I had never felt so empowered. This remains the highest experience of my life.
Today, I celebrate being tumor free. I’m 50 pounds lighter and training for my next half marathon. I still have back pain; although, it’s nothing like the pain I had before. It’s mostly aches and sores that can be improved by stretching and other exercises. It’s not a perfect system, but it works and I live with it.
I can’t change the cards I have been dealt, but I can choose how I play them. I make the most out of every situation and I’m sure as hell grateful every time I run. I don’t wear my hourglass necklace anymore. In fact, I haven’t since I ran the half marathon. I believe that necklace gave me the strength to not only cross the finish line, but also reach a full recovery.
If this unforeseeable experience has taught me anything, it has brought out my key characteristic: resilience. I never knew I could be pushed down that far and still come up on top.
Resilience sums up my time, my effort and my experience at The Ohio State University. Next fall I’ll be graduating with dual degrees in art and business with a minor in entrepreneurship. From creating my own business specialization, leading the Ohio State Human Trafficking Project and accepting a 2017 Pace Setter award, my resilience continues to be the essence of my academic success. It prevails even in the face of personal trauma.
Resilience is the key to my success. What’s yours?