My 5 year Spine-iversary!

 June 6th marked 5 years since my spinal fusion surgery. 5 years since I became part robot. Scoliosis was never something I identified myself with. It was always something that just happened to me and I never wanted to make it a big deal. So, friends, don't feel weird if you didn't know. I don't talk about it much. Consequently enough June also happens to be Scoliosis awareness month. Learning this almost made me laugh. Aren't awkward Jr. High scoliosis screenings in the locker room awareness enough? But then there's national donut day. Talk like a pirate day. Ok, I digress. We can have our month.

Physical quirks have always played a small role in my life. When I was 3 years old, my parents met with a doctor to discuss options about my inverted hips and pigeon toed feet. The decision was either to break my hips and cast my legs up to my hips (Forest Gump anyone?) or put me in ballet. They put me in ballet. Of course, I was the worst ballerina and I'm still pigeon toed. My dad always told me, "All of the best runners are a little pigeon toed." Whether or not that's true, I never felt limited physically. Maybe this mentality prepared me for other physical quirks. We all have them. Am I right? I never connected the two until today. 

I'm grateful for modern medicine, my absolute favorite orthopedic  surgeon, Dr. Jeffery Roh, and this titanium spine that hasn't slowed me down. I just got back from a backpacking trip across seven countries. I hike, dive, kayak, white water raft, ran a half marathon one year post op ( I am NOT a runner), coach gymnastics, and I'm obsessed with rock climbing. I'm so grateful for all my loyal friends that visited me, brought me treats, sang hymns on Sundays, drew pictures and put them on the ceiling so I didn't have to stare at the empty space. My angel of a mother and my sweet grandma that took care of my every need. Literally every need. 

I've been reading Brene Brown's Daring Greatly and she totally got in my head. She asks, ""Can you value your own vulnerability as much as you value it in others." That resonated with me. As a photographer I ask people to be vulnerable all the time. I love hearing and visually telling people's stories. This time I turned the lens around and I'm sharing a sliver of my own story. So, here goes my vulnerability exercise. 

 

60 Degree curve before, 15 degree curve after

60 Degree curve before, 15 degree curve after

Here is my middle school back brace. This was quite the lesson in 16th century fashion, as it resembled being synched up in a corset. My spine is shaped like an S, "S for Stephanie!" I joked. 

Here is my middle school back brace. This was quite the lesson in 16th century fashion, as it resembled being synched up in a corset. My spine is shaped like an S, "S for Stephanie!" I joked. 

Straight out of a Sci-Fi movie. For some reason I still have this brace. It's made it through years and years of spring cleaning. I think I'm more attached to it now then I was back then. 

Straight out of a Sci-Fi movie. For some reason I still have this brace. It's made it through years and years of spring cleaning. I think I'm more attached to it now then I was back then. 

Junior high is an emotionally difficult stage for any teenager. Tack on glasses, braces, frizzy hair and a deformed back. Woweee, all the feels. My shirt seams were forever twisted to mirror my misshapen spine and ribs. I gloried in sports practice, the only hour other than to bathe I was freed from my back brace. When I first started wearing my brace it was hard to eat and breathe due to the special padding to prevent my aggressive curve from worsening. 

Junior high is an emotionally difficult stage for any teenager. Tack on glasses, braces, frizzy hair and a deformed back. Woweee, all the feels. My shirt seams were forever twisted to mirror my misshapen spine and ribs. I gloried in sports practice, the only hour other than to bathe I was freed from my back brace. When I first started wearing my brace it was hard to eat and breathe due to the special padding to prevent my aggressive curve from worsening. 

13 hour surgery. 2 rods. 20 screws. 1 incredible surgeon, Dr. Jeffery Roh. He treats his patients like family. This is a newer, minimally invasive procedure instead of one long incision. It was exciting to be a part of cutting edge medicine. I've never seen anyone with a scar like mine. Then again, not maybe people slap photos of their back onto the internet. 

