Born and raised in Niagara Falls, New York, I grew up in a small town atmosphere where everyone knew everyone and there was a great community spirit. My parents, celebrating their 64th wedding anniversary in 2014, provided a warm, loving environment that nurtured and guided their four children to become responsible, independent and successful individuals, who each have developed their own unique businesses.
In my adolescent and teenage years, I enjoyed waterskiing, ice skating, playing baseball with my family and friends, gymnastics, arts and crafts, going to the beach, climbing trees and flag poles, hanging upsidedown on monkey bars and spending time with my many cousins, aunts and uncles. I have very fond memories of my grandparents taking us grandchildren fishing. My maternal grandparents lived on the Niagara River and I spent a lot of time going swimming off in their dock in their backyard. Both of my grandmothers loved playing cards with us kids and it was so much fun going over their houses because they loved giving us attention and playing with us,. We all felt much loved by our family members.
LIFE CHANGING MOMENT
When I was 14 years old, I started losing my strength and had a lot pain in the back of my neck. After meeting with several doctors, it was determined that I had a benign spinal cord tumor in the cervical area of my spine. In order for me to survive, the tumor had to be removed. Unfortunately, the removal of the tumor caused some paralysis because some spinal cord nerves had to be cut in order to remove the tumor. I was, then, almost 15 years old and unable to move very well. I spent several years going back and forth to a rehabilitation hospital to regain as much mobility as I could.
This experience became the defining moment in my life. There were a couple choices that I had to make in order to continue living my life: I could either stay at home with my parents and feel sorry for myself or I could take my disability in stride and see what else I could do with my life. I chose to go to school to see if I could determine what path my life should take. I took a psychology course because I needed to take a social science class and I didn’t want to take a history class (I hated memorizing historical years!). Taking the psychology course was the first educational step in me being a psychologist today.
WHAT HELPED ME SURVIVE & SUCCEED
The most important factor that got me through these difficult years was the love and support of my family. They wouldn’t let me give up. To say that they were a tremendous support, only scratches the surface. My mom is the strongest person I know. She helped me so much in taking care of me when I wasn’t able to care for myself.
I remember the first day I went back to my public school after having the surgery. I left school physically fine and I was going back with a leg brace. I didn’t want to go back to school because I felt too self-conscious and embarrassed by my disability. My mom made me get on that school bus; she wasn’t going to let me hide from life. She knew how much emotional pain I was in at that time but she also knew that the emotional pain would be much greater if I let my fears control me and prevent me from going forward along life’s path.
Once I got on the bus, the same bus I had been riding for 8 previous years with the same driver and kids, I was okay. The bus driver, Angie, greeted me and helped me get on the bus. My friends on the bus offered to carry my things for me and help me in school. Even the teachers in my ninth grade classes decided to have all their tests in a multiple-choice format so I didn’t have to write essays. My classmates loved this one!
When I went to college, my mom drove me to all my classes. If I was going to be there for only one or two classes, she would go to the coffee shop and wait for me. It wasn’t worth it for her to go home after dropping me off and then coming back later because we lived about 40 minutes from the college. My mom did this for me for five years. On one occasion my parents had the opportunity to go away for a week so the sister of one of my aunts, not a relative, offered to take me to school for the week so my mom and dad could go on the trip with their friends.
WHAT I WILL ALWAYS REMEMBER
I will always remember the time that my mom stood in line for five hours to get me tickets to see Elvis Presley when he came toNiagara Fallsin 1974. What I didn’t know at the time was that my mom was having a lot of back pain but she endured the pain standing in line to get those tickets for me. Since I got sick, I couldn’t participate in fun physical activities anymore, so my mom wanted to do this for me.
I will always remember that when I first came home from the hospital after the surgery, my mom fed me because I was so weak. But my Aunt Jane finally said to me, “I think you can hold a sandwich with your left hand.” So she put a half of a sandwich in my left hand (I was naturally right-handed but I could no longer move the muscles in my right hand) and I began learning how to use my left hand to take care of myself.
I will always remember when extended family and friends showed wonderful support when I got accepted to go to Pepperdine University in Malibu, California in 1980. My aunt and uncle gave us their motor home to travel across theUnited Statesso that I could go to college. The motor home, however, needed some major repair work done before the 3000 mile trip across the country. My dad, uncles and friends all pooled their skills together after their workday and got the motor home in tip-top shape for the trip. My father took off five weeks of work to drive me across the country so I could realize my dreams.
It was very difficult for my parents to leave their daughter with a disability alone in California but they knew that they had to do it if I were to succeed in life. If fact, both of my parents suffered stomachs problems from worrying about me upon their return to New York without me.
