Monday, March 28, 2016

Casey's Story - When I Met Courtney

Hey everyone! I hope you all had wonderful, relaxing and joy filled Easter's! Please take a moment to read this wonderful blog post written by my beautiful friend Casey.... you won't be disappointed!


Hello everyone! My name is Casey. I am proud to say that Courtney is one of my best friends. I was more than thrilled when she asked me to write for all of you. It is an honor. Thank you so much for the opportunity!

It’s probably easiest for me to start from the beginning, back to my second year of nursing when I met this loveable ball of joy. I often ask her, “Do you remember the first thing I ever said to you?” I commented on her new hairdo, as we sat outside the classroom that will forever be a sacred place to me. That’s when it all started. It might seem insignificant to some, but for me, this would always be the day that brought Courtney into my life.

In the beginning, I had little knowledge about Courtney’s condition and what it meant for her. I hoped she would be accepting of that. But I just kept thinking I was so lucky to have her as a friend. I also knew something was different about meeting her. It was unlike all the other awkward first encounters I had in nursing. Very early on, I knew our bond was special.

I want you all to stop and think for a moment. Can you recall a time your best friend in elementary school told you a secret and you weren’t allowed to tell anyone else? Parents thought it was so cute; all they could do was smile and laugh. But what they don’t know (and what I will probably never admit to them) is, they were pretty darn smart because they also realized something we didn’t as small children. They realized the bond of true friendship.

I remember the first time Courtney ever talked with me about Neurofibromatosis. I was so nervous, because I wanted to be caring and supportive, yet I knew so little about the condition. It was after a night of movies, and Court’s favorite, Frozen. We went upstairs to my room, and that’s when it just spilled out of me, like word vomit, “So, what is NF?” She was so good about explaining everything and much to my dismay; she was the one consoling me, as I was sure she had done with so many others who asked her the same question. She knew exactly what to say.

We ended up staying awake until 5 o’clock that morning. I just listened to her, as she shared every part of her NF journey with me. I was astonished by her strength. How she spoke with such kindness and grace about a topic that brought her face-to-face with situations no one her age should have to deal with. She may have NF, but she is not NF. And although she has experienced some extremely low points in her life, she has fought like a warrior to rise out of her darkness and become something beautiful. Yes, of course, I think my best friend is beautiful on the outside, but she also has a beautiful heart. A heart that is selfless, brave and passionate. I have never seen anything like it. This night was a night of exceptional revelations for me. I then flashed back to the day I met her and it became so clear! I realized in that moment just as my parents would have (in all their wisdom) all those years ago, that this was a true friendship.

From then on we were inseparable, us and our other amigo, Carlene. You know, I’ve never really been much for fate, but how awesome is it that all three of our names start with the same letter! It totally does not get any better than that J

Back to the story! The more Courtney shared with me about NF; the more I wanted to be involved. I remember another time; she had an MRI appointment booked. I know it sounds crazy, but when she texted asking for a ride I was so excited! I finally would have gotten to be a part of her journey and experience it alongside her. Rather than her telling another story, I would be there, and I would be part of it. Turns out, her mom was able to take her to the hospital and we met up afterwards. I was a little disappointed, but I recognized something. I am in a special position as one of her best friends, because although I was not there when she experienced her most significant struggles like Carlene was (who has been Courtney’s friend for 15 years), I know her now and I have seen just how beautifully she has overcome them.

Some of my best days this year were spent with Courtney, her mom Tracey, and Carlene at the inaugural Manitoba Neurofibromatosis (MBNF) Empowerment Symposium in Winnipeg. The event happened in October 2015, where as most of you know, Courtney was a keynote speaker!

There was much anticipation leading up to the event’s arrival, as Carlene and I surprised Courtney for her 21st birthday months earlier! We created an elaborate scavenger hunt and drove her all over Red Deer to find several clues. Where at the end of the hunt, she discovered we would be joining her. That was a pretty special day, but nothing topped the symposium. I was finally going to be part of her journey!

Courtney read us rough drafts of her speech, which were all amazing by the way. But her final copy was a surprise for us, as Carlene and myself both decided we wanted to hear it for the first time at the symposium, just as those in attendance would. I often thought about how great her speech would be, and the expectations I had were exceeded on so many levels! I can’t even begin to express to you how proud I felt, sitting in that front row, while she so confidently shared her story. And I was just so excited for her! She finally was able to accomplish what she always told me she wanted to: empowering others affected by NF and raising awareness of what it is like to live with this condition. After her speech was finished, I sat beside her in awe, as there was a line-up of people wanting to talk with her and say thank you for sharing her experiences. I tried my best to hide it, but I was crying. Tears of joy. Even while writing this post, I am tearing up! She touched so many people, again, with that heart of gold, I tell you. Myself included. Her courage and grace is simply astonishing. I tell her to this day how much of a hero she is to me, and as the humble individual she is, she always says, “no way.” But that’s what she is to me. She’s my best friend and my hero. There are not many people who can say they have accomplished what she has at her age.

But what I’ve learned from Courtney is, you don’t have to be famous and well known to be a hero. I am a hero every day that I put my scrubs on and go to work. That person who pulls their car to the side of the road to ensure the little old lady walking across the street, does so safely, is a hero. The person who stands up for themselves and what they believe in, against all odds is a hero. We are all heroes in our own way and we should be proud of that. Heroes also show humility. Courtney wanted to share her story, not to receive any form of recognition but to simply let others know, she has struggled as they have, she has felt pain and darkness, and she has risen. Risen above and become something beautiful. And you can too. An illness or any kind of suffering is part of who we are, but it is not what we are! We cannot choose but happens to us, but we can choose how we respond. It does take time, as it did with Courtney, but with bravery, self-acceptance and the support and love of others, we can accomplish more than we would ever know.  

I leave you with this. If you ever are so lucky as to find true friendship, as I have with Courtney, hang on to it so tightly, because I promise you, it will be the best thing you ever do!

- Casey

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