Many of our readers are aware that I left my work in East Africa early this year and returned to the U.S. in hopes of finding medical help for the incredible pain in my low back. At times, the pain became totally unbearable and I was almost unable to walk (I'm sure that sounds familiar to many)! So far, I haven't been able to find a "solution."
I've been a single parent for over 30 years with three wonderful kids, (well, they are adults now, but still pretty neat) and I also have eight grandkids. Financially, times were pretty rough since teachers weren't paid a great deal, and I usually worked a part-time second job to help pay the bills. Many people have said "I don't know how you did that - where did you find the energy?" The reality is, I wasn't vying for an award or trying to impress anyone - I was just trying to survive!
As my OA progresses (and I still don't know why it's called "progress"), my tenacity has become a major survival skill for me! I've survived a stroke, cancer and surgery for nine artificial joints. I gratefully qualified to retire early from teaching since I had too much experience and too much education. I was simply costing the schools too much money. Instead of feeling my life was over at retirement, I began a new life.
I know many of my friends love playing cards or bingo, going to women's groups, shopping, etc. That's fine for them, but it simply isn't me. After being diagnosed with OA, I decided to travel as much as possible because I love to learn. Since then I've been on five continents and 41 countries (including nine in Africa). I am a photo-journalist, so I of course traveled to Africa to "shoot" the animals; however, I fell in love with the people. Because of my feelings for the African people, I've been living and working there several months each year, primarily volunteer teaching with street kids in prison, as well as helping women realize their potential and start sustainable businesses.
WATCH ME has become my catch phrase. I was "informed" by guides that, due to my walking challenges, I would be unable to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro. I exclaimed "Watch Me" - oh, by the way, I've now climbed part of her two times! Last year, I was hired by a foundation in Cape Town to fly to Madagascar and climb high into the Rainforests and photograph nine species of endangered lemurs, as well as Indri and Sifakas. Most of these animals had never seen people (we hadn't seen them either), and it was obviously a dream come true for me! When I arrived, my driver realized my physical challenges and told me it would not be safe to "do" the rainforest due to lack of paths, rain-slick forest floor, etc. I sat on a log and cried a little (probably even cursed a little) then begged the driver to at least let me try - remember the slogan. Yes, I did the project successfully and the experience was incredible. You notice that I didn't say it was easy - it wasn't - but I did something that few people will ever attain. Again, I wasn't trying to impress anyone; this is something I really wanted to accomplish, and my tenacity kicked in!