Fall 2022 YPC Scholarship Recipient – Colette Miller

The Young Patients Committee (YPC) assists in fulfilling the mission of FPA by representing the interests of neuropathic facial pain patients under the age of 40. In 2021, YPC launched the Facial Pain Resiliency Academic Scholarship, available to students in the US between the ages of 18-40 attending college or university that have facial pain. Students who struggle with, or succeed in their fight against facial pain deserve assistance in their pursuit of a post-secondary education. Ambitious students who attend college despite their facial pain setbacks display impressive resolve, and the Young Patients Committee of the Facial Pain Association wants to recognize and reward these determined individuals. The FPA YPC is pleased to announce two recipients who each received a $500 scholarship.

Congratulations, Hannah Crazyhawk and Colette Miller!

This scholarship is made available through donations and the generosity of people like you.

Read Colette’s winning essay below:

In 2017, I had scoliosis surgery to correct a 52-degree spinal curve after years of bracing. While in the hospital, I learned that I had low oxygen saturation while sleeping. After doing a sleep study, I was told that I either needed a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine or needed to get the issue surgically corrected. In 2018, I had double jaw surgery for severe obstructive sleep apnea. Several months after this surgery, during my first year of college, I developed facial pain and muscular tightness. I then needed to fit weekly physical therapy (PT) for my facial paininto my schedule. In 2020, I developed a rare condition called idiopathic condylar resorption (ICR)  of the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), where my joints eroded for no apparent reason. This caused a lot of facial and neck pain while I was still doing PT. The following summer, in August 2021, I had bilateral TMJ alloplastic replacement surgery. A few days after being discharged from the Medical-Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU), I developed severe facial nerve pain and head pain. Six weeks later, I was seen by a pediatric neurologist, and we were able to create a plan to reduce the facial nerve pain with medications and nerve block procedures.  

With all of this going on, I was able to manage a full load of nursing school and clinical, working as a clinical assistant, plus I attended a few doctor appointments each week, tried to live a healthy lifestyle, and worked out daily. Last year, I had to take medical leave from nursing school for surgeries. Despite all the facial pain and trigeminal neuralgia (TN), I am still able to attend nursing school and am going into my junior year. Some days were very hard, especially this last semester with new medications that caused fatigue, and made it hard to study – but I made the Dean’s List every semester! The medication also caused other side effects, which I learned to deal with while in school. Some days, the nerve pain was awful and there was nothing that they could do. I learned that nerve pain seemed to worsen with stress, and unfortunately, nursing school is very stressful. I learned that time management is very important. I knew I would have to incorporate time to work out and run because it would help with reducing pain, even if that meant waking up at 5 am to work out before class/work. 

I have loved running for several years. It has helped so much with overcoming many life and health obstacles and has taught me that determination and hard work pays off. I was still running after having scoliosis surgery and continued to run after all my surgeries – even a few half marathons. I also learned to prioritize sleep, because lack of sleep made my pain worse.  But, I never let pain stop me from doing things I love. To overcome pain, I have learned that distractions are a great technique to help ignore it. School assignments would often distract me from the pain because I was able to focus on studying or doing assignments, but that would not happen all the time. Sometimes it was hard to study with the pain, but I would persist because I knew I wanted to do well on that next nursing exam or clinical.  

Having TN, facial pain, and a lot of other medical issues has impacted me a lot. This has professionally impacted me as a future nurse. It has provided opportunities, such as being able to see the patient’s perspective and seeing what it is like to live life with a chronic condition. I have been able to see many different fields of medicine and explored the possibility of working in one of those areas as a nurse. I have always wanted to be a nurse and have always loved being around kids. After having several surgeries at a pediatric hospital, I became inspired by pediatric nurses. I have been very fortunate to be able to shadow pediatric nurses and doctors and to learn about different specialties from my very own doctors and nurses. After unplanned surgeries and having to take a medical leave, I got the opportunity of a lifetime. I was able to work as a pediatric clinical assistant at Boston Children’s Hospital in an outpatient clinic. When I returned to nursing school, I also started working on an inpatient surgical floor as a clinical assistant, working along with some of my medical team and some patients that had the very same surgery I had a few years ago. My goal is to become a pediatric nurse. I am not sure what specialty, but maybe the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Emergency Room (ER), or maybe helping kiddos who have the same conditions I have. I would be able to give them a personal and compassionate perspective and so much other knowledge that comes over time from living with these conditions. It has personally affected me, making me learn to be strong and to have perspective through medical challenges. I taught myself that it may seem hard now, but that it will get better later. These opportunities have also given me so much knowledge about my medical conditions and treatment options, ways to make it better, and so much other information I would have never learned in nursing school or life. 

The advice I would give to another young patient with TN and facial pain would be not to give up on your dreams and to not let pain stop you from doing what you love. I have been so inspired by the pediatric patients I work with in their resiliency after surgery. This is what I love about working as a clinical assistant and future nurse – inspiring patients, and the ability to help someone else in pain recover after surgery. I would also advise you to try to take it day by day. Many days, I find myself getting overwhelmed with trying to keep up with appointments while being in nursing school full-time and working two days a week. I find it helpful to plan everything out – look at what classes and exams you must attend, and work around school and work to manage your medical care. I would try to book numerous appointments after a big exam or a long weekend, and learned the importance of booking a few appointments on the same day. It often takes up half of my day when I could be studying or being out with my friends. It has been hard trying to maintain a normal college social life. It is not easy managing a chronic condition, which not a lot of college students have to deal with, on top of everything else. Despite all these medical adventures and unexpected bumps in the road, I learned that it is so important to be resilient and to live your best life despite pain.

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