Her name is Melissa Tate-Oakley and she is Forest City's representative for the annual national Conquer Chiari Walk Across America scheduled for Saturday, September 16th, 2017. "From Minnesota to Nevada, California to Tampa, we walk Conquering Chiari!" says Melissa.
"I'm a Rutherford County native, born and raised in Greenhill to be exact, and there's several women and men in the county that have Chiari... I was diagnosed in the spring of this year at age 35."
Having recently undergone surgery, Melissa's story, although unique, illustrates the horror of this debilitating condition and what those suffering from Chiari Malformation may experience. When asked how it affected her and her family, Melissa responds, "Not knowing exactly what it was, (after being misdiagnosed initially) it took a toll on me and my marriage because there were things I simply could not do. I changed physically, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. I began to be less patient and tolerant with not only my husband but our children as well. There were plenty days where I didn't want to wake up or be alive let alone face dealing with our active kids. I was not only filled with anxiety, I was always in pain somewhere in my body - mainly my feet, legs, arms, and hands. Then, the pressure in the base of my skull and my neck began to really set in."
What must have been a terrifying time for Melissa was both painful and confusing. "Pain changes people. I never knew just how much until living with it. I now understand. The tinnitus in my ears was another problem because I couldn't hear my children over the sounds in my ears that were ringing, swooshing, and thumping. I spent a lot of days balancing all of these symptoms while just being silent around my kids and my husband for fear of lashing out in anger because 'they didn't get it' - whatever 'it' was. I was severely sensitive to light and especially to sunlight. I never stepped outside without sunglasses. I didn't want to go do things with my husband and our marriage met a rocky point. He thought I didn't want him anymore because I became very withdrawn - verbally, emotionally and even intimately. It
hurt to be touched. At times, I was unable to speak. Sometimes, I couldn't stand or would fall and couldn't get up. My arms would go completely limp, much like what one would think of as stroke symptoms, but it wasn't, it was Chiari all along."
Rather than go through the process of experimenting with different drugs and their effects, Melissa opted for surgery. "Surgery is really the only option we have for Chiari Malformation... I was rapidly progressing, having more severe episodes of difficult breathing, sleep apnea, insomnia, sudden vision and hearing impairment, and memory loss so bad that I would start cooking and forget I had anything on the stove until the fire alarm went off."
Just days out of surgery, Melissa reports, "Recovery has been miraculous! I cannot say it's anything that I have done except for my faith that God would allow this to be favored on my behalf. I was initially scheduled to be in the hospital at Park Ridge for five days but was discharged on 'good behavior,' as I call it, due to such amazing progress on the morning of day three. Now, I'm taking it one day at a time. Nothing comes to completion overnight that will stand a test of time. I'm symptom free for the most part with the exception of tinnitus reoccurring some, but not constantly. I wake up without feeling my life is doomed. I'm able to move, speak, see, hear, feel strength in my limbs, and just breathe in life! That alone is half the battle won. "
What exactly is Chiari? According to their website, www.conquerchiari.org, it's uncommon, but still affects 300,000 Americans nationally. "Chiari is a structural defect in the area of the brain responsible for controlling balance i.e., the cerebellum. Specifically, when a portion of the cerebellum is situated under the funnel shaped opening to the spinal canal, it is known as a Chiari malformation. The cerebellar tonsils can interfere with the movement of cerebrospinal fluid between the skull and spinal canal. The interference can result in the collection of cerebral spinal fluid in the subarachnoid spaces of the brain and spine. The resulting increase in pressure on the brain and spinal cord from the accumulation of cerebrospinal fluid can lead to hydrocephalus which manifests in a wide range of symptoms."
As the primary organizer for the Conquer Chairi Walk Across America event, Melissa calls for the community's support. "I feel it's time we have some awareness of this invisible disorder that plagues so many lives. The main purpose of the event, of course, is to raise awareness and funding for medical research and patient education. However, my goal is to have the event be 'something for everyone' whether they're diabetic, had a heart attack, fighting drug addiction or recovering and need a support group to stay on track. I have a vision of a community unity event with Chiari centered. Many things affect the mind. All illnesses can take a toll on emotions and one's mental state. I think if we all get together, we can see how similar our fight is and we can learn to help each other even though our illnesses may not be the same. "
Melissa is asking participants to pre-register at www.conquerchiari.org for planning purposes, but you may also register at 12 noon at The Track at Forest City Dunbar before the 5K starts at 1:00 pm. There will be children's activities, games, bounce houses, prizes, a cake walk, raffle ticket items, hot dogs, and live gospel music. A special prize will be awarded to the team or individual who has the most spirited attire. Melissa says, "We are going for a Purple Rain - Prince theme considering the awareness color is purple. "
For more information contact Melissa at 828-460-1195 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org