My mom and dad, both, gave themselves selflessly to me and my siblings to help us throughout our lives. I was very resourceful in getting all my needs met in California and I was enjoying my life there. I am proud of myself for all the accomplishments I have achieved in less than ideal conditions and I have made my parents and family members proud of me, too. My father still greets me on the phone with, “Is the doctor in?”
POSITIVE OUTCOMES OF MY ILLNESS
I learned that it doesn’t matter what happens to you that counts, it’s how you use what was given to you to your greatest advantage and the advantage of others. I always look for the proverbial “silver lining” in whatever is thrown my way and I help my clients attain this perception, I know this can be done because I’ve done it. This doesn’t mean that I don’t have bad days and bad feelings. I do have those but they are few and far between because I’m too busy living and loving life. My greatest gift is that I can teach others how to love life and reach for their dreams in spite of adversity, pain, and heartache.
I have experienced the compassion and caring of others, even strangers. I think my disability gives people a chance to be helpful to someone else. People need to be needed. I am not afraid to ask for help and I give many people to opportunity to help. Let me qualify this: I only ask for help with those things I can’t physically do. I pride myself on doing what I can do for myself and others to the best of my ability.
My disability, and God, brought me to my husband, Tony. I met him at a rehabilitation center’s yoga and weight-training program for people with disabilities. He was volunteering his time to help with this program. He became my best friend and we married three and a half years after we met. He is the joy of my life. He’s my soul mate. He’s loving, affectionate, kind, compassionate, caring, funny and smart. My family adores him.
What I was, also, attracted to about him was that every weekend he would go visit his elderly mother to take her to church, to get her hair done and to get groceries until the day she died just prior to her 92nd birthday. .I figured his treatment of his mother was reflective of how he would treat me. And this came to be true.
Why do I believe that God was responsible for bringing us together? Because of my physical disability, I needed someone who was healthy, strong and had a lot of energy to help me. Tony is not only a wonderful person but has competed in triathlons and marathons and won the races in his age group. He still participates in half-marathons and he’s been a soccer official for four decades.
On my second date with Tony, while eating pizza, I was telling him about my birthday being four days after Christmas. Tony got this big smile across his face. What we discovered was that Tony and I have the same birthday, our mothers have the same birthday, our sisters have the same birthday and we both have a brother named Jay! In addition, the last two digits of his birth year was the same as my apartment number when we met. No doubts, Tony was made just for me! Tony and I enjoy traveling, going to concerts, dining out and going to the beach.
WHY DID THIS HAPPEN TO ME? WHY NOT ME?
I don’t believe my illness happened to me by accident when I was 14 years old. I believe that it was a gift given to by God so that I could help those who have gone through any kind of misfortune, tragedy, betrayal (betrayal of your body by getting sick or betrayal by individuals). I have gone through horrible times and it’s only because of the love of God, my family and friends, that I have become a successful, well-adjusted individual.
I have seen such compassion, caring and unselfishness from those around me that I want to help others give and experience these same qualities. I would not have been the recipient of such outpourings if I had not been emotionally connected to God, my family, my friends and to myself. I knew what I wanted and I wasn’t going to let a disability stop me. When I decided to go to graduate school to get my doctorate, my father asked me if I really thought I could do it. My answer was a resounding “Yes, I can handle it. It just means more homework and I can do that.”
What I believe is great about me is that I know what it feels like to be truly loved and cared for. I became a psychologist, specializing in marriage and family therapy, so that I could be in a position to help people give love and feel loved, to help people give care and feel cared for, to help people give acceptance and feel accepted. This process begins within the individual. Peace, content and harmony in an individual attract those who are also at peace. This healthy connection brings with it bountiful support, with, in turn, helps facilitate and nourish the realization of one’s dreams.
My mission is to teach others how to live a meaningful, respectful and rewarding life regardless of one’s circumstances. Rather than looking at only the negatives in the situation, what positives can you find? What can you learn about yourself?
Relationships do not really happen by chance. Individuals unconsciously seek out partners who fulfill a role or a need from their own family-of-origin experience. Did you choose someone who carries the characteristics of one of your parents? It can be quite puzzling to figure this out. Troubled families have troubled leadership.
I like working with couples and anyone with relationship difficulties because I’m very passionate about helping families attain the level of joy, contentment and harmony that I have with my family and that starts with the relationship between the husband and wife, whether or not children are involved, or between unmarried partners trying to have a loving relationship. I’ve gone through a lot of pain in my life, but my feelings of joy far outweigh my feelings of pain. I have never felt alone. I want to lighten the darkened paths of those searching for harmony and happiness in their lives with the shining light that I acquired through the experiences that impacted and shaped my life, making me the person I am today.