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The Keys to Unlock the Door: Open-Mindedness & Creativity

Beyond Sight Magazine Cover is described in the body of the post.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

I was on a Zoom call the other day when I heard this powerful message: “One out of one people has unconscious bias.” While many of us like to believe we have no biases, as uncomfortable as it might be to admit, we all do. Today’s featured Woman On The Move, Tiffany Baylor, very eloquently takes us through how she faced her unconscious biases and emerges victoriously. In addition to her article, here is a supplemental YouTube interview with Tiffany and Bold Blind Beauty’s Nasreen Bhutta. ~Steph

I believe that the most important gift that I can share with the world is education. I do not mean handing someone a leaflet about blindness and feeling like I’ve done my part. I mean provide people the opportunity to metaphorically walk in my shoes. 

~Tiffany Baylor

Blind-Sided

Hiking Desoto Falls - image is described in the body of the post
Hiking Desoto Falls

I was diagnosed with Glaucoma just before my 30th birthday. I was already operating with only one functioning eye since birth, so as you can imagine, learning that I was going to gradually lose my sight in my second eye was quite unsettling. Although I was accepted into an excellent training program for people with adult-onset sight loss, I emotionally avoided the diagnosis, and literally avoided the Orientation and Mobility instructor who came to pre-assess me for approximately 3 months.

Coincidentally, all of the blindness-related stereotypes that I would later work to dispel were the very stereotypes that triggered my fear and hopelessness. I didn’t want the label, the diagnosis, nor to be seen as one of those “poor, helpless, blind people.” Yet, at the urging of my family, I acquiesced and boarded the little white shuttle that displayed a large, colorful “Braille Institute for the Blind” sign on its side. I took my seat among the other “poor, helpless, blind people,” as the shuttle’s back-up safety beeps advertised the bus’s departure from my neighborhood. My cover was blown. I thought, “Well, now, the whole world knows that I’m broken.”

Egg Hunt

An Eye-Opening Experience

From the first day that I attended Braille Institute, I met people who dispelled every single stereotype that I had related to living with vision loss. I met people who lived independently, who had hobbies, who wore makeup, who gardened, sewed, cooked, and even played sports! There I was thinking that my diagnosis was the precursor to an ending, when actually it was unlocking a beginning. Creativity was the key needed to unlock that beginning, and I spent the next year training and learning how to use that key.  

An Open Mind and Willing Spirit

One day while public speaking at an engagement hosted by the Braille Institute in California, I was asked to participate in the event activities as a show of support for the program. The event was the Braille Institute Youth Olympics. I laced up a pair of borrowed sneakers and took my position on the starting line of the 100-meter dash among an intimidating, powerfully built group of 16 and 17-year-olds. The starter commanded, “Runner’s to your mark . . . get set . . .” As the gun exploded, surprisingly, so did I!” I couldn’t believe that I was actually keeping up with this stampede of strapping teens! Later that afternoon, an official thanked me for coming and said, “You ought to turn your scores in.” I chuckled and thought that he was kidding, or just being polite.  

The Call

Several weeks later, I received a telephone call from a gentleman who said he was from USABA (pronounced: You-sah’-buh). Assuming he was a telemarketer, I scolded, “I already have a Samsung with High Definition in my family room, and I’m not interested in purchasing a ‘You-sah’-buh!’

 He continued, “Hello, are you, Tiffany Baylor? I am Mark Lucas of the United States Association of Blind Athletes.”  (Apparently, USABA was an acronym and not a brand of television). Mark continued still, “You attended an event in Los Angeles, and your scores were sent to me by one of the officials. Your scores are quite good. I’d like to talk to you about being a member of the USABA Track and Field Team, and attending the upcoming Pan American Games.”

USABA photo is described in the body of the post.
USABA Photo

Off To the Races

The next thing I knew, I was being flown out to South Carolina for training, to compete in an international competition involving 17 countries. I was so awe-inspired by the events. I arrived at my athlete quarters to find an official red, white, and blue uniform with “USA” proudly displayed upon it. I think I shed a tear as I carefully examined the letters with my fingers as if to verify that this was really happening. There were classifications, prelims, heats, staggered starts, and other terminology that seemed like another language. My teammates prayed and encouraged me as I faced a plethora of well-trained opponents. I enjoyed the thrill of competition, the camaraderie of the team, and the opportunity to make life-long friendships with athletes all over the world. The resulting Gold and Bronze Medals were pleasing as well.

