Anchors: Ms. Amanda Bernauer

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.

Keep up with Amanda on:

Instagram: abernauer85

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amanda.bernauer85

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!”

Amanda Teen

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.

Amanda and Baby

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.

Amanda Bernauer

 

Anchors: Ms. Bo Smith

Each month Anchor 6, Inc. will feature two young adults that are surviving and fighting through their chronic illnesses. Anchor 6, Inc. would like to introduce their second “Anchor” of the month, Ms. Bo Smith.

Today, Ms. Bo Smith is sharing her journey of surviving an extremely rare form of breast cancer. Bo was diagnosed with stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) at the age of 29. Bo has an amazing spirit! She is a fighter, and has a will to live! Her story has touched my life personally, and has touched many others as well!

To keep up with Bo, LIKE her page on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/teamiloveBOobies/

I was 29 years old, recently engaged, and ready to start a family when I received the most horrific news of my life. I was diagnosed with stage 3 inflammatory breast cancer (IBC). IBC is an extremely rare breast cancer that has no early diagnosis and is found when the cancer has progressed to stages 3 or 4. I found a lump in my breast, which is usually not a symptom of IBC. I went in to the doctor knowing something was wrong, but tried to remain positive. When I received my diagnosis, I went straight to MD Anderson in Houston, TX. I started chemotherapy every week.

Bo Smith Last Chemo
Bo’s First Chemo Session

I spent 7 months on chemotherapy, with 6 drugs total. It was extremely difficult. I was hospitalized twice for having extremely low blood counts. I received 4 blood transfusions and a platelet transfusion. When my hair started falling out, I cried, then grabbed some clippers and shaved my head. I never let cancer control me. I made sure to always keep the upper hand, even when it seemed impossible to do. After chemo, I had my surgery. I was terrified to lose my breast. I didn’t know how I would feel, or my fiancé. I didn’t want to walk away after all I had been through, and hate my new body. Because my cancer has a high recurrence rate, I am not a candidate for immediate reconstruction, so I would be living with one breast for at least two years. It was one of the most terrifying things I had ever experienced, going into the hospital the morning of my surgery, but once I was out, I went home, stood in front of the mirror and just stared at my new body. I was ok. I then did 44 rounds of radiation. I went twice a day and spent about 20 min each time on the table. Once I finished that, I was done. I was told that I had a complete response to chemo and my pathology report from surgery came back clear. My fight, for now, was over.

1st Chemo
Bo’s Last Chemo Session

Once I was healed, I was able to really look at my new body. A body full of stretch marks, scars and a patch of radiated skin. I feel beautiful and blessed to be in this body. Every day I wake up healthy and cancer free, is a gift to me.

Bo Smith

Kermilya’s Journey – Finding Peace of Mind

When faced with a life changing and/or potentially life threatening diagnosis it is inevitable that one may experience sadness, anger, fear, denial, anxiety, worry, hopelessness, and helplessness. The combination of these emotions can quickly send one into depression. Each individual experiences these emotions differently, and subsequently handles it differently. Some of us bottle up our emotions and some immediately want to release. Some pray and use spirituality to cope. Some discover the power of prayer in their darkest hour. Having PCOS, there are many highs and lows due to the unpredictable symptoms. Some days I feel OK and other days I’m in pain and feeling out of sorts. Before I got my PCOS under control,  I found that I needed to release my emotions…holding it in was making me sicker both mentally and physically. Although I firmly believe in the power of  prayer, I felt it was important to seek some extra help… some outside counsel to cope. Seeking this help was not only for me, but for my family and friends too.

I went through a period of depression and denial during my journey. I was feeling so many different emotions. I was afraid I was going to develop other chronic illnesses due to PCOS. I was afraid I wasn’t going to ever have my own biological children. I felt alone because no one else understood my condition. I felt misunderstood  because from the outside I looked fine, but I was really terribly sick. I really felt like my body was betraying me. What was worse my doctor, as sweet as she is, only offered me a pill to manage my symptoms  but there was no guidance on how to achieve a better quality of life after my diagnosis. I was so overwhelmed by it all. My amazing husband, my mom, and a few close friends were the only ones that knew about my condition at this time. I would often vent to them to unload this weight  I was carrying. They would offer words of encouragement and offer their prayers. Although they meant well, I still felt emotionally crippled and I’m sure they felt overwhelmed by it all too. After awhile I decided I needed an outside source of counsel to help me cope and work out these emotions.

Going to therapy was one of the best decisions I had made for myself and for my relationships. I was blessed to have a counselor with the same faith base as me, so it was a perfect match. After seeing her  I was able to cope with my emotions more effectively. I began having more good days than bad. Moreover, I wasn’t dumping my “stuff” onto my friends and family. Don’t get me wrong, I know my family and friends love me and wanted to be there for me. However, it can also be a lot for family and friends to cope, especially if they know they can’t really help or fix the issue. I remember my husband telling me (during my bouts with depression) that it hurt him because he knew he couldn’t help me…he couldn’t fix it. When you think about it, it’s not really fair to our loved ones. Venting some is ok and healthy, but if most conversations seem to lead back to your condition it can become overwhelming. We’re all going through something…but  constantly pouring all of your feelings  onto your family and friends my leave them feeling helpless and emotionally drained.

