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Facing Down The Silent Thief of Sight

I knew something was wrong, but I assumed that perhaps all I needed was a prescription of some kind. Still, I was nervous when I got to the ophthalmologist’s office. And with good reason, as it turned out. I was in my early 30’s and I was diagnosed with end-stage glaucoma.

~Helen Gentry | Woman On The Move

In early 2014, I knew something was wrong with my eyes.

A haze had appeared around fluorescent lights in public buildings. Also, my vision always seemed blurry no matter how often I blinked to try to clear it. One day while walking quickly in front of my office building, I ran into a sign and was knocked to the ground. That got my attention! “How could I have not seen that?!” I wondered.

I was busy working fulltime, attending graduate school and raising a daughter, but I finally couldn’t ignore my symptoms anymore. So I scheduled an appointment with an ophthalmologist in my small town. I knew something was wrong, but I assumed that perhaps all I needed was a prescription of some kind. Still, I was nervous when I got to the ophthalmologist’s office. And with good reason, as it turned out. I was in my early 30’s and I was diagnosed with end-stage glaucoma.

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide and it is called the “silent thief of vision” for a reason— first the peripheral vision leaves, and the patient doesn’t notice because the loss is so gradual. Once the central vision begins to be affected, alerting the patient to the fact that something is wrong, a significant loss has already occurred.

Heartbreaking News After Diagnosis

After receiving my diagnosis, I also had to digest an additional fact: My condition had resulted from medical malpractice. My optometrist had prescribed a steroid eye drop that I was instructed to use up to four times a day to treat discomfort caused by eye allergies. I now know that this medication is intended for use following cataract surgery. It is not intended to be used for more than 10 days. I used it for 13 months. I also now know that patients who are using this drug are supposed to be closely monitored by a medical professional, and if eye pressure increases, they are to discontinue use immediately.

I was not closely monitored nor was I informed of the risks of using the medication. Instead, I was assured that it was FDA approved and perfectly safe. I was told that the eye allergies could cause some blurriness, which was why I was unconcerned at first about the changes in my vision once I finally did begin to detect them. Just a short time before this medication was prescribed, North Carolina changed state law to allow optometrists to prescribe medications, although they have not been to medical school as ophthalmologists have. My optometrist failed me, and so did my state by allowing this atrocity to take place. Every time I raised the bottle to my eyes thinking that I was being responsible and helping myself, I was giving myself an incurable disease.

Chain Reaction Set In Motion

In the months that followed my diagnosis, I experienced anger and overwhelming grief. I also began to fight to retain my remaining vision. I was a patient at Duke, UNC and Johns Hopkins. At Duke, I underwent trabeculectomy surgery in which a metal shunt was placed in each eye to help drain the pressure. The two surgeries, which I was awake for, were daunting and required a lengthy recovery during which I had to try to stay off my feet.

After the second surgery, I felt pressured to return to work too soon. Once I did, my supervisor put pressure on me to give a brief speech at a large meeting of leadership, faculty, and staff at the college campus where I worked. When I took the podium (a mere week after my surgery), I began shaking uncontrollably. I couldn’t speak and I suffered what I now believe to be a nervous breakdown of sorts. I now understand that major surgery can easily lead to temporary emotional instability, but no one had told me that at the time.

A Difficult Aftermath

In addition to feeling pressured to return to work, I also experienced workplace discrimination in a variety of ways. My boss would periodically stop me on campus and jokingly ask me if I could see how many fingers he was holding up.

A different supervisor condescendingly asked me if I had any doctors’ appointments coming up. His reason being that he needed to be aware if I would be feeling emotionally unstable in the days ahead. He then informed me that he had a wife and daughters and therefore understood the emotions of women. He also said that I could talk to him if I needed to, adding that the word “panties” was a regular part of his vocabulary. It was obvious that he thought that my breakdown had not stemmed from receiving a devastating medical diagnosis and undergoing a terrifying surgery, but it was because I am a woman. No woman should ever be cornered by her male boss while alone in his office and be encouraged to talk about her undergarments.

Sometime later, I received my “TPD discharge” from the US government. This was a letter in the mail stating that I had been found by a government-contracted medical professional to be “Totally and Permanently Disabled.” (Let those three words sink in for a moment…..I can see them now, in bold font across the top of the document.) The letter continued to explain that my outstanding student loans were being discharged completely. As a totally and permanently disabled person, I was not expected to have significant work, so I was not expected to pay back my student loans.

Reclaiming A Vibrant Life

Fast forward to the present, and I am not totally and permanently disabled, nor have I ever been. I am happily self-employed as a life coach, franchise broker, and realtor. I get to partner with my clients to support them in building the life that they want to lead. Meanwhile, I am living my most vibrant adventurous life.