Team USA
Team USA

After 16 years of competition, 4 International Gold Medals, 2 television appearances, torch-bearing, and being the first blind athlete to compete/and win Gold at the California State Games, residing, and training at 2 Olympic Training Centers, earning an All American National Ranking twice, and earning a Gold Medal at the US Paralympic Track and Field Trials for a slot on the USA 2012 London Paralympic Team, my most prized accomplishment is speaking to people about being bold when creating goals, and noticing that each accomplishment is a gateway to another goal. One must continuously explore which gate the ‘key’ will open next? 

The Opened Doors

While competing for the U.S. Track and Field Team, I met people who used guide dogs for mobility. After much research, discussion, and evaluation, I applied for my first Guide dog in 1997.  While traveling with the U.S. Team, I realized society’s urgent need for guide dog accessibility education. I became a member of the Guide Dog for the Blind Speakers Bureau in 1999 and began providing guide dog awareness training to community organizations and elementary schools throughout California. I continued promoting guide dog inclusion and acceptance by appearing on KUSI News in San Diego, Wake-up Clackamas County in Oregon, and Facing Florida here in the state of Florida. I presented quarterly lectures for Kaiser University’s Occupational Therapy program, instructing emerging therapists on visual impairments and considerations for service delivery. I have also been a guest lecturer for Florida State University’s course on living with visual loss, and was fortunate to provide in-service training to companies who serve people with disabilities, including a request by Florida’s Secretary of State, Ken Dexter, to provide guide dog accessibility training to his staff.

I believe that the most important gift that I can share with the world is education. I do not mean handing someone a leaflet about blindness and feeling like I’ve done my part. I mean provide people the opportunity to metaphorically walk in my shoes. Stereotypes and biases will not be squashed by someone being able to recite the three most common eye conditions. Instead, opportunities that allow people to experience how seemingly inconsequential aspects of daily living with blindness compels a person to constantly think outside-of-the-box just to participate. This way of educating the public promotes open-minded thinking and brings about true learning. When this type of instruction is combined with a free, non-judgmental forum for attendees to ask questions without the impediment of political correctness, fear of offending, or ridicule, I find that misconceptions evaporate and new foundations are constructed.

This mindset motivated me to create My Pink Cane.  My Pink Cane is an Instruction and Advocacy business specializing in training and auxiliary consultation services to businesses, Government Agencies and community groups in the surrounding Capitol region in the areas of Blindness Etiquette, Guide Dog laws, and various accommodations/tools that may be used by people who have blindness or low vision. Rather than simply lecture to the audience, I provide informative, lively, and interactive presentations that include hands-on experiences that are molded to address the specific goals, and possible hard-set misconceptions of the audience.  

Clearly, my Glaucoma diagnosis was the key to a new beginning. It has taught me to not ‘dis’ my abilities, but rather to discover, and strengthen my abilities. My blindness has taught me to change my goal setting to be limitless, by keeping creativity and open-mindedness on my virtual tool belt. Most importantly, blindness has motivated me to share my life experiences, and strive to release society from the blindfolds that perpetuate stereotypes, thus allowing society to see with the clarity of creative, open-minded people who are blind.

Tiffany Baylor, TVI, FCCM, MEd
Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, TVI
Florida Certified Contract Manager, FCCM
Masters of Education, MEd

Connecting WIth Tiffany:

Image Descriptions:

