4. What do you love the most about your body?
What I love the most about my body is its ability to endure, overcome and heal from seemingly insurmountable health challenges.
3. What are you most afraid of right now?
After enduring all that I have, including a kidney transplant 17 years ago and a liver transplant one year ago, I can’t help but wonder when the next health hiccup will happen. I was so sick the past couple years leading up to needing a lifesaving liver transplant and I did not know if I would ever be healthy again. Now being post-transplant with restored health, I can’t help but have some fear in the back of my mind of wondering how long it will last. With all of this said, this is why I strive to be as present as possible and live each day to the absolute fullest because I’ve experienced countless times how life can change in a split second.
1. What are your best qualities?
Some of my best qualities are resilience in the face of adversity, finding humor no matter the circumstance, having sincere empathy for others and my passion to use my first hand experiences to educate, inspire and give hope to others.
2. What are your worst qualities?
One of my worst qualities is probably being hard on myself if I don’t do something as well as I thought I should have or could have.
5.What about yourself do you wish you loved more?
I am trying to work on loving more the aspect of accepting and having respect for my limitations. I want to do so much with my second and third chance at life. I have big dreams, goals and desires. My mind and heart have no limits, but I have to respect and understand that my body does. I have to focus on the balance of not overdoing it and taking the best care of myself while still feeling accomplished and fulfilled.
6. Tell us the story about how you earned your scars…
I have over 60 inches of scars criss-crossing my body. The first scar – that runs the whole way down my back - came from scoliosis surgery when I was a teenager. Then due to polycystic kidney disease (PKD), I had both of my kidneys removed when I was 18, was on dialysis via a catheter in my chest, endured emergency stomach surgery, pancreatitis where I was fed by a picc line in my arm, received a kidney transplant at 19-years-old and more than 70 blood transfusions. I also have a port in my chest for the daily antibiotics I received when I kept getting sepsis and my latest scar is from my liver transplant surgery in 2018.
7. What was your response when you first noticed your scars?
My first large scar is from scoliosis surgery. Since it is the whole way down my back, I don’t see it every day and it always felt a little surprising when I would hold a mirror and look at my back. I remember when I was younger, I used to use my long hair to cover it and never liked wearing shirts that would expose my back. It is wild how our perspectives change as we age, because at a recent speaking engagement I wore a beautiful gown where my entire back was exposed and I was proud to show my scar and honor all my body has endured and overcome.
8. Describe your journey with body acceptance..
When I was younger, I recall being self-conscious of silly things like having a smaller chest and bigger feet. Even though I was never really overweight, my figure bothered me more than my scars as it is easy to wish to have an hourglass figure like models have. Then when I was 19, I received a kidney transplant and have been on prednisone ever since as one of my anti-rejection meds. I gained a good bit of weight following my transplant due to the prednisone. Fortunately, I did Weight Watchers and was able to lose the weight and keep it off ever since. Now in my mid-30’s and after 30 surgeries and more than 60 inches of scars, I love my body more than ever. I love my body for what is has overcome, for its strength, its resilience and how it continues to heal and persevere through more than some bodies do in a lifetime. I now look in the mirror and think my body is incredible and beautiful. It is the epitome of resilience, strength and hope.
9. Do you practice self-love as often as you'd like to?
Self-love has been more in the forefront of my mind since my liver transplant in 2018. I think because I am in awe by all my body has gone through and its ability to continue to overcome. Our bodies are miraculous and mysterious. I believe our physical and mental health are very connected and we tend to underestimate the power of positivity. I believe if I had lost hope, my body would have followed and I would not be alive today. With all of this in mind and my recent participation as a Dreamer in the DreamWalk Fashion Show, I have realized the importance of body positivity and self-love and I plan on making this a priority from now on.
10. What is one of your qualities you wish shined brighter than exterior appearance?
I wish my hard work ethic, dedication to my causes, zest for life and gratitude would shine brighter than exterior appearance. I have an indescribable overwhelming amount of gratitude for being alive and this extraordinary life. I think all of this shines bright through how I choose to live joyfully, help others and live my best life despite all that I have and continue to go through.
12. How do humans need to improve interacting with one another?
One of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced since moving from PA to CA is how women compliment and lift each other up. It is an amazing feeling and there needs to be more focus on women collaborating versus judging and being jealous of one another. I am currently working on a project with a woman who owns a business in our hometown and it has been an empowering and joy-filled venture. In my 30’s, I have met incredible women who have supported me and help make this journey special. I am grateful for all of them. We can learn so much from each other. We have the power and choice to surround ourselves with positive things and positive people, so let's join together and love and inspire one another.
11. What about self-love are you continuing to work on?
I think it is really easy to compare ourselves to others and their lives. It is important to love ourselves for who we are in this very moment, knowing that we are doing the best we can with our individual lives and circumstances. Self-love is not only loving yourself but loving others, too, and knowing that we are in this journey together and we should be supporting and lifting each other up. I hear a lot, “What I am going through is nothing compared to what you have.” I think struggles should not be compared as they have the same impact on each of our lives. We all experience the same emotions and hardships have the same impact on our lives. Instead of comparing, lets support, encourage and love one another and in turn our lives will be richer and better for it.
13. What lesson do you hope to instill to your children about self-love & body acceptance?
I do not have children and do not plan on having children due to my health issues. But I hope that through my advocacy efforts, that I am still teaching and having an impact on future generations. I hope that when younger generations see me proudly embracing my journey, that they will know that their chronic illness, like PKD or being a transplant recipient, does not define them. That they can live a joyful and fulfilling life no matter what they are facing. I hope if children see my walk on the runway at the DreamWalk Fashion show that they will embrace their scars and know that they are strong, beautiful and not alone.
14. What is something you wish you could have told yourself at your most fragile state?
When I was on death’s doorstep, I wish I could have told myself that all would be ok, to not lose hope and that life would be more extraordinary than I ever dreamed of.
15. What is the best compliment you've ever received?
The best compliment I have ever received is when people tell me how much hope my story gives them, that I am their hero, that when they see what I have endured that it gives them the strength and encouragement that they can get through it too. This gives purpose to my struggles and fuels my desire to keep fighting and sharing my story.
16. How have you evolved as a human over the last few years?
I have evolved so much as a human over the last few years. Due to all of my health struggles and needing a second transplant, I have a close relationship with death, which has gifted me a crystal-clear perspective on what matters and how precious this life is. I feel lucky to be so loved and surrounded by an incredible circle of support. It feels amazing to be so comfortable and confident in my own skin. I’m grateful for this extraordinary life, while it has been extraordinarily challenging, it has also been extraordinarily beautiful and that is what I choose to focus on, as well as being as present as possible and living my best life. I believe my hardships have led me to meeting the most amazing human beings and given me the opportunity to have incredible experiences that I would not have had otherwise. I have evolved into the kind of woman and role model I wish I would have had as a child and created a life to be proud of and for that I’m grateful.