I love being an active mother, wife, and friend. I am currently enjoying traveling as much as possible and seeing as much of the world as I can. I enjoy hiking, taking painting classes and cooking. Soon I will be starting piano lessons. There is so much I want to do. I am filled with gratitude every day that I get to live in the gorgeous mountains of Western North Carolina. My mission through my work and volunteer service in my rural community is to see people, particularly women and families, empowered and lifted out of poverty.

Healing

I’m currently 38 years old, and my worst-case prognosis at one time was that I will be completely blind by the time I am 50. I do not accept this prognosis. (At one point I had a friend strongly encouraged me to simply accept my prognosis, and I concluded that no real friend would encourage another to voluntarily sit down, shut up and go blind without a fight.) I understand that many patients report feeling that it is helpful to them to accept their diagnosis; however, I choose to draw my strength and courage from fighting and defying mine. This is a daily journey of faith in Christ and His healing power. The distinct discrepancy between my medical records and the kind of life that I actually experience on a daily basis is nothing short of a miracle, and I want to continue to be a walking miracle all of my days.

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image taken last summer near Helen’s home in NC shows her standing outdoors. A pretty brunette with shoulder-length wavy hair, Helen is wearing a print tank top and skirt. The waterfall behind her makes a beautiful backdrop.
  • A gallery of two black & white photos (before and after) of Helen from her surgery at Duke. In both photos, she’s on a bed in her hospital gown. In the post-surgery photo, her left eye is bandaged.
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You Matter To Me

Featured image shows Victoria sitting on a large rock on the beach as the sun sets behind her

Don’t reduce yourself,
Not for anyone else,
Know your value from within,
Let it radiate through your skin,

~Victoria Claire | Know You Matter
Landscape shot across marshlands with a large boat winch on the left and Victoria walking towards the camera on the bottom right of the picture. The sun sets in the background.
Landscape shot

For the last few days, I’ve been attempting to publish a blog post about my recent experience at a 3-day conference. “To Impress Or Not To Impress” is the title I chose because of the internal struggle I felt. Truth be told, for the past week and a half, I haven’t felt like I’m enough. What it boiled down to was trying to seek validation from others was a very uncomfortable feeling for me. Then this morning, I listened to “Know You Matter” a new single released today by my good friend Victoria Claire.

So many of us are looking outside of ourselves to find what can only be found on the inside—value. Knowing your value, who you really are, empowers you to accept yourself wholeheartedly. When you know who you are you can stand confidently in the knowledge that you matter. Self-compassion, accepting yourself as you are is a key component to loving others.

The Creative Process

2019 was a year of revelation for me in coming to terms with who I am. Serendipitous is the only word I can use to explain my ongoing journey to self-discovery. And I’m so thankful that part of this journey enabled me to be part of Vicky’s creative process. Following is an excerpt written by Vicky, from the upcoming edition of CAPTIVATING! about this process:

The creative process of going into a recording studio is one of building from the base up, from a band perspective the first track to be laid down is always the rhythm section, drums, then bass, after this comes the melody section, keys, guitar, strings, etc. the last part is always the vocals, this means the lead vocal and any harmonies. Once all elements have been recorded it’s over to the editing room to edit and mix, this can be a lengthy process for the producer but probably the most important part. Once this has been done the track then has to be mastered.

~Victoria Claire

Vicky is an extremely multi-talented person who sings, composes, sculpts, speaks, advocates, surfs, and skateboards just to name a few. As an artist, she thinks deeply and feels even more deeply. In “Know You Matter,” you are gifted a rare glimpse into my friend Victoria.

Finding Know You Matter:

Here is the link to iTunes for the song: https://apple.co/35Ftjhg. The song is also available on Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Google Music, Tidal, Youtube and more. 

Connecting With Victoria Claire:

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image shows Victoria sitting on a large rock on the beach as the sun sets behind her 
  • Landscape shot across marshlands with a large boat winch on the left and Victoria walking towards the camera on the bottom right of the picture. The sun sets in the background. 
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Sword, Lightsaber Or Broomstick?

So indeed, there are days I choose to use my white cane like a sword. I use it to cut away at the misconceptions people have about my capabilities. I cut through the limitations as if they are coiled thick vines, which others place on my dreams.

~Catherine Harrison, Women On The Move

Fantasy To Reality

There are days I wish my white cane was a sharp sword, able to cut through the complexities of life coiled around my ankles like thick vines.