  • Beyond Sight Magazine Cover – Tiffany’s photo is on the cover, she is dressed professionally in a stylish jacket and her dark hair is pulled back from her smiling face cascading in spiral curls. Her circular silver statement earrings perfectly omplement her jacket. The masthead is teal with “Beyond Sight Magazine” in black text. The dot on the ‘i’ in ‘sight’ is the eye used for our 2020 Year of Vision Campaign (described HERE). There are 3 lines of white text that says “Tiffany Baylor Opening doors with open-mindedness and creativity.” In the bottom right corner is a teal circle with an illustration of Abby rollerblading. She has on a black crop tank top complete with her logo on the front with black shorts, and gray & teal roller blades. And of course, Abby wouldn’t be Abby without her signature explosive hairstyle and “Women On The Move” is in yellow text under the circle.
  • Hiking Desoto Falls – Tiffany is standing with her guide dog a black lab. In the background is a waterfall surrounded by lush greenery.
  • Tri-panel gallery -1) Tiffany is standing at a podium cohosting a Dining In The Dark Event with a man. 2) Tiffany is sitting with a child on the floor teaching them braille. 3) Tiffany is at the front of the room leading a public speaking conference as a woman looks on.
  • USABA Photo – Action photo of Tiffany running rounding the bend on the track, representing Team USA as she competes.
  • Team USA – Tiffany is among the entire team consisting of 4 rows of people. All are dressed identically in navy and white athletic gear.
  • 7-panel gallery – (clockwise top l to r) 1) Tiffany and her clogging team wearing American flag tops. 2) Tiffany and her guide dog are on the Appalachian trail crossing the Potomac and Shenandoah on a narrow footbridge. 3) Tiffany is all smiles while riding a Cyco Cycle in the parade. She has on a black cowboy hat, red top, boots, and black jeans. Her bedazzled cane is guiding the way. 4) Action shot of Tiffany water skiing in Hot Springs Arkansas. 5) Top of Hill at Harper’s Ferry Tiffany, with her guide dog, is standing with her back to the camera. In the background rooftops and a tree-covered mountain can be seen. 6) Ice Skiing in Vermont Tiffany poses with her skis in hand. She’s wearing a red puffy jacket, black helmet, and bright orange “Blind Skier” vest. 7) Tiffany and her guide dog are at the Appalachian Trail Railroad. Tiffany has a large backpack on her back. Trees and mountains can be seen in the background.
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Visual Identity & Seeing Beyond Vision Loss

Image is described in the body of the post.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Editor’s Note:

The one thing I am most passionate about as an Abilities Crusader is seeing people for who they are. Understanding visible or invisible disabilities doesn’t have to be uncomfortable when we accept people in their entirety. Today, you’re going to meet an amazing woman who will help you see differently.

My friendship with Cheryl Minnette, like many of the people featured on Bold Blind Beauty, began virtually. From our very first video conversation, we instantly connected and shared many things in common. Then a few months ago we met for the first time in person at a networking event in New Jersey. If I had one word to describe this beautiful woman it would have to be ‘charisma.’ Cheryl’s warmth and authenticity give her the unique ability to draw people to her and make them feel safe. It gives me pleasure to introduce you to my friend Cheryl. ~Steph

As I walked through the building, without any warning, my retina detached. A new chapter in life was beginning, which definitely caused me to see the world from a different vantage point.

~Cheryl Minnette

On Being Seen

Delaware Book tour image is described in the body of the post.
Delaware Book tour

If you knew me as a child, you would remember me as the little girl with the three long pigtails and blue cat-framed eyeglasses. Did I get teased throughout my childhood? Oh, absolutely! Did it stop me from having an inquisitive mind and learning how things worked? Absolutely not! I would take things apart and put them back together like a puzzle. To this day I love a good brain teaser.

Although I am now legally blind, I definitely don’t let it define me. It is a condition that is part of me, but I am in control of this here vessel. I enter a room as Cheryl, bringing all of my confidence and grace with me. This means you get to see and know me for my joy of life that radiates from within before my layers of visual identity are revealed. Now was I this way from day one of my vision loss? Not at all! It was definitely a process. Let me rewind my timeline a bit, so you can get up to speed.

Instantaneous Sight Loss

Secaucus, NJ Trip image is described in the body of the post.
Secaucus, NJ Trip

My vision loss occurred on an ordinary Spring morning. You know when the sun is shining, skies are blue, and the birds are chirping away. Everyone was ready to go, so I walked the dog, got the children off to school, and headed to work. Within 15 minutes of arriving at work, my world was changed forever. As I walked through the building, without any warning, my retina detached. A new chapter in life was beginning, which definitely caused me to see the world from a different vantage point.

Having been sighted, I quickly realized the world I had been living in was not designed for the visually impaired. Stepping into this new arena, a world that current memories don’t work in, I found that my mind’s memory banks were requiring a major upgrade of daily processes. Some of the most intricate, but simple, daily processes that I used to perform without much thought, now require my full attention. I am very detail-oriented and analytical, which helped me begin this journey of retraining myself. Putting into place the processes I needed to implement in order to have the ability to maintain an independent life required discipline.

Rebuilding Life

During this restructuring and growth process, I yearned for more in my life. I am not the type to sit back and watch life pass me by. I thought about my dreams and was not willing to let them go. I knew there was more for me beyond this new horizon, and I was determined to find it. I found the online space to be intriguing and began learning about it. This led to live streaming, product creation, business scaling, speaking, traveling, becoming an author, and more. Each hurdle was like a new puzzle, waiting to be solved.

