Turning five years old meant more than just starting kindergarten. It was also a year of discovery, at least as far as my health was concerned. My mother noticed a lump on the right side of my spine that would rise up and kind of roll when I bent forward. It turned out to be a rotation; I was diagnosed with scoliosis. Since it was too early to start any scoliosis treatment, my doctor decided it best to monitor the progress of my rotation/curve. The years went by, and in school we had scoliosis checks every couple of years. There were a few times I was told I didn’t have scoliosis. It was when I bent forward that my scoliosis was detectable at all.
Slowly the deformity progressed until I was fitted for my back brace in 5th grade. I will never forget when the mold for my brace was made and my entire torso was wrapped in plaster. I remember thinking how neat it was to have my own shell and I asked if I could keep it. The first day wearing my brace to school was a little intimidating. Definitely the only kid in school with a back brace, I hoped the other kids wouldn’t make fun of me. To be honest, I wasn’t overly concerned with the other kids; my parents had assured me that I was still as sweet, smart and cool as ever, so off I went. Looking back, I think I was more interested in seeing my best friend’s reaction after asking him to 'check out my strong abs', with a friendly punch to the gut. We both fell to the ground, me laughing, and him in pain. He thought I was the strongest girl in the world, a bionic kid or something. I was very thin and lanky growing up, so for a while nobody really noticed anything different about me, except that I suddenly had exceptional posture! It wasn’t long before my best friend discovered my secret. I would fall down, and it would take me a while to get back up, like a turtle trying to right itself. My friend thought it was hilarious, me not so much! It took some getting used to, but after a while I learned how to pop back up quickly, this turned out to be a good general life lesson!
I was very nervous when middle school began. It was a new school, with new classmates, new everything. I was shy and really worried about being made fun of. Everything seemed more challenging and I didn’t want to stand out; I didn’t want to be 'that weird girl with all the problems'. By the middle of 6th grade, I had my back brace, orthodontic braces, head gear that was worn at night (very cool at sleepover parties, NOT!), and asthma was an issue too, and had been since I was 5. I always had to carry my inhaler with me, and I even had to take breathing treatments. With all this going on, I would obviously be prescribed eyeglasses too! I just wanted to be like everyone else. A lot of my classmates didn't even know what the school nurse looked like; but, I was in her office every day! Luckily, I had a great support system. My friends thought my brace was awesome, each took turns trying to squeeze into it, trying to run in it, trying to stand-up after falling over while wearing it. It was definitely a source of entertainment; however, I was still uncomfortable.
I had wanted to be a model for as far back as I can remember. Strangers would consistently stop me and tell me I should be a model, agents too, but I was painfully self-conscious. I never saw Cindy Crawford or Kate Moss strutting around in a back brace and head gear while dragging around a nebulizer (breathing machine to treat asthma). I thought there was just no chance. I wanted to be 'normal'! My doctor sensed my frustration and pointed out that I was in good company. He told me about athletes, actors and models; all who had scoliosis! Even Renee Russo (one of my favorite actresses) has scoliosis! Her treatment was way more intense than mine. I read she was in a permanent brace, like a cast, for years. She couldn’t even move her neck. I instantly thought WOW and look at her accomplishments! Finally, I had the nerve to visit a modeling agency. To make a long story short, I signed a contact with them on my 13th birthday and landed agencies in NYC, LA and Miami. At 14 years old, I was traveling internationally and working in London and Barcelona. I WAS LIVING MY DREAM!
Regrettably, I lost interest in wearing my brace. I would wear it to school and immediately take it off and shove it in my locker. One day I was sitting in class and looked out the window to see one of my friend’s running back and forth with my back brace on his head. Nobody else had lost interest in it! I wasn’t being made fun of, but slowly it became impossible to get me to wear my brace as prescribed. I gave my doctor every excuse imaginable: it was uncomfortable, it hurt when I sat in my desk, I didn’t have the time, etc. At one point my doctor suggested I just forget about wearing the brace, and just schedule the surgery right after my sixteenth birthday instead. That got me to wear it a little bit longer, but after I had gone through puberty there was no use wearing it anymore. My curvature/rotation hadn't progressed much, but it hadn’t been stopped either. Reality finally hit me! I had always known I didn’t want the surgery; why didn’t I just wear the darn thing?
Over my 17 year modeling career, I booked jobs for Esprit, Zara, Laura Mercier, Abercrombie & Fitch. I was featured in magazines that I worshipped, such as Glamour, Marie Claire, Elle and others. I shot with photographers whom I idolized. I did TV commercials, music videos and even starred in a documentary. But it wasn't easy. I had to constantly mind my back. I would wear backpacks instead of one-shoulder bags, and good shoes while rushing to appointments. I was careful not to pick up things that were too heavy. I could see that one side of my waist was curved in, while the other side seemed to angle inward. One leg seemed to be longer than the other and running was awkward. Nobody else noticed it, even when I pointed it out, not until I bent forward. The muscles would bulge on the left side and the right side hardly had any visible muscles. There were a few photographers in awe and they wanted to showcase my unique spine. Although I am technically deformed, the fashion world never made me feel that way.
In my mid to late 20's, I started to notice problems with pinched nerves/numb toes, and muscles cramping. I freaked! I was too young and energetic to have these problems. By this time, I was living in Europe; so I emailed my dear doctor and sent him recent x-rays. To my surprise he said there was no progression. But it was obvious to me that I needed to make scoliosis a priority! I had to be as proactive as ever if I want to avoid surgery in the future.
I started taking a natural anti-inflammatory regularly. I found a great sports physiotherapist nearby who was familiar with scoliosis. He showed me various stretching exercises and instructed me in what gym workouts I should do regularly, and which ones I should NEVER EVER do! After a while, I started to see some real changes. The muscles on both sides of my spine seemed to look more even. The pain was decreasing and I was getting stronger too! Fitness is now a huge part of my life.
As an adult, I wonder why I put so much effort into NOT wearing my brace. These days I am willing to try almost any activity that might strengthen my back. There’s a daily workout routine plus rock climbing, surfing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, climbing Mount Rigani, and I even got my sailing license too. Using extra caution, I have confidence to do whatever I put my mind to. I'm not claiming to be an expert at any of these activities; but, scoliosis isn’t to blame for that; I have always been a klutz!