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Patient Story: Jane F

I have been Irish Step Dancing and taking classical ballet lessons since I was three years old. I was so into dancing that for some years I took up to 8-10 lessons after school every week and never missed a single class. I have always adored dancing and excelled in it. I competed for years in Irish Step Dancing and reached the Preliminary Championship level – not an easy feat! Then, I plateaued and didn’t win any more competitions. Judges wrote on my dancing grade sheets that I had “bad posture” and instructed me to “keep your back straight” and “stop wiggling your back when you dance.” No matter how hard I tried to keep my back poker-straight as the judges wanted, I could not do it. My Irish dance teacher even told my mom and me that I was leaning forward and rocking my spine back and forth in my dance steps and that I needed to stop doing that.

As you may know, Irish step dancing requires you to keep the upper half of your body absolutely stiff while you kick your feet and do very complicated steps like crazy.

Then when I was 12 years old, I went, completely unsuspecting, to my yearly physical exam. We had a new doctor’s office. During the exam, right away, the doctor asked me to bend over again and again, and then again. The doctor followed her fingers up my spine and asked my mom to come over and take a look. I was still bent over with my shirt off. The doctor showed my mom how my spine curved off to the side a bit. My mom kind of saw it too after the doctor had pointed it out. My mom looked a bit horrified when I finally stood up. Then, mom told me in the car that it was kind of serious because I might have scoliosis. I knew what scoliosis was because I had read a book in 3rd grade called “Deenie” by Judy Blume. Deenie was about a girl that had scoliosis. I remember because it was a really good book.

My Mom made an appointment with a specialist, an orthopedic spine specialist, for a more in-depth exam. When I was there, there were other girls my age in the waiting room and some of them were in braces. I got a bit scared but not too much. In the exam, I had to bend in about 100 different positions while they said, “hold it, hold it, hold it” while they took a picture. It was exhausting but not at all scary.

After the exam, the orthopedist, who looked very young and I could not believe she was a doctor, sat down with us to discuss what she found. She said that I had about a 15% curvature of my spine and that yes, it was “scoliosis.” The doctor gave us a bunch of handouts. The handouts had, literally, about 40 different exercises on them for me to do, to keep my spine from getting worse. She stapled them all together and told me to get started right away! I totally felt like Deenie in the Judy Blume book and felt like this was just so not fair. I wanted to cry! I loved to dance and just wanted to dance! But, no wonder I wasn’t winning any more competitions because of my “posture,” as there was no way I could stand up straighter than I was with a curve in my spine! I was also so mad then!!

The doctor also said that they would have to “keep an eye” on my spine with bi-yearly X-rays and exams and that if it got any worse, surgery was always an option, but it wasn’t needed right now —if I did all these ridiculous exercises. The handouts were so overwhelming! I had to follow along and flip each page until I learned them all. Even my mom was kind of upset about those exercises because she probably knew then that it would be very hard for a kid to do so many exercises every day.

After that exam, my Mom took me to lunch at Silver Diner. I thought it was kind of worth it to have pictures of my back taken in so many different positions then.

Even though I was overwhelmed by all the exercises recommended to me, I followed through with them. One of my favorite exercises is the plank, which helps me strengthen my core. I always win “plank contests” in my PE class because I do them so often! I like doing some posture/flexibility exercises like the “hamstrings doorway,” and the “sitting rotation stretch,” which I do naturally all the time. I didn’t enjoy all the exercises, like tucking and untucking my head for the cervical spine, but did them often anyway to try and prevent my curve from progressing.

So now, after 300-million-billion exercises later, here I am, an advocate for Scoliosis. I am lucky because my spine really hasn’t gotten any worse than a 15% curvature. I am truly blessed that my doctors found it early. I never stopped dancing but I never won any more competitions either, but that’s okay. I also think that my dancing attributed to my spinal exercise regimen all those years because dancing is a such excellent exercise for a person’s back. My scoliosis could have gotten a lot worse than it is, or at least that’s what I tell myself all these years, but I do think that dancing really helped me.

The thing that bothers me the most, now, about Scoliosis, is seeing older people with curvatures in their spines. I sometimes see older women at my grandmother’s assisted living facility and their backs are so curved—they can’t stand up straight AT ALL. They walk hunched over and it takes them a lot of effort just to look up. They have to sit down in an odd and uncomfortable-looking position in order to look out and see anything or anyone. Those older people probably never had a chance to get their spines fixed, and no one ever told them to do any exercises or wear a back brace.

I have learned to focus more on the positives in life. Maybe I couldn’t advance to the full championship level of dancing, but this year, I started as a student teacher in Irish Dance. I really enjoy helping little kids stay in shape. I have also learned when there is a task to do and I don’t really want to do it — the best thing to do is to take it in baby steps, I learned to break it down and accomplish one or two per day until I can do more.

I want to help spread awareness about early detection in scoliosis so that when people get older, they don’t have to sit in uncomfortable positions to see their grandchildren. I have become much more aware of others with disabilities.

— Jane Ferry

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