By Tanya Fermin
Less than two years ago I was living my best life. I am a filmmaker/singer/actress and my first film was being shown at film festivals and was optioned to be shown on television-Nationwide! I am an advocate for teaching people to have the conversation about death, dying and end-of-life decision making. In addition, I had just finished filming the last scenes of my TV pilot. I had media outlets interviewing me about both projects.
My oldest children (ages 6 and 7) were doing well in school, the baby (age 5) was getting ready to go to school. I had just gotten a new job. Everything was a bit hectic because Christmas was only days away and then the unexpected happened. The STROKE…
Normally I would pick up the children from school but on this day, my mother drove. We ran a quick errand to the market and when we pulled up to the store my mother asked if I was going to get out of the car. She said that I answered, “I have an excruciating headache.” I don’t remember answering her. The next thing I remembered is the car door opening and everyone around me telling me that I would be alright. I wondered why they were telling me that. I didn’t think anything was wrong.
NOTE: My mother (Ruth King) is the hero of this story, immediately she realized that something was wrong. She didn’t know the F.A.S.T acronym but she enacted it. She noticed my inability to speak, facial droop, and I couldn’t sit upright. She raced to the nearest urgent care and they called an ambulance. The quick action of everyone had me at the hospital in less than 2 hours.
In the ambulance the EMT kept trying to get me to speak and I assumed I was answering him. After all, I could say the words, YES and OK perfectly. It wasn’t until the 5th or 6th request to repeat after him did I realize that I wasn’t following his instructions. In my mind I told myself to say The Lord’s Prayer, a prayer that I have recited daily even before learning my ABC’s. When I couldn’t get through it, I realized that something was seriously wrong.
As a director, actress and singer, I was accustomed to using my voice constantly. Suddenly I found myself with the inability to speak, weakness on my right side, debilitating headaches, migraines and chronic fatigue.
Thankfully, there was a stroke specialist on duty in the ER who immediately ordered a scan, discovered the blood clot and removed it from my brain. They determined that I had an Ischemic Stroke due to AFib (atrial fibrillation).
Unfortunately, my employer released me from my job due to my stroke.
In the first few weeks following the stroke I was terrified. As a mother of three, I thought no one would be able to understand me. The migraines were crippling. I had to go to the ER and the neurologist multiple times because it felt like someone had a jackhammer and were trying to drill inside of my head. I kept thinking I was having another stroke, my blood pressure was out of control. I was in constant pain.
Luckily I had a tremendous support system, my church family visited me in the hospital and at home, my close friends stayed in contact via social media and of course my children, my husband (Brad Jones) of 21 years and parents were constantly by my side. My daughter Braelynn, still completes my sentences when she sees I am grasping for the words or when I utter the totally wrong ones. She knows if I say something like “Go get the frog out of the microwave,” instead of looking at me like I am crazy, she will grab a water bottle from the refrigerator and we both laugh! My family has been extremely patient with knowing that when the cluster migraines occur, I become a recluse in order to get through the pain until they subside.
I had thought that I was too young for something like this to happen. I was in relatively good health and I wasn’t under a doctor’s care for what was eventually diagnosed as AFib. I stopped hanging out with friends, stopped talking to them and doing the things that I enjoyed. I never got angry that this happened to me. I just became frustrated when the migraines would shut me down from the life going on around me which lead to a state of depression.
I am blessed that my recovery has gone so well, working closely with my neurologists; doctors and therapist(s) have gotten me to a point where I have a semblance of life before the stroke.
However, there was no choice to “get on with life” There was no other option. I have 3 beautiful children who rely on me. I tell them every day that they are the best thing that happened to me, so how can I be the best thing that happened to them if I don’t show them that whatever happens in life you have to fight to persevere. Fight for the things that bought you joy before the stroke.
Those things were my film making, singing, my family and of course my faith. When you look at how God tested believers in the bible and how they came through? In comparison…this is a small thing.
Now my TV pilot HAON is finally in post production and although I had to change the method in which it will be distributed, I am reaching that goal. My first film “The Arrangements” has been optioned to be on a streaming service. I have gotten over my fear of speaking and have spoken to groups about being a stroke survivor and the responsibility we have to ourselves and our family to be prepared and not afraid to talk about the “what ifs” when talking about death and dying.
The stroke has taught me this… you never know when any day will be the last day or a day that will change your life forever. Now, I know that I must STRIKE BACK. Strike back at negative situations that bother me to my core. Strike back at self doubt. Strike back at not forgiving myself for mistakes. Strike back at the things that I can’t change like my aphasia and worrying that others will witness it. Strike back at the embarrassment that I may fall and to know that contrary to popular belief I am not Superwoman and that it is OK to say NO. This is my new normal and I am not going to make the best of it, I am going to excel in spite of it. Going through this has made me appreciate the people in my life more and treasure the memories that I have because I have lost so many of them due to the stroke.
I would tell other stroke survivors to find your joy and work towards that path. Don’t run away from your faith because it is the foundation that will hold you up when you feel like falling.
Stroke Survivors CAN!
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