Spring 2024 YPC Scholarship Recipient — Jennifer Hoeksema

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, Adrienne Burg and Jennifer Hoeksema!

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

Read Jennifer’s winning essay below:

Starting college as a 27-year-old in 2019, I never thought a condition that only affected four out of every 100,000 people would be something I would have to worry about. Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is a condition affecting the fifth cranial nerve branch in the face that causes severe, usually shock-like, and disabling pain. It has been said to be one of the most painful conditions a person can have. Treatments typically involve daily medication, ablative procedures, and brain surgery, but most of these options will not usually fully cure the sufferer from pain completely and may not work at all for some.  

I was diagnosed back in 2019 with typical trigeminal neuralgia and since then have been taking a range of medications daily that cause severe brain fog and do not fully take away my pain. In 2023, I underwent a brain surgery known as microvascular decompression to alleviate four arterial compressions hitting my trigeminal nerve. This surgery was unsuccessful unfortunately, and I am still pursuing further possible surgical options. As a young person pursuing a college education while caring for a young child, trigeminal neuralgia has really taken a toll on me, yet I continue to prevail.

I had a career as a hair stylist most of my adult life, but I did not feel fulfilled by it. I decided to go back to school in 2019 and to my surprise this is also when the beast, TN, tried to take control of my life. The month of being diagnosed with TN was the scariest time of my life because I was in an excruciating amount of pain, and it took a while before doctors knew what I had. Once I finally got my pain managed, I was able to start the Fall semester at school. Although I knew this would be difficult, it was something I had to strive for because I did not want TN to take over my life. The career I am attending school for is mental health counseling; it is very fitting for me considering my personal battles with mental health. I will be able to give my clients authenticity because I can understand struggling with chronic pain, depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Most of these started or worsened because of having trigeminal neuralgia. Not knowing when the pain would strike gives many TN sufferers like me severe anxiety. The stress and trauma of how bad the pain is has caused PTSD and depression in many of us too. There are techniques and ways of managing I have formed over the five years I have had TN.  

In my earliest years of dealing with TN the biggest help was leaning on my friends, family, and doctors. It is so important to have a doctor who helps you manage your pain and understand trigeminal neuralgia. This will also be an important time to confide in friends and family for moral support. You cannot go through something like this alone. At times you might need people to help you tackle your daily responsibilities when the pain is at its worst or to just vent your concerns too. I strongly advise finding a therapist or support group to take part in as well, because trigeminal neuralgia is a lot to take in. It has been shown that talk therapy can have positive results in alleviating chronic pain. The Facial Pain Association (FPA) has a large variety of free support groups for people in different states living with different facial pain conditions. It has been helpful for me to relate with others who have the same struggles, because trigeminal neuralgia is rare.  

As time has gone on and I am more used to my condition, I have found comfort in helping others deal with facial pain. I started volunteering as a peer mentor through the FPA working one-on-one with people who are usually newly diagnosed with facial pain condition. I offer support and guidance whenever they want to talk or even just listen at times too. This is something that helps me because it takes the focus off myself and puts my energy into giving back. Even unrelated to facial pain, helping others in general is a great way to distract yourself by doing something that makes a difference for someone else.  

Specific advice that I would like to give to other college students is to plan out your schedule, and then come up with a plan. For example, I like to use a planner to plan out my homework assignments and I fit everything into a Monday-Thursday schedule so that I have a few extra days if I am in too much pain to do my homework on the originally planned days. During exceptionally hard times I let my professors know what is going on with me if there are certain due dates or tests coming up that I am worried about. Creating a schedule and building healthy communication with your educators will set you up for success.

The last piece of advice I want to give is to work on your inner peace. Find meditative and breathing techniques to get through those painful moments. Laying in a dark room and just closing your eyes can do wonders sometimes. When you are not currently experiencing a lot of pain, make those the times you really put your all into having fun and enjoying yourself. I have found the worst thing I can do is wait for the pain to happen. I am human like everyone else and sometimes I let TN get the better of me. It can be frustrating and even unbearable at times. The important thing is to not let your illness become your identity and always prevail. Trigeminal neuralgia is something I have, but it is not who I am.

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