Not so pain free…

“One can survive everything, nowadays, except death”
– Oscar Wilde


However, to my dismay, the pain returned with vengeance. Only this time the doctors did not know why my back was hurting. Scoliosis should be painless and the tumor was successfully removed. My current doctor, however, did not seem too concerned and basically told me there is no actual source of my pain so I would just have to learn to live life with chronic back pain. I remember sitting in the doctor’s office visit after visit crying because I just wanted someone to believe me and understand the pain was truly unbearable. Plus, I do not think anybody should have to live in pain. At this point my parents decided it was time for a second opinion.

A few weeks later, I found myself sitting in a new doctor’s office waiting for my turn in the x-ray room. I have become an x-ray pro- at least two a visit every three months since sixth grade! After waiting for what seemed like years to pass, the doctor called my mom and me into the hall way to discuss the x-rays. This doctor’s office had one large back light in the hall for x-rays instead of individual ones in the exam rooms. As soon as we got into the hall, I took a look at the line up of scoliosis x-rays. There was one on the end that immediately caught my eye – that poor person’s spine was horrible! Thank God that was not my x-ray! In harsh contrast to the black background, the white bones jutted out to the right, clearly indicating severe scoliosis. The doctor started talking about the findings as he starting walking down the lineup of x-rays to the one on the end of the horrible scoliosis curve. It did not take me too much longer to realize that the x-ray on the end, the one of the horrible scoliosis curve was not just any “poor person”, it was ME! Right there in the middle of the hall, I burst out crying. I was horrified that my spine was so crooked. Physically I knew it was bad because you could see the curve without x-ray technology, but hearing a doctor say the curve was 50 degrees crushed me. Perception is reality, but seeing hard facts snaps that “reality” into real life reality. I knew what 50 degrees meant for my future and I knew it meant I was going to have to face the deformity I had spent my life trying to hide.

After further testing, the doctors determined that the tumor caused my scoliosis to rapidly progress, causing stress to the rest of my back, muscles, and ribs. A result of the tumor is that bone forms around the tumor as the body tries to move away from the irritant. This caused my scoliosis to progress. I was again told the only solution was serious surgery, but this time there were no other alternatives. Without surgery, I was risking my future health.

“Beyond 50 degrees, the spine loses its ability to compensate and progression becomes inevitable even after the child is mature. The only way to stop progression at this stage is a surgery called spinal fusion. Think of the vertebrae as beads on a string. The spine bends between the vertebrae as a string bends between the beads, causing the beads to move. The way to stop the beads from moving is to stick them together”
UCSF Children’s Hospital.

Since this surgery would be an extremely invasive surgery with an extensive recovery, a return to cheerleading was undoubtedly out of the question.

The first person I told was Shelley, my best friend since we were four. Since we have been friends for so many years, the second she saw my face, she knew something was up. We were standing in the hall of Dacula High School waiting for the sixth period bell to ring when I told her. Standing there,  in the hall way, Shelley hugged me as a fought back tears.


A few weeks later, I had to opportunity to meet a young girl, Hadley* who had just successfully had the spinal fusion to correct her scoliosis. It was so reassuring to see her so content and healthy. Her mom was extremely helpful and answered my family’s thousands of questions pertaining to the surgery. Her mom raved about the doctor they used and how he had never pressured or rushed them into any decisions. Since my current doctor was rushing surgery on me, we decided to see a doctor in the same practice as Hadley.

Again, I found myself waiting in a new exam room after taking x-rays. I have to take a moment to talk about the new doctor’s office. At this point, I am seventeen years old – not a child, but still able to see a pediatric doctor. My tumor removal surgery was done at a normal/adult hospital and while everybody was extremely nice, doctors who work with children just seem to express more empathy. I do not think I can paint a picture that would do this justice, but the office was a circus theme. What child wouldn’t love that? Imagine bright paint, clowns, children’s toys sprayed across the floor, and then my mom and me- sitting in child sized chairs (all the doctor’s office had) amidst the circus. I always felt so out of place (and awkward) in that office. To this day (now 20), I still am willing to go back to the “big top” to see the wonderful Dr. Devito.

Dr. Devito looked at my x-rays and again came to the same measurement – 50 degrees. He discussed with my family that I would need surgery to correct my spine or I would experience heart and lung complications as an adult. However, this time I heard splendid news… I could wait to have surgery! Dr. Devito ensured me that I could finish my high school cheerleading career, but I would have to have a spinal fusion immediately after. He said that if I was willing to work through the pain, I was at the point where I would need surgery either way so waiting a few more months would not make a huge difference. Since I had lived for years in pain, I knew I could make it one more year!

So with that news, I returned to cheerleading determined to make the most of my senior year.


*Name was changed


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