I couldn’t have been more than 5 years old.
My maternal grandmother Kleoniki was braiding my hair as I stood before her bedroom vanity at her Hubbard Street apartment home in Manchester high on the hill. In her broken English, she told me I had to start “eating kreas.”
“Kreas” is the Greek word for “meat.” She told me that one of my shoulder blades was sticking out because I was too skinny.
A bout of pneumonia in junior high school led to X-rays and strangely enough, a diagnosis that would involve my shoulder blades. It was discovered that I had scoliosis, an abnormal curve in the spine that usually occurs just before puberty. How my grandmother could unknowingly detect that is beyond me.
Surgery wasn’t offered to me back in those days. A curved spine was a condition no one talked about, as if it were embarrassing or wrong somehow. And yet, many young girls and adult women find themselves in my situation. It happens more to females, and the cause of most scoliosis is unknown.
I refused bracing, and even if I had worn a brace, my curve would not have straightened enough. Still, I developed a nice figure, had zero pain and didn’t allow the matter to ruin my life, but emotionally, I felt damaged inside. It’s hard for girls and our self-image; we are expected to look perfect at every age and every angle.
In 2017, my spine was causing me discomfort. I knew I had to do something. Then, I came across photos of Martha Hunt, 29, and she’s become my inspiration on this journey.
We share three things in common — we’re tall, slender and “scoli” girls. But she has a more fascinating resume. Martha Hunt is a Victoria’s Secret Angel. She’s one of the few beautiful models who represent the famous lingerie brand and wear the big angel wings during the annual runway show.
Martha Hunt had spinal fusion surgery 10 years ago, and since her superstar rise in the modeling world, she has used her platform to bring more attention about scoliosis to the world, promote early detection and assure girls that bodies are not 100 percent perfect. She is someone whom young women, especially, can relate to.
Martha has said in interviews that her scars are a symbol of strength. By the way, the vertical scar down her back is 14 inches long,
Even post-surgery, her hips aren’t symmetrical, and she doesn’t have the “perfect walk,” but that’s alright.
She says, “I accept my ‘limitations’ and welcome that as a positive tool.”
I, too, don’t have the “perfect walk.” I had the surgery six months ago and have three scars to prove it. The longest one down my back (even longer than Martha’s) goes from T-3 (thoracic) to my fanny. It was basically a full fusion including 15 levels.
Of course, a brilliant orthopedic surgeon matters, and in this case, I chose wisely, Dr. Paul A. Glazer (Spine Specialists of Boston) of Chestnut Hill, Mass.
Dr. Glazer specializes in spinal disorders of all kinds and is also an assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at Harvard. It’s mind-blowing that he can take a crooked spine, rebuild it, straighten it out and make it fully functional. It’s a complex and challenging operation. He is everything you would want in a fine and personable surgeon.
I’m not gonna lie. It’s a difficult and painful recovery, but I feel blessed. There are many of you who have been through so much worse.
If you are dealing with scoliosis with or without surgery, just know you are not alone.