From the day I was diagnosed with this type of brain tumor (acoustic neuroma) I knew I would face struggle and hardship but I also made a promise to myself that I would use my struggle to help others.
I was diagnosed 2 1/2 years ago with acoustic neuroma and had a middle fossa craniotomy four weeks later with Dr. Brackmann in Los Angeles. Although the surgery was a success, afterward I had significant balance and coordination challenges and temporary facial paralysis. I was a mom with two young daughters. I am also a pediatric physical therapist who fiercely advocates for children with special needs, encouraging them to believe in themselves despite their differences. My life changed in a heartbeat. I was no longer the therapist. I was now the patient!
It has been a long journey for me. It has been a physical fight, but by far a more difficult mental battle! But looking back, an experience so valuable and one that I can honestly say I am grateful for. A blessing in disguise, for I have become so much stronger and have grown in unimaginable ways. And trust me when I say I could not have said that at the beginning of my journey! Needless to say, it has been a process.
I underwent aggressive physical therapy for a long time. Six months after surgery, I transitioned from a conventional outpatient setting into the ninja gym, under the care of my physical therapist and trainer who happened to be an American Ninja Warrior. I remember the first day I walked into the ninja gym, thinking that all the obstacles I saw in the gym were so parallel with the obstacles in life I had faced. In that moment, I knew the ninja gym was going to be the place where I took back everything my tumor had stolen physically from me!
I remember when every step I walked was unsteady and taxing, and resembled that of a toddler walking for the first time. I remember when simple tasks such as walking to the grocery store made me dizzy, nauseated and off-balance because of all the visual stimulation. And I remember when I could not spit toothpaste out or pronounce my words correctly because my face was paralyzed.
But here is my message. These days, no one would know anything about the physical adversity I faced over the last two years by looking at me. No one would realize the emotional pain I have experienced, the trauma of having a brain tumor. People can't see the plate in my head and can't feel the screws in my skull. They can't see the huge scar that is now covered by my hair. They would not know that just two years ago I was relearning to walk and had absolutely no movement in the right side of my face. And today they would not recognize that I continue to fight and face the balance challenges that come from a severed balance nerve as well as facial function complications. But, the struggle is part of my story. I continue to charge forward enthusiastically and persistently, to push my limits, dreaming big and believing I can reach beyond my grasp to achieve anything I set my mind to! I am definitely not the same as I was before surgery. Call it a ‘new normal’ if you will. I still have to work extremely hard at balance tasks; it still takes every ounce of effort. And my smile- it’s different and not as symmetric as it was before. But this I can say with confidence -it's a stronger, deeper, more witnessing smile that supersedes my previous one.
Now here comes the craziest part of the whole journey- I was picked to compete on American Ninja Warrior this season and just competed a few weeks ago in San Antonio! The episode is scheduled to air on June 19 and I couldn't be more excited to share my journey with the world! When I was lying in ICU after my acoustic neuroma surgery, if someone told me that two years later I would be competing on American Ninja Warrior, I probably would have cried. I can tell you that I definitely would not have believed it.
The opportunity to compete on the show means more to me than words can express. It has given me a way to communicate to people challenged by adversity to focus on what they can do rather than what they can't. I want people to see the abilities in their disabilities and to recognize what a ‘never give up attitude’ can do! I want others to believe in no limitations and that what feels impossible can indeed be possible. All of us who have had an acoustic neuroma have been given a unique opportunity. We get to use what we have learned through adversity to be a light, to give others hope, and make a difference!
I wouldn't be where I am today without a village full of family, friends, and health professionals. I have received so much love and support, which is why I believe it is so important for all of us AN warriors to stick together as a community. We all share something very unique and have a common bond.
Blessings to you all!! Warrior on!!