Or perhaps if it were a lightsaber that glowed in the dark and could vaporize the enemies of my greatness like fear, self-doubt, impatience and my horrible spelling.

Or better still if I could ride my cane like a magic broomstick and use its power to turn my competitors into toads.

But it’s not any of those things.

My white cane is one of the tools I use to navigate life in pursuit of my dreams.

It not only identifies my handicap but it gives me the freedom to travel alone.

Embracing Tool Crushed Fear

I will admit, I was not too happy about having to use it at first. I didn’t like how people stared at me; I didn’t like “looking blind.” It was humiliating having to re-learn how to safely cross the street using a cane. But after I ran into enough walls, stepped out in front of a car and repeatedly fell down steps I got over my pride and embraced the tool designed to help me.

Now, it takes lots of training and practice to travel by myself without getting lost or run over, and I have certainly made my fair share of mistakes. But the experience I gained through the years has taught me to pay close attention to the cues my white cane gives.

My cane is designed to go out in front of me to find the obstacles, curbs or steps I am not able to see. It is long enough to give me two steps to either stop or change direction.

The metal tip makes a noise as it strikes the ground allowing me to hear the difference between a smooth sidewalk or street pavement, carpet or tile flooring. It’s painted with white reflective material for travel at night and comes in several styles for different purposes.

My cane, however, has one drawback…it only works when I follow, letting it go ahead of my steps. It doesn’t work if I drag it along behind me, then wonder why I ran into a wall or fell down a step. I have to unfold it, put it out in front of me, trust what I hear, respond to the obstacles it finds and never take a step forward without it.

Acceptance Is My Superpower

So indeed, there are days I choose to use my white cane like a sword. I use it to cut away at the misconceptions people have about my capabilities. I cut through the limitations as if they are coiled thick vines, which others place on my dreams.

There are also days I choose to use it as a lightsaber. It is a glowing symbol of my independence, my ability to rise strong and defeat my inner enemies.

And better still are the times I use my cane like a magic broomstick. I learned early on in my training just how much power it has when you swing it in a wide arc…people WILL get out of your way! It makes me feel a little like Moses parting the Red Sea when I can clear a path through a crowded airport.

I am fearlessly equipped to walk (in high heels) with my cane in front because I learned to use the tool that will get me where I want to go.

👠Don’t let fear alter your steps.

👠Excuses will kill dreams.

👠Choose your tool and use it!

About Catherine:

Catherine was diagnosed in 1995 with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP), only weeks after returning from serving for two years on the mission field in Nigeria, Africa. She has been a national public speaker and article writer for several magazines, sharing her story of learning to walk with strength and faith behind a white cane.

Catherine holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from Baylor University and had a wonderful career as an operating room nurse. She is a former ballerina and studied dance at Julliard’s School of American Ballet in New York. She is currently a professional commercial print and fitness model with DMG modeling agency in Dallas, Tx. She is the proud mother of 3 grown sons and wife of Plastic Surgeon, Dr. Craig Harrison. Catherine serves on several non-profit boards and regularly volunteers in her local community.

Her mission is not only to successfully work as a model, who happens to have a visual impairment but also to empower women of all ages to step into their strength, regardless of their circumstances, with poise and courage.  

You can find Catherine on:

Image Descriptions:

  • Photo credit Julia Wagner at Feather and Root Photography.
  • Featured image shows Catherine walking with her white cane wearing a white long-sleeved keyhole dress.
  • In this headshot with short blonde hair and mesmerizing green eyes, Catherine is wearing a blue halter dress. The neckline on the sleeveless top is cut to partially expose Catherine’s shoulders. 
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Men In Motion | Juan Alcazar

On the first Monday of every month in 2020, you will meet some amazing blind & visually impaired male influencers. For January’s “Men In Motion” Bold Blind Beauty is thrilled to introduce you to Filmmaker Juan Alcazar.

Juan is the talented creator of the YouTube Channel JC5 Productions and is also a valued member of our CAPTIVATING! team. From 1 minute short films to dramatic shorts, collabs, vision impairment, and disability awareness, Juan has a varied collection of video content.

Always remind yourself why you do what you do.

In September of 2018, I made a comment on an Instagram post of Juan’s that led me to view his video “A Second Chance.” The storyline in this poignant video tugged my heartstrings because the subject matter is universally relevant to all of us at some point in our lives. Questioning, doubting, and underestimating our value can leave us feeling like what we do doesn’t matter. I think Juan beautifully captured the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness experienced when we make comparisons. Many creatives, who also happen to be sensitive, are especially vulnerable because we feel so deeply.