13 hour surgery. 2 rods. 20 screws. 1 incredible surgeon, Dr. Jeffery Roh. He treats his patients like family. This is a newer, minimally invasive procedure instead of one long incision. It was exciting to be a part of cutting edge medicine. I've never seen anyone with a scar like mine. Then again, not maybe people slap photos of their back onto the internet. 

Physical therapy in the hospital. My expression says it all. I thought I would burst from the seams. It's been 5  years since: I learned out to walk again with my grannie walker. I had hallucinations from pain meds about people camping in my backyard. My grandma put vaseline on my heels in my socks for bed sores. I binge watched every Netflix documentary. 

Physical therapy in the hospital. My expression says it all. I thought I would burst from the seams. It's been 5  years since: I learned out to walk again with my grannie walker. I had hallucinations from pain meds about people camping in my backyard. My grandma put vaseline on my heels in my socks for bed sores. I binge watched every Netflix documentary. 

I've never been more grateful to be alive in the 21st century. I don't have to wheel around a handcart of a back brace or be suspended from a rod for lengthy periods of time. 50 years ago after spine surgery, patients had to lay flat on their backs in a full body plaster cast for 6 months to A YEAR! No thanks. I wish someone would have told me that when I used to hide my back brace in the coat closet from my mom. I had it pretty good. 

I've never been more grateful to be alive in the 21st century. I don't have to wheel around a handcart of a back brace or be suspended from a rod for lengthy periods of time. 50 years ago after spine surgery, patients had to lay flat on their backs in a full body plaster cast for 6 months to A YEAR! No thanks. I wish someone would have told me that when I used to hide my back brace in the coat closet from my mom. I had it pretty good. 

20 Screws shown above are the same screws I have in my back. 

20 Screws shown above are the same screws I have in my back. 

These photos of my back and portraits were a collaboration with my dear friend, Tori Dickson. I met Tori at church the week before my back surgery. Tori was assigned from our church women's group to visit me in the hospital. I was eating lunch when she arrived. Side story: My right side went numb during surgery from nerve damage. I couldn't hold a fork myself or sit up. My mom had to step out of my room for a while. She asked Tori if she wouldn't mind feeding me. So how did Tori and I become friends? She spoon fed me yogurt in the hospital. It was one of the weirder starts to a friendship. But a friendship that's grown as strong as my titanium back. I've been so nervous to share these, because I'm ultra conservative, modest. 

These photos of my back and portraits were a collaboration with my dear friend, Tori Dickson. I met Tori at church the week before my back surgery. Tori was assigned from our church women's group to visit me in the hospital. I was eating lunch when she arrived. Side story: My right side went numb during surgery from nerve damage. I couldn't hold a fork myself or sit up. My mom had to step out of my room for a while. She asked Tori if she wouldn't mind feeding me. So how did Tori and I become friends? She spoon fed me yogurt in the hospital. It was one of the weirder starts to a friendship. But a friendship that's grown as strong as my titanium back. I've been so nervous to share these, because I'm ultra conservative, modest. 

"I'm comfortable in my skin. I don't obsess about the way my body looks. I exhausted that worry in middle school staring at my side reflection trying to bend it back in the right directions. I remember looking in the mirror a week after my surgery. I started tearing up seeing my new defined shoulder blades. Visible, beautiful shoulder blades.  Yes, I also saw a giant scar that looks like a zipper, but I like that now too." (quote I wrote for Backbone Magazine. They wanted to know how the experience shaped my body image)

"I'm comfortable in my skin. I don't obsess about the way my body looks. I exhausted that worry in middle school staring at my side reflection trying to bend it back in the right directions. I remember looking in the mirror a week after my surgery. I started tearing up seeing my new defined shoulder blades. Visible, beautiful shoulder blades.  Yes, I also saw a giant scar that looks like a zipper, but I like that now too." (quote I wrote for Backbone Magazine. They wanted to know how the experience shaped my body image)

I love my scars. I find them interesting and beautiful. Oh, and they make me feel tough. A majority of people don't know I've had this surgery. So, we never know what is going on under the surface. A church leader I love, Henry B. Eyring said, "Approach everyone with the sensitivity that they are going through a challenge. More than half the time you'll be right." Don't forget to be kind.