I’ve always been an advocate of counseling/therapy. I know there is a lot of stigma connected to going to a therapist. Some see it as a sign of weakness, some believes it shows a lack of faith, some are afraid they’ll be perceived as “crazy”, and some feel it’s taboo to share their problems with an outside source. Those thoughts are absolutely FALSE. You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to release any emotions that may be holding you back from living optimally after a diagnosis. Going to a therapist allows you to work out your feelings  in a healthy way, in a safe and confidential environment.

When seeking counseling there are l different options. My job has an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) option. I had six free counseling sessions per year. Once I used all of my sessions, I used my insurance and paid the co-pay. In addition to EAP, you can talk to your spiritual leader, a faith based counselor, a family counselor, or go to group therapy. Joining support groups with individuals that have the same condition is also helpful. Some also find that listening to music, exercising, journaling, crafting, or enjoying a new hobby also helps.

We’re a whole body and it is so important to care for ourselves head to toe when faced with a diagnosis. If you’re feeling a sense of being overwhelmed, feeling isolated and alone please speak up and talk to someone. For optimal recovery and life after a diagnosis it’s imperative that you are caring for yourself in totality – mind, body, and soul.

Kermilya’s Journey: God Keeps His Promises

1443795549884

September was such an incredible month for my family and I! On September 5th at 11:15pm our sweet baby girl Madeline “Maddie” was born! She weighed 6lb 11oz and was 20 ¾”! God is so good and He is faithful! Every day I thank Him for our little one. There are days I look into her eyes and cry tears of joy…as she’s our little miracle! We now know that her birth was always in God’s plan, she just came in His timing. It’s hard when you’re in the midst of a storm (in my case PCOS diagnosis and difficulty getting pregnant), to remember that God’s will and plan for our lives is better than our own. Sometimes the sole purpose of God allowing us to go through adversity is for us to learn something, for us to fully trust in Him, and so that our testimonies can help others. In fact, I spent many days thinking of the testimonies of others to keep my faith intact.There were many nights I would cry myself to sleep. On those nights I’d remember all of the people God put in my path to remind me of His power. There were several challenges I had to overcome before I got pregnant. I will share those details later.

The power of prayer is amazing! Once I surrendered my diagnosis to the Lord (December 2013), I prayed for my baby (January 2014). I didn’t just ask for a baby, I prayed a specific prayer. I asked God for natural conception, a healthy pregnancy, healthy weight gain, natural labor and delivery, successful nursing, and a plan for financial stability with our new addition. Everything I asked for has come into fruition, and I give God the glory! Don’t be afraid to ask God for what your heart desires! He’ll give you what you need when you need it. 

My husband and I are  just now settling into being new parents. I’m enjoying motherhood, it has been a blessing! I do things that some say “spoil” her, but I’ve waited a long time for her. I want to love on her and will do anything for her…she’s my heart! My husband adores her too! I love watching them together! She looks just like him too…I was clearly just the vessel! My world is alright with these two!

With our new addition arriving, I did not get a chance to post about PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) awareness month. PCOS awareness is acknowledged in September. It is very important to me to spread awareness and to be an advocate for myself and for other women. For more information about PCOS go to www.pcosaa.org and www.pcosnutrition.com.

Kermilya’s Journey: Acceptance

In August of 2012, my husband and I decided that we were ready to start a family. We had just purchased our first home, plus we’d been together 7 years and married for 2 years at the time, and we were ready! Shortly after getting off birth control I noticed that my body was changing and I didn’t feel like myself. The first major change I noticed was my menstrual cycles were starting to come further and further apart. I was experiencing fatigue, acne, strong sugar cravings, bloated stomach, brain fog, amenorrhea (absence of menstruation), and weight gain. I initially thought my thyroid medication needed to be adjusted, as I had been living with and being treated for hypothyroidism since 2009. I started looking up my symptoms and I had a gut feeling that I may have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, but I chose to turn a blind eye. I was upset and angry with my body. I fell into depression about it by the end of the year, I felt so hopeless.

In 2013, I was blessed with a promotion on my job and my husband had recently found a new job he loved too. However, everything was being overshadowed by this burden I was carrying. I decided in May of 2013 that enough was enough and I needed to get checked out. At this point I had not had a menstrual cycle in over 5 months. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome at that appointment. I was given progesterone to trigger my menstrual cycle to come back, and I was given Metformin to help manage my symptoms. Despite being on Metformin, I still felt horrible. I spent a lot of time and resources that year seeing specialists to figure out how to deal with my diagnosis with PCOS.

Overtime, my work became my escape from my reality. This went on for months. I was so scared that I was going to be in this place forever. I was very frightened that I was never going to be able to have children, because of PCOS. I was in a place of despair. Besides my husband and few close friends and family, I dealt with my diagnosis in silence. I felt so alone. I felt ashamed. I felt I had no support from my medical providers and everyone around me had no clue what PCOS even was. I was not sure what that outcome was going to be, and that crushed my spirit.

It wasn’t until December that my life changed forever. December of 2013 Christina gathered myself and all our line sisters together to let us know about her diagnosis with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma Cancer. It was such a hard blow to all of us. The one thing I’ll never forget was Christina’s positive spirit, and her will to LIVE and beat this giant she was facing! She said something that night that changed my entire perspective on life and living with my disease. She said something to the effect of, “This battle I’m fighting isn’t for me, it is for someone else. I’m just the vessel.” Her words replayed over and over again in my mind for days, and that’s when I decided I wanted to LIVE too! I was finally moving towards a place of acceptance.