I have always been called a fighter. I may have not known what it meant from the very beginning but everyone around me did. From the day I was conceived, many doctors did not think I would survive. I was born premature and had to stay in the NICU for about two months. Even though I do not remember, I definitely struggled to live and make it home. That was not the end of my struggle.
About seven years later, I started losing feeling in my legs and feet. I never tell anyone this, but I even had bladder and bowel issues. I went to many different doctors, and not one of them could figure out what was causing all of this and what was going on. We had many different scans done – MRIs, CT scans, etc. – and not one of them showed anything. It took a year and a half to figure out what was causing these weird symptoms. Even though there was no proof of what I had, one amazing doctor said it was a tethered cord. A tethered cord takes place in your back and if it goes untreated, you can have nerve damage, as you get older.
November 12, 2004 was when I got my first surgery for the release of the tethered cord. Through having the surgery, the neurosurgeon also figured out another thing: I had a deformity in my back called Spina Bifida Occulta. Spina Bifida literally means “split spine” and it happens when the spinal column does not close all the way when the baby is in the womb. Luckily, this was not going to affect me throughout my life and I had a milder form than what many other people get. Spina Bifida can cause you to be put in a wheelchair or even become paralyzed. Miraculously, after that surgery I had an amazing recovery with no complications. My neurosurgeon told my parents and me that the chance of getting a tethered cord again was 1-2%. Since it was a very small percentage, I obviously did not think anything of it.
Well, about eight years later, I started having constant back pain and constant headaches. My headaches were more like migraines and they very rarely went away. On the other hand, I could not even focus on my school work because I was always so focused on my back. Nothing stopped the pain. Nothing. I tried everything – I felt like I was turning into a drug addict because every time a medicine did not work, my doctor gave me a new one to try. Not only did they not work, but I was allergic to almost every single one of them. Once again, I had MRIs, CT scans, and bone scans done, but nothing showed up. The only thing that did show up was two herniated disks in my lower back, but my symptoms did not match up to the symptoms of a herniated disk.
After a year of trying to figure out what was wrong again, we just assumed it was a tethered cord. Even though none of my symptoms matched up from the previous tethered cord, we had already crossed everything off the list and this was the only thing that was left. On July 31st, 2013, I went into surgery at New York Columbia Presbyterian unsure if I would come out of surgery with the good news that it was a tethered cord. Luckily, it was, and for the most part, I have been pain free since then. Of course, there is a very, very small percentage that it will happen again, but you never know with me! So now I have Spina Bifida Occulta, two herniated disks in my lower back, and two scars on my lower back.
I love showing off my two scars, and I love it so much when people ask me questions about them. It might seem selfish, but those two scars show me who I am and that I will not stop fighting. I have gained so much from these experiences. I learned to not take every day for granted, especially when doing a sport, because you never know when it is going to be your last day. I was lucky enough and was allowed to go back to gymnastics about a month after surgery, but I am not living pain free. I was determined to come back to gymnastics after my surgery because not only is it my whole life, but also I realized while I was out, I can’t go one day without thinking about or doing gymnastics. Yes, gymnastics is very demanding, especially on your back, but I have learned so much through doing it and cannot imagine going another day without it. My time must end soon with gymnastics, so even if I get a little pain while doing it, I push through and enjoy every moment, so when I can’t do it any more, I will know I spent my time the best I could.
I also learned that even though I think I am going through something hard, there are many people out there who are struggling more than I am. I still get my aches and pains, but that comes along with having a weak back after two spinal surgeries. Some days I thought I went through hell, especially last year before my surgery. I would cry almost every day and never understood why I was the one who had to go through it. I would not change that for the world, because I learned a lot when I couldn’t do anything.
“God gives his hardest battles to his toughest soldiers.”
To read Courtney’s post on Scholastic’s TeenBeing blog, click here!