It took Juan some time to find his “why” as he didn’t want to be known as “the blind filmmaker.” While he doesn’t let his sight loss define who he is, he realized he had a bigger purpose for creating videos. Today, we share his powerful story in “Accepting My Blindness” (transcription is below the video).

Accepting My Blindness | Juan Alcazar

Accepting My Blindness Video Transcription

When I was really little my parents would see me staring at the TV from a really close distance. At first, they thought I was just fascinated by looking at the pixels but little did they know that I couldn’t see well and I would eventually need glasses. 

So I did end up getting glasses and yeah they helped out a lot during my grade school, middle school, and high school years. But I still had problems. I still had to sit in the front row and I still had trouble seeing what the teacher wrote on the blackboard or the overhead.

It wasn’t until college when I finally was able to wear contact lenses. It was great, but it lasted for about just nine or so years and that’s because my vision was still getting worse and worse and then they told me “You know what they don’t make contacts that go to your prescription. Your prescription is too high now.” So I eventually went back to wearing glasses.

So fast forward to present day now where I’m making this short film mix sit-down video. This YouTube video where I’m here to tell you hey, uhh, I’m legally blind and I know I’ve mentioned my vision problems in a few videos before but I’ve never really wanted to say that I was legally blind.

Being born with nearsightedness and living with it every day. It’s a real interesting experience actually. Everything is just completely out of focus and only comes into focus when you put something really really close to your eye, but it’s not just nearsightedness. I have problems with my peripheral vision. I drop something and I take maybe 20, 30 seconds to find it and also when I look straight forwards that’s also a problem because I tend to see things a little bit darker than usual and this can be really really problematic when I’m walking around at night. 

And here’s the thing I was in denial. I didn’t want to admit that I was legally blind and the reason for that is I could still see quite a bit. I mean I still have trouble seeing with glasses but compared to what other people have. They have more severe vision problems.

I just didn’t feel like I was blind enough to even say that I was legally blind. And here’s another confession. I did not want to be known as the legally blind filmmaker on YouTube and that’s because for some reason I kept thinking that if I focus on that it’s going to take away the attention from my creative stuff to my vision and I didn’t want that to happen.

But after watching a few YouTubers with disabilities it really made me just stop and think why I’m feeling this way about my own disability and why am I so insecure about it? They’ve helped me accept my blindness. They’ve helped me accept it and that it’s a part of me. That is part of who I am. That it’s part of my daily life but at the same time they’ve also taught me that this doesn’t completely define me who I am as a person. 

In many ways, this has all left me pretty empowered and just confident and motivated to do what I want to do. When I stop and think about it I’m like, “Dude, you’re doing something that you shouldn’t be doing technically. You’re a filmmaker. You’re making movies but yet you’re visually impaired. You’re doing something that heavily relies on your eyes.”

And it’s almost like I’m telling my disability, “Hey, you may be slowing me down but you know what I’m not gonna let you stop me from doing what I want to do.” In a way that’s pretty cool.

What matters to me the most as a filmmaker is trying yo get my stories out there. Trying to get my content out there. Sure it may take me a little longer to set up my camera and edit. It may be more challenging but then again hey life is full of challenges and this is my challenge and I’m willing to accept it and you know what? I’m okay with that.

Hey JC5ers what’s going on? So yeah I wanted to make this video for a while in this format because you’re going to see a few more short films kind of, well…short films mixed in with sit-down videos in this format and I wanted to talk about my vision, my eyesight and that’s going to become a little more prominent on my channel. It’s not going to completely dominate my content but I just want to talk more about it.

It wasn’t just those YouTubers who I watched with disabilities that helped inspire me it was you guys as well, uh. I’m grateful that you guys are watching me and I’m hoping that I continue to entertain you guys and educate you guys here and there as well. 

So anyway if you happen to like this video then give it a thumbs up if you found it hey a little bit inspirational for you then feel free to share it if you want. I will see you guys next week or next time hopefully you next week cuz I missed last week’s upload anyway I’ll talk to you later. See ya

Here are a few of our favorite JC5 Production videos:

If you are a fan of creative and authentic storytelling you will want to add JC5 Productions to your playlist.

Connecting With Juan:

Image Descriptions:

  • Featured image is a closeup of Juan with a big smile on his face. He has a knit gray beanie on his head and is wearing a green crew neck sweater. In the blurred background is a redbrick fireplace next to a doorframe.
  • In the second head & shoulders photo, Juan appears more serious with his right hand wrapped around the handle of his white cane. Wearing a casual, open, button-down gray shirt he has a navy blue tee underneath. Juan, sporting his bald head looks distinguished against a stark white backdrop.