Breaking Through Barriers

Candace Walkup

Ten years ago, I was an active soccer mom to my 10- and 11-year-old daughters. I worked full-time, volunteered, and loved to travel. I had a bucket list that included snuba diving and sky diving. Like many of you, important parts of my life were drastically altered once my facial pain started. The last ten years have led me to numerous doctors and surgeons, medications, and procedures. Most of these were unsuccessful, and the pain I endured caused me to give up hope of accomplishing my bucket list. If light wind and fabrics hurt my face, there was no way snuba diving and sky diving were options!

Five years ago, I discovered the Facial Pain Association and my local support group. Not only did I find people who could understand my physical and emotional pain, but I also found invaluable resources, including my neurosurgeon Dr. Mark Linskey. He has performed two microvascular decompression (MVD) surgeries for my bilateral trigeminal neuralgia and bilateral geniculate neuralgia conditions over the last four years. Both MVD’s were successful in reducing my pain and giving me a lot of my life back.

Since my pain levels were better, my mind returned to my discarded bucket list to see how it could be revived. My husband and I traveled to Jamaica in October 2020 to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary and renew our vows. We spent ten days at a beautiful resort and discovered something called snuba, a hybrid of snorkeling and scuba diving. Snuba allows you to explore the ocean deeper than snorkeling but still be connected to the surface via a breathing tube. We decided to give it a try even though I was nervous about flares caused by either the pressure difference or the equipment.

A quick boat ride brought us to the location where we were outfitted with fins and masks. As I jumped in and descended 20 feet or so, to the ocean floor, I noticed the ice pick pain in my ears, which lasted about fifteen to thirty seconds but nothing in my face. I was relieved but still waited for something worse to happen. We swam around a coral reef, finding sea anemone, sea urchins, and brightly colored fish. Our guide found a sea cucumber, and we were able to feel how soft it was. I saw a giant jellyfish about twenty yards away from me and so many other things. I had the same small bit of pain on the way back up, but it subsided. We enjoyed it so much we went again the next day.

It’s been disappointing spending the past ten years living with most activities and adventures on hold. What I realized from the snuba experience was that I have the courage to jump back into those things in life I want to explore. Yes, it may hurt, and I may have to manage flares. But instead of saying, “I wish I could have done that,” I am saying, “I did that!”

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