Fall 2022 YPC Scholarship Recipient – Hannah Crazyhawk

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 Hannah’s winning essay below:

Facial pain is insidious and difficult to diagnose. Many people of all ages spend their lives in excruciating pain, with no hope or official diagnosis for years. By the time a diagnosis is made, the damage is often too extensive, and viable treatment options fail. I have endured facial pain for most of my life. Because of this, my once-accessible sanctuaries of hope were gone. The one thing I have left is my determination to pursue my education. I find hope and solace from the encouragement of my professors. Learning sustains me, even when I think I cannot go on. 

My facial pain started in 2012 and continued to elude my physicians and dentists for nearly six years. I had a root canal to “fix” the problem. However, the pain only got worse – much worse. After years spent researching on my own and urging other doctors to help me, I finally found a probable cause for my facial pain in stacks of peer-reviewed literature. I took this information to my rheumatologist, the only doctor who actually listened to me and ordered an MRI. Several hours later, they called me back and confirmed that my hypothesis about what was causing my pain was correct. They explained that I have trigeminal neuralgia, and neuropathic pain caused by arterial compression of the trigeminal nerve. They referred me to a neurologist. After four years of horrific pain, I was finally officially diagnosed with right-sided trigeminal neuralgia in 2016.  

For the next two years, I tried every medication my neurologist could think of. Unfortunately, none of them helped much. At that point, I was beyond desperate for anything to help the agony. However, there was one thing tethering me to life: the continuation of my college degree.  

College kept me going. My professors’ compassion and encouragement kept me alive. For me, the sentiment “learning is life” rings entirely and literally true. I was determined to finish my degree, no matter how high my pain became. Without school, I had nothing. So, I kept my goals strong in my mind and did not give in to my fear. Yes, I faced the unknown with terror but also with grit, stubbornness, and resolution. 

In 2018, I underwent microvascular decompression surgery during spring break. I returned the next term to finish my associate degree and graduated with the highest honors. That was one of my proudest moments, when I learned again that I am not only strong enough to face anything that life throws at me, but I am also committed to my educational goals, and I will continue to dedicate myself to completing those goals.  

Unfortunately, my surgery failed, and I now live with worse trigeminal neuralgia pain, anesthesia dolorosa, and have recently been diagnosed with a brain tumor that is compressing my trigeminal nerve root. Sometimes I want to give up, but I do not. I want to help others heal through my current pursuit of a PhD in neuroscience, focusing on the adverse effects of childhood trauma on hippocampal place cells. 

I am dedicated to my education so that I can help others like me. I am currently finishing my Bachelor of Science degree in psychology at the University of Oregon. During my junior and senior years, I spent my time in a neuroscience lab at Yale School of Medicine as an associate bio-imaging specialist, researching the devastating effects of childhood trauma on hippocampal place cells. 

I needed help and realizing that it is okay to ask for that help when I need it has been one of the biggest challenges in my college career and life. Through this journey, I have learned that I am more resilient, intelligent, proactive, and resourceful than I ever could have imagined. If you battle chronic illnesses and endless pain, asking for help is frightening. Our medical system is not designed to help patients like us. We are seen as too young to be in pain and too healthy looking. That is ableism; chronic pain and illnesses do not discriminate. We are complicated, and it is not our fault. We are fighting enormous, invisible battles every single day. Facial pain can rip your life away. I know that people like me are strong enough to succeed in our educational goals because we are fighters. We fight the most excruciating pain and are still here with hopes and dreams. College is difficult, but it is no match for us. 

Asking for help is hard, but I would tell other young people in my shoes the following: Please know you are not alone, and it is okay to ask for the help you need and deserve. We have rights for disability accommodations. Connect with your professors and social services on campus. If you can, share your story with them so they know how to support you better. I was ashamed when I first told my professor about my trigeminal neuralgia and needing to have extra time away from classes for my craniotomy. However, after the initial conversation, I did not feel afraid anymore because I realized that most of these people are there because they care about students. Many will do all they can to accommodate you. Aside from disability accommodation services, there are other social networks that most universities have. The Dean of Students usually has excellent support systems for students with a wide variety of needs, even emergency financial support. Many campuses have multicultural centers who focus on helping black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) and other minority students succeed. Those centers may also have scholarships, workshops, and guidance counselors. There are also lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more (LGBTQ+) associations on campus who can offer excellent support. As a minority transgender person, I have connected with all the services above, and they have helped support many facets of my educational needs.  

No matter where you are in your educational journey, I know you can do it because I know how strong you are. You may not feel like you are good enough to go to college. But I see you, I see your pain, and I know you are more than good enough. You are brave, and you will triumph in whatever you set your mind to. There may be people who say you cannot do it. Whenever anyone tells me that, I tell them to watch me do it and be outstanding. Facial pain does not make you less, it makes you more than anything you could imagine.

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