I love my scars. I find them interesting and beautiful. Oh, and they make me feel tough. A majority of people don't know I've had this surgery. So, we never know what is going on under the surface. A church leader I love, Henry B. Eyring said, "Approach everyone with the sensitivity that they are going through a challenge. More than half the time you'll be right." Don't forget to be kind.

609 Years of Love Stories That Grow Sweeter With Age

As a wedding photographer, I love hearing about all the firsts. How you first met. When you first fell in love. How he proposed. I feel blessed to be able to document love. The pure, genuine, starry eyed kind.

I’m excited to share with you a photo series called, “To Grow Old With You”, that grows sweeter with age. The fifteen couples that participated were strangers to me when I interviewed them. Each shared their love story with me and a few pearls of wisdom. We laughed together, sometimes cried together, and became dear friends. Cheers to the month of love.

Doug & Fran: 55 Years of Marriage

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We dated eight years. We broke up and got back together six times. We just couldn’t communicate. But the stars kept bringing us back together. We are still working on that communication thing, but our love grows deeper every day.

Steve & Cheryl: 49 Years of Marriage

The story of how we met needs a little preface. Both of our grandparents were candy distributors in Provo, and our parents both catered. Following in their footsteps, we now own a catering business.

Steve: Though I was not acquainted with Cheryl, I grew up singing with her older brother and sister at Brigham Young High School in Provo. After high school, we both moved from Provo to different areas of California. As fate would have it, We ended up at the same dance in California. I brought a date, whom I took home early after seeing Cheryl there. I came back to the dance and asked her brother who the girl with him was. After the dance was over, I shouted across the parking lot, “You don’t need to worry about your kid sister. I will take her home!” That only worked because of my years of history with her brother.

Cheryl: My family wasn’t very supportive of our relationship since Steve comes from a broken home. They tried to talk me out of marrying him. Having a very difficult time making decisions for myself, I let my mother influence all of them. Of course I respected my parents, but I also needed to learn to trust in the Lord. I fasted and prayed and my answer was like lightening. So, he drove all the way out to Utah from California and we decided to elope that Friday! Crazy, I know. I look back on that answer and it gives me the strength to endure any challenge.

Ray & Tess: 54 Years of Marriage

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Ray was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s 4 years ago. To this day, no matter what happens to him, if you ask him what he would like to do, he always responds, with “Whatever Tess wants to do.” That is the one thing he never seems to forget!

Lloyd & Helen Fay: 64 Years of Marriage 

He has a twin brother and I have a twin brother, and we rode the school bus together. I was in the third grade and he was in the sixth grade. We fell in love riding on the school bus and going to baseball games together. I was eighteen and she was sixteen when we got married.

I made it a priority to do anything I could to provide for my family. I’ve herded sheep, ran a saw mill, run a farm, bailed hay. We’ve stayed active in the church all our lives and that’s kept our family together. We have 30 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren. We sure are glad we rode that school bus together.

Robert & Patricia: 23 Years of Marriage

We met on a blind date. My niece set us up and we went to Chuck-a-rama. She didn’t like me at all and I didn’t like her dog.

We’ve been on three service missions together and it’s important to say I love you everyday.

Chauncey & Bertha: 71 Years of Marriage

We went on a hike up Mt. Timpanogos in the summer of 1944. Six months later we were engaged. We’ve worked hard together to raise our thirteen children.