There are many layers to having your own business, and I am continually peeling them back. I believe life is a never-ending process of continual learning. When it comes to product creation and implementation, it’s all about knowing what steps to take. Were there days filled with tears, frustration, and feelings of overwhelm? There most certainly were, but knowing the reward outweighed the struggles. Desiring to meet some of my business acquaintances, I went for it and boarded a plane heading for a conference in Florida. That solo trip was a pivotal moment in my vision loss journey.

Being A Role Model

My children walked every step of my vision loss journey with me. As a mother, it was extremely important for me to demonstrate to my children that when life knocks you off your feet, you can choose to stand tall again. I stand behind the words that I speak to others when it comes to stepping outside of the proverbial box and pushing yourself outside of your boundaries. In January 2019, I challenged myself to push way past my boundaries and have some fun while doing it. As part of a reunion celebration, I reconnected with my childhood championship drill team. With continual practice and perseverance, in addition to the member’s support, I displayed my skills with The Soul Sensations in June during a parade and at two other events. My children were not only amazed seeing my moves but were proud of me for this accomplishment.

Drill Team image is described in the body of the post.
Drill Team

Today I inspire women to maneuver through their circumstances, not sit in them. At Vision Navigation Consulting, it’s all about knowing what you want and learning how to maneuver to get there. Whether you are new to vision loss, caring for someone with vision loss, or are sighted in need of sensitivity and awareness training, reach out at eyelivelifetoo@gmail.com. You may also request your copy of the monthly Vision Navigation NEWSletter. Vision Navigation Consulting is “changing the way you see the world“, by sharing insight and knowledge so you can connect your dots from where you are to where you need to be.

A Free Gift From Cheryl

Cheryl is offering Bold Blind Beauty readers a free inspirational book “A Woman’s Self Inspiration.”

If you’re ready to move forward on your journey of personal discovery, in order to become your more, then this free gift will jump-start your process. Click the link below to get answers that will assist you in your growth.

A Woman’s Self Inspiration by Cheryl Minnette https://bit.ly/selfinspiration

Connecting With Cheryl:

Image Descriptions:

  • Header: The Beyond Sight Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition numbers are in the upper right corner in black ink. Cheryl’s headshot photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In this photo, Cheryl is smiling and has on a mint green top accented with a gold chunky necklace and earrings. The picture was taken during her initial solo trip to the Florida Conference. “Beyond Sight” is in large black text and a teal-colored circle with Cheryl’s name is in white text.
  • Delaware Book Tour: Speaking…a journey Into the world of vision loss. In this photo, Cheryl is standing next to a lectern wearing a sleeveless pink dress.
  • Secaucus Trip: Photo of Cheryl in the hotel lobby where we met in NJ. She’s wearing a hot pink jacket with black pants.
  • Photo Gallery:
    • Cooking Blind Kitchen: Preparing a meal during a live show. Cheryl is standing next to a kitchen counter decked out in an apron and her hair pulled atop her head with a pink headband.
    • Philly Train Station: Waiting on a wooden bench at the Philadelphia train station, to head home to New Jersey after a day full of networking.
  • Drill Team: Grand finale in the African American Heritage Parade. Action shot of Cheryl in uniform (white hat, pants, fingerless gloves, and shoes with a green top) at the parade.
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Tatum Tricarico From Author To Advocate:

Image is described in the body of the post.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

Pushing For Disability Representation

People yelled mean things, whispered to each other, kicked my cane, stared, pointed, laughed, and ultimately made me feel like I was less worthy because of my blindness.

Tatum Tricarico

The above quote breaks my heart but I know all too well, the truth its words convey. Even so, I’m so grateful that the ignorance and hatred displayed here didn’t stop Tatum. In recognition of International Women’s Day which was yesterday, I’m thrilled to introduce you to an exceptional young woman. Tatum Tricarico, March’s Woman On The Move, is a powerhouse who is breaking barriers! Her fight for the inclusion of people with disabilities began with her personal story of exclusion. It’s my pleasure to introduce you to a fierce young woman, Tatum Tricarico. Enjoy!

Growing Up

Photo 2 is described in the body of the post.

I often remember learning about Helen Keller in school because when people see my cane, many decide to fumble into an awkward story about learning about Helen Keller when they were young. But as a child, I don’t remember feeling connected to her.

