How Almost Dying Saved My Life

Let’s be real, I’m terrible at sharing myself with the world. I have shot so many amazing sessions this year and can not wait to blog about each and every one, but I feel like this one needs to be first.

Understanding who I am will help you to understand my work. It will help you to understand why I’m fervently passionate about what I do, sharing it with the world, and making people happy for a living.

I didn’t always have this zest for life. Just a few years ago I was a completely different person. I was miserable and couldn’t figure out why. I had a fancy car, a 4-bedroom house with a big back yard, a great job with good pay and benefits, money, food, shelter, a healthy happy kid, a husband – but I still wasn’t complete. I dragged myself from bed each morning and off to work, then home, then back into bed, then I’d do it again the next day. I didn’t realize at the time, but – that was not living.

Early in the Spring of 2017 I was dragging myself back into my office after a lunch break and noticed that my right arm looked a little odd. It was a little darker than normal and slightly swollen. Throughout the afternoon it got even darker, and swelled even more.  I figured it was probably an allergic reaction of some sort, since I have some food allergies. Whatever it was, I was going to sleep it off (my solution for everything) and check it out in the morning. The next morning it was still swollen and starting to look a little purple. I decided I’d go to the walk in clinic and see if they could help me get the swelling down. As soon as I walked in they told me to go to the E.R. I thought that the Emergency Room was a little excessive, but I followed orders. There were blood tests and CT Scans and Chest X-Rays and Ultrasounds… Long story short – at 30 years old, I got a blood clot. A 6cm long clot that had passed through my heart and stopped my right shoulder. There were some pieces of it in my lung as well.

I don’t think I realized at the time what a big deal that was, but I could have died. If it had stopped in my heart or lungs rather than my arm, I’d be gone.

Blood clots are rare enough in young people, but in an upper extremity, it was even more baffling. I got passed around through some doctors and put on blood thinners until I finally saw a doctor that knew exactly what caused it – TAC (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome). I’ll spare you the boring details, but basically, my right first rib and collar bone were rubbing against each other due to my constant terrible posture (DON’T SLOUCH!) and smashing my subclavian artery – building up scar tissue which eventually caused the clot. Who knew slouching was life threatening?! The best bet for me was a series of surgeries to dissolve and remove the now two week old blood clot sitting in my shoulder, then removing my right first rib to stop the smashing.

After my first painful surgery I had to be awake for, I was put in the ICU for a few days. I had a pump in my right arm that was working to dissolve the clot, and the usual IVs in the left arm. I was stuck in bed, laying on my back for 3 days (bed pan and all). This was my thinking time and I had a lot of it. I decided I deserve to be happy. I deserve to spend quality time with my daughter whenever I can – without having to request time off of work. I could die tomorrow, and I want to know that I’ve lived the life I wanted to live. Not the life I was currently living – The life that was supporting and enriching others and leaving myself feeling drained, trapped, and miserable.

It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but I decided I would leave my secure office job, my very unhappy marriage, my house, my car, practically everything I had to follow my dream of being a photographer.

My second surgery removed my right first rib. I got a few extra things I wasn’t expecting with that one. I was told that they may have to deflate my right lung during the procedure, and that I may wake up with a chest tube in. I did. I still have a hard time catching my breath, my lung capacity has never really been the same. In order to remove the rib, they have to cut through some small neck muscles and let them die. If you ever notice – this is why my head posture is a bit crooked now. During the surgery an ocular nerve was nicked which gave me a little something they call Horner’s syndrome. In dark places, my left pupil dilates normally, my right one does not. Despite the extra creepiness I now possess due to the eye, the blue chest veins on one side, the scar, and the oversized right arm, I am so grateful that all of this happened to me. I wouldn’t be me without it.

I moved into my parents’ basement (thank you mom and dad!!!!) while recovering and made the plan to transition to a full time photographer. I knew I didn’t have enough business yet to support myself and my kiddo yet. Luckily, the most perfect part-time, remote job fell into my lap. My other job allowed me to work whenever I want, how much or how little I want, and family always comes before work.

I started over completely with nothing but support from my friends and family. I bought an RV, renovated it to be my home, and moved into a campground where my handsome neighbor, Patrick lived in his tiny house.

My change in mindset brought more and more happiness my way than I had anticipated. I had planned to be alone for the rest of my life if necessary. I was happy enough with myself, my decisions, and my independence to know that I didn’t need a partner. Then I met the one that I wanted, not the one I needed. My most perfect other half that I never would have known existed if I hadn’t been through what I went through. He has also come very close to death, in a very different way. In the Army, a vehicle he was in was hit with an IED in Afghanistan. He was in a coma for weeks, his body littered all up the right side with shrapnel, a bullet in his arm. He had to learn how to walk, talk, write, read, etc. all over again. He still suffers daily from his accident, but shares my view on life. We both know that we shouldn’t still be here. We know that every day is a gift. We don’t overwhelm ourselves stressing about things we have no control over. We love, support, and care for each other. He is my biggest fan, and is always running around town with a stack of my business cards to pass out to anyone he meets.Olympia, WA Photographer

Today, I own a home with my incredibly supportive and amazing husband, Patrick, way out in the boonies. We have a tiny farm with chickens, ducks, and pigs. We have 3 amazing kids (just one together). I can make my own schedule and can be there for anything my family needs without having to ask for time off from a boss. Most of all – I’m HAPPY.

It’s a bummer that it took this whole fiasco for me to realize my worth, and that I actually deserve to be happy, but it did. Almost dying makes you realize what really matters. Life is short. I’m not saying everyone should sell everything they own , quit their jobs, and leave their spouse. If those things make you happy – keep them around. If they make you miserable – dump ‘em. If you are living your life based on what other people think you should be doing – re-evaluate.

What does all of this have to do with photography? Deciding to be happy is what drove me to pursue my dreams, and what fuels my fire to be successful. I would not be who I am, doing what I’m doing, chasing what I’m chasing if this all hadn’t happened.

If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to learn what brought me here. My goal now is to capture the best moments I can, deliver the best product I can, and to continue to bring joy to my clients, family and friends for as long as I am alive.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *