Tuesday 4 July 2017

#ScoliosisStories: Laura Keep

This month's amazing scoliosis warrior is Laura. Like everyone who battles this condition she has definitely had her fair share of struggles with it and today she is sharing her amazing story. Thank you so much Laura for taking part in #ScoliosisStories you are an inspiration to those around you! 💜

My name is Laura and I am seventeen years old. At the time of writing this, I am nearly ten months post-op, and two years post-diagnosis. This time last year, I was suffering severe pain 24/7, with my mind constantly worrying about when my surgery would be. I got to the point where I never thought I’d get better, or be able to do the things that I enjoyed again. But, now; well, I could not be better. I spend the majority of my time pain-free, and now I see that all of the stresses of surgery were completely and utterly worth it.

I think that one of the most important parts of having a condition such as Scoliosis is raising awareness. It’s a condition that not many people know of; I remember when I was first diagnosed, hardly any of my friends understood what I was going through. So, when Ciara asked me to write a piece for her blog, there was only one answer I could give. Looking back, prior to my spinal fusion surgery, I realise how much it would have helped to have read something like the Scoliosis Stories Series Ciara is putting together. When no-one you know personally can understand why you’re in pain, or why you can’t do certain activities, it is so comforting to read a blog like this, and know that there are other people going through the same thing as you. Talking about my back all of the time and joking about my condition was my way of coping (although, I know this doesn’t work for everyone): it made it seem less real. But, through speaking about it constantly, I’m also raising awareness, and that’s something that I’ll never stop doing.

I was first diagnosed with Scoliosis back in June 2015. I’d actually sort of diagnosed myself before that; I’d always known that my long legs were completely out of proportion with my short torso, and doing a bit of research made it clear what condition I had. So, in going down to my GP, there was no surprise when she told me I had Scoliosis. But, what was a surprise was just how severe it was. I remember that, on the way into my first appointment at the hospital, I’d thought: ‘I hope my curves are over fifty degrees so I can have surgery’. Looking back, I can see that my diagnosis affected me way more that I had let on. Coming out of the hospital with two curves, confirmed to be eight-four and seventy-six degrees was something that, on the outside, I took in my stride. But I knew that my right shoulder blade was so prominent, none of my clothes fitted right. I thought back to a wedding I had attended a year before; I wore a tight, Aztec print dress and wedges, and I had felt good. But all I could think of was all of the people that would have stared at me. I’m very much a person that keeps their true emotions hidden, but now I know that was not the correct solution; I urge anyone going through this to be honest with themselves and those around them.

Because of the insanely long waiting list for an appointment at the Royal Orthopaedic Hospital (and the fact that it had been scheduled on my birthday), my parents paid for a private appointment for three months earlier. Even though I had no aspirations to do dancing or plumbing, being told I could never have a career in either really illustrated just how restrictive this condition was going to be. Obviously, the pain was a massive part of my condition; I could not even lean over without feeling my rib jab against my hip. But, the psychological side was also so impacting. Mental health can be such a ‘taboo’ subject, when really, it is one of the conditions that really need talking about the most. I restricted myself to t-shirts and hoodies, even wearing them abroad in Greece, because I didn’t like it when people stared. But, now I see that most people were just curious, and hardly anyone was intentionally trying to be mean. My friends were so supportive, and still are; they recognised that I coped best when we joked about my Scoliosis, and, thanks to them, I was able to deal with the condition well.

There were only ever a couple of time when I really hated my condition. The first was not being able to find a prom dress that fitted. I really didn’t want to go to prom; social events weren’t really my thing anyway, but I knew people would stare at my ‘hunch’ and ill-fitting dress. But, in the end, I found the perfect way to enjoy myself. My GCSE Textiles technician made my prom dress for me, and, despite it being the hardest piece of sewing she’d ever have to undertake, I was able to feel good, even if it was just for one night. The second time I felt horrible was the only time I had a mean comment thrown at me. It was in the PE changing rooms at school, and, despite the fact that I always made sure I wore a vest top to cover my hunch, someone had felt the need to say: ‘You look disgusting, I can’t even bare to look at you.’ At the time, I’d shaken it off as a joke, but later I realised just how much this comment had affected me. I felt worthless, like I’d never be able to achieve anything because of my back. But, I wasn’t going to let comment like that get me down. I was determined to not let my condition get the better of me (I am a Slytherin, after all)! I fuelled my energy into revising for my GCSEs, and I was able to forget about my condition. And, when I came out with six A*s and five As, I knew my work had paid off.

But, eventually my surgery date came around, and both of my curves had reached one-hundred degrees each. Like in the past, I put of the façade of being cool and collective about the whole situation, when, really, I was petrified. I’d had the call from the hospital whilst I was on holiday in Cornwall, and so the timing was terrible. I had to sit down immediately; all I wanted to do was scream. I just couldn’t do it. I had been told that if I didn’t have the operation, I’d have severe arthritis by twenty-five and likely be dead by forty. This is something no sixteen-year-old girl should ever have to hear, and that’s why an early diagnosis is so, so important. But, after nine days in hospital and six weeks at home, I returned to sixth form, never feeling so good.

I’ve achieved so many things, thanks to my surgery. It has given me my confidence back. I raised nearly £200 for Scoliosis Association by selling candy-canes at school, as well as being made Deputy Head Girl at school. Being able to go on days out to London to watch England play rugby and Ludlow Castle for my history course really makes me see just how far I’ve come. But, for me, the best feeling is seeing my scar in the mirror. My scar not only represents my new, straight back, but it also reminds me of the tough journey I went through. Although the past two years have been difficult and painful, and at times brought me close to tears, it’s important that I never forget them. Scoliosis doesn’t define me, but it is an important part of me and I wouldn’t never wish to be rid of it. The progress and achievements I have made have been because of my Scoliosis, whether it’s because of having a pain-free back, or just not wanting to let my curves get in my way. Scoliosis has transformed my life in so many ways, and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

You can check out Laura's Blog here where she discusses her life with scoliosis here 💗


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