Richard & Jan: 65 Years of Marriage

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Jan: We met in 8th grade. I asked him out to a Sadie Hawkins dance in the ninth grade. He said he would have to get back to me!
Richard: I really just meant I was too young to drive, and I had to ask my dad if he could drive us.
Jan: I took that to mean he was waiting for a better offer.
Richard: She sat across from me in our English class and I had to answer all her questions, or maybe it was the other way around. We got married right out of high school when we were 17. I tell people we were teenagers. I say she was 19 and I was 13. Laughter is important in our marriage. I let her have her sewing room. I stay out of there and she stays out of my glass cutting room.

Larry & Darylnn: 44 Years of Marriage

He was actually dating my cousin. My aunt really liked him, so she arranged a party to get them back together. We met at that party and ended up dating. We will be eternally grateful to aunt Dawn for arranging a party that neither of us wanted to go to. We still have a date night every Friday. Oh, and don’t worry, my cousin married her eternal companion too.

Andrew & Norma: 57 years of marriage

We met when I was working at a women’s dress shop in California, and he was working next door at a men’s clothing store. Every morning we’d both go out to sweep the sidewalk. One day our brooms met, and we fell in love on that sidewalk in front of those stores. We talked everyday and he swept me off my feet!

Gentle humor and a light heart to not take things too seriously unifies our marriage. We love spending time with our children. We have 36 grandchildren and 22 great grandchildren in the area. Once a month we try to get everyone together. We like planning service projects with our family clan. Prayer within our home is the best defense for struggles. Love means respecting the person you are with and knowing about them deeply.

Alan & Melanie: 11 Years of marriage

I was just hired as an Administrator at a nursing home. There was quite a bit of junk in the back and I needed to burn down some of the weeds. I called the fire department for a burn permit, and Alan showed up. I had my horse trailer in the back and he has horses. So we started visiting and we could tell we had similar interests. He asked me out and my first reaction was, “Oh no. I’m not having anything to do with this.” Thank heavens the Lord is smarter than I am, because Heavenly Father told me this is what I was supposed to be doing. He came back a week later and asked if we could have dinner. I was resisted at first, but I said yes. It was the best move I ever made. Alan knew right away. I was resistant, but he knew.

This was our second marriage. I could just imagine the Lord saying, “Let me help you with this one dear.” You need to have eternal fortitude to stay there. It is important to be humble and unselfish. The biggest problem is when you think of yourself first. It’s so easy to do. the natural man. Try and be empathetic to how they see things.

I didn’t get the burn permit until years later. I got something much, much better.

George & Diane: 60 years of marriage

We met in the Library. Well, that was our second meeting. We actually met at church. He introduced himself and then later that night called me at home. He asked me if I would go out with him and I told him I had plans. He asked me about the next week and the next week, and I honestly had a date every week. So he never called after that. That brings us to the next quarter. I was studying in the library. I saw him looking over at me and he came over and introduced himself. I remembered him, but he had forgotten me! That is where it all began. He walked me back to heritage halls and we talked and talked, and became acquainted.

One way we stay unified is just by getting old. We have never been old before, and we are just trying to learn how to be old together. We rely on one another for health issues that come up. Someone said I’m over the hill. That’s funny, I don’t ever remember being on top! Diane is a wonderful, wonderful wife.

We have a lot in common now. We didn’t have a lot in common when we were first married. The best marital advice we received was, “Don’t try to change each other, just get used to each other and look for the good traits.”

George: Diane, would it be all right to tell her that you were Miss Oregon?

Diane: Aw that was 100 years ago!

Mervin & Carolyn: 56 Years of Marriage

We met in an economics class. I was just studying the young lady in the class.
Life is so uncertain. You need to have faith. When we got married, we did not have a lot. We just jumped in with both feet and started working. It will always take effort. We are closer now than we have ever been in our entire lives!
“Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made. Our times are in his hand who saith, ‘A whole I planned, youth shows but half; Trust God: See all, nor be afraid!”
— Robert Browning

This is a continuing project. Nominations can be sent to studio@stephaniejarstad.com