Today, Anchor 6, Inc. is featuring Ms. Amanda Bernauer. Today’s Anchor is more personal, because Amanda and I were childhood friends. I remember when Amanda became ill in high school, it was a shock to all of us. When you’re a teenager, being faced with an illness is the furthest thing from your mind. Amanda was faced with shocking news that completely changed her life. Although Amanda’s story is still being written, as she is living and coping with multiple chronic illnesses. However, what she has already persevered through is incredible. Amanda’s strength and determination to go on, against all odds, is amazing! I know her story is going to encourage so many others. Thank you Amanda for sharing your story with us.
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I will never forget the neurologist whipping around in her chair and exclaiming the seriousness of my M.R.I results. I will never forget the look on her face or the fear in her eyes. I can, to this day, feel the terror in my mother’s embrace as she wraps her arms around me. I can still remember the expression on my father’s face, portraying emotions that I had never witnessed before. I don’t think that I’ve ever been so terrified in my life. I was only fifteen years old, a sophomore in high school, and this wasn’t part of the plan. The diagnosis? Well, the doctor called it an “astrocytoma” and it was about to change my life forever. I had been having severe headaches for weeks prior to the devastating diagnosis, even to the point that the left side of my body had gone totally numb. My primary care physician initially diagnosed me with shingles, while something more serious hadn’t even crossed our minds. My doctor made me an appointment with a well-renowned neurosurgeon at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, whom my family has since nicknamed my “saving grace.”
My parents and I met with Dr. Wilson the following day and he was surprisingly optimistic as to my prognosis, while having great confidence that he could successfully remove the baseball-sized tumor from my brain stem without many lasting effects. The future immediately started looking brighter. I remember my pastor visiting me in pre-op and, trying to find the right words, simply told me to face the “eye of the tiger” and the Lord will bring you through it. I wasn’t totally sure what that meant yet, but I nodded and was whisked away. The ten-hour surgery was tedious and I spent a couple days in the ICU, but the first thing I saw upon entering my hospital room in the pediatric wing was a poster of a tiger. It was no coincidence and I believe that was God’s way of telling me, “YOU WON!”
I turned sixteen years old a mere three weeks after brain surgery and I remember celebrating my “Sweet Sixteen” by simply thanking God that I was alive. I wear a scar nicknamed my “c for courage” as a constant reminder that pain is real, but so is hope. I’d love to tell you that was my happy ending, but it was only the beginning. I needed to have repeat M.R.I. scans on an annual basis to check for re-growth and my five year scan in 2006 brought a new issue into focus… a pituitary adenoma. Wait… another tumor? I was happy to learn that lots of people have small adenomas that are never detected because they don’t grow large enough or secrete enough hormones to cause a problem, but what damage, if any, was this tumor doing to my body? It was determined that a “wait and see” approach was the way to go, wait and see what symptoms arise and treat them as we go. Gee, thanks.
I was diagnosed with type II diabetes in 2009, then hashimoto’s thyroiditis and fibromyalgia in 2012, and against all odds, pregnant in early 2013, but I was told by my OB-GYN at 6 weeks to anticipate a miscarriage. Say what? It was predestined that I was incapable of growing a healthy baby inside of my “broken” body, but I was unwilling to accept that as reality. I don’t think I’ve worked harder for anything in my life than I did for my unborn baby. I found an OB-GYN who believed in me and I followed her instructions explicitly. I pricked my finger 3-5 times a day, ate a property balanced diet, and administered my own insulin injections to maintain proper blood sugar levels. I passed every test with flying colors and only gained 13 lbs during pregnancy. My water broke in the wee hours of the morning on November 16, 2013; I labored for nearly 12 hours, pushed for 61 minutes, and gave birth to a healthy little boy. It was a dream come true and I knew what I was supposed to be feeling, rather what I wanted to be feeling, but something was missing. I was a good mother, but I wasn’t happy. I smiled, but I cried all the time. I didn’t want to be alone. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep. I was simply going through the motions and doing what needed to be done. It took nearly three months of this misery for me to realize that merely surviving is NOT thriving. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression and prescribed medication to help with the ups and downs. Whew… it is over yet?
It’s been an incredible couple of years watching our baby grow into a happy, healthy toddler, but it was becoming harder and harder to keep up with him. I felt like a 30 year old trapped in a body decades older and the pain was quickly consuming my life. I was finally able to see a rheumatologist after waiting months for an appointment and tests confirmed a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system – which normally protects our body by attacking foreign substances like bacteria and viruses – mistakenly attacks the joints. Ugh… really? I’m in constant pain, my joints pop like Rice Krispies, and every day brings different challenges. I never know whether it’s going to be a good day or a bad day. I’ve had to learn to smile through the pain because life won’t wait for me to catch up. On the flip side, I’ve learned to stop and smell the roses because my body needs the break. I’ve had to learn that asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness and to seek help when the pain is simply too much to bear. I’ve had to learn how to push myself without pushing myself over the edge because giving up is NOT an option. I am a warrior with an invisible battle to be fought every single day, but I am a SURVIVOR.
I’m so thankful for the opportunity to share my story. I have known Kermilya since 5th grade and I’ve always been inspired by her genuine desire to help others, so it’s no surprise that she co-founded an organization to aid in providing comfort to those coping with a chronic illness. I pray that sharing the intimate details of my own personal experiences might shine a light on someone else’s darkness.