I knew I had a vision impairment and had already undergone many surgeries, but for the most part, I considered myself sighted. I could “pass” as sighted well, aside from the occasional large print. Then all of a sudden as a sophomore in high school, seeing began to cause me pain. Just using my eyes hurt so badly that I would have to stop whatever I was doing. I suddenly realize that I couldn’t keep “passing” as sighted and that I was going to have to stop using my vision to avoid constant, debilitating pain. I began functioning as blind. I started using a cane and reading braille. My functional blindness came on very quickly and had a huge impact on how I lived.

“Independence”

Independence was definitely a buzz word in special education. I was told that I needed to be as independent as possible or I wouldn’t be able to be a college student or adult. I felt like I had lost so much independence when my vision changed and was convinced that I would need to be fully independent before I could be a “real” adult or bring good to the world. This definitely helped me motivate myself to learn braille, figure out accommodations in college, and learn how to travel with a cane. But what it didn’t do was prepare me for life.

Image 3 is described in the body of the post.

I realized in college that being dependent on those around me is not a bad thing. The only way I am making it through college is:

  • depending on my friends to be student readers and notetaker in my classes,
  • depending on my professors to accommodate and
  • depending on both friends and professors to help me in relation to my functional blindness
  • and in ways that everyone else needs help.

But I also know that my friends are dependent on me for things, too. That’s community. My independence has come from recognizing when I need help and when I am called to help those around me.

Image 4 is described in the body of the post.

Imperfections

As I gained more of this independence within the community, I started going out and doing more things with friends. I quickly realized that people did not respond well to seeing my cane. They were scared of me, rude to me, and occasionally mean to me or mad at me. People yelled mean things, whispered to each other, kicked my cane, stared, pointed, laughed, and ultimately made me feel like I was less worthy because of my blindness. In response, I turned to something that I have always loved: writing.

I started writing the story of a man named Will living with a disability in a futuristic society. I wrote the story of his journey to prove his worth. I got my friends, family, and professors to help me edit it, and eventually, I published my novel Imperfections. Now that it has been made available on Amazon, several people have read it and my advocacy journey has started to take off.

Women’s March

Recently, I connected with the San Diego Woman’s March and expressed the importance of having disabled women in their speaker line up. Eventually, I was chosen to speak to the tens of thousands of people there. As a junior in college, this was the biggest honor of my life and I loved every minute of it.

Image 5 is described in the body of the post.

Getting the opportunity to advocate for the rights of people with disabilities in front of so many people including many of my family and friends was empowering and monumental in my journey. I encouraged people to recognize the worth of those with disabilities, to pay attention to our stories, and to think about what role people with disabilities play in their lives.

Classroom Speaking

After the Women’s March, I was contacted by several elementary schools that wanted me to come to speak. To know that the most disability education people have is the occasional story of Helen Keller makes me think deeply about how wonderful it is that these students will get to learn from a blind college student. It fills me with joy to wonder how one interaction can impact them and prove the worth of people with disabilities. The fact that my vision changed in high school was so incredibly scary, but now, to realize the independence and confidence it has given me is an incredibly beautiful thing.

Image 6 is described in the body of the post

Connecting With Tatum:

Image Descriptions:

  1. The B3 Magazine cover has a gray/white marbled background. The date & edition number, are in the upper right corner in black ink. Tatum’s photo is aligned on the right margin with the background appearing on the top, bottom and left margin. In this photo, Tatum (full body) is in front of a white wall holding her cane in the air with a shirt that says “what makes you different makes you beautiful!” “B3” is in large teal text and a teal-colored circle with Tatum’s name and “Women On The Move” in white text. There are four 4-lines of dark gray text on the image that reads “From Author to Advocate The Push for Disability Representation.”
  2. Tatum (close up) in front of a white wall holding her cane in the air with a shirt that says “what makes you different makes you beautiful!”
  3. Tatum smiling holding her book Imperfections. It has the title and her name on the cover along with a pair of red men’s shoes with the laces untied looking beat up.
  4. Tatum with a shirt that has a picture of a sign reading “blind person in area” and a poster in her hand that says “anything you can do I can do blind” with a cane and Braille letters drawn on.
  5. Tatum in her “blind person in area” shirt standing at a podium speaking with two microphones in front of her.
  6. Tatum in front of a classroom with her cane speaking to children.
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Facing Down The Silent Thief of Sight

Image is described in the body of the post.

WOMEN ON THE MOVE

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.