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.