Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Day 18: CHANELLE: A Cushing's Survivor Story

Day 18: CHANELLE'S Back on her Feet after Brain Tumor

Back on her feet after brain tumor

September 23, 2008 12:15 am

Chanelle Felder was glad to learn she had a brain tumor; her debilitating symptoms had her thinking she'd gone mad.0923dancer2.jpg
Chanelle Felder changes from ballet shoes to her pointe shoes between dances. The woman is recovering from Cushing's disease.0923dancerjump.jpg
Alycia Shaffer (seated , left) watches over a ballet class at Amyclae Dance Studio where Chanelle Felder (foreground, right) is practicing. A brain tumor left Chanelle barely able to walk and speak.0923dancerjump2.jpg
Chanelle Felder (second from right) chats with classmates in her modern dance class at Amyclae Dance Studio. Chanelle spends countless hours in dance classes.0923dancer.jpg
Chanelle Felder (center) participates in a dance class at Amyclae Dance Studio in Stafford with Hope Janowsky (left) and Erin Bradley.


Chanelle Felder doesn't hide her battle scars when she's dancing with slender girls built like ballerinas.

She's too busy enjoying herself--and being grateful for all her experiences, including weird side effects from a rare disease that caused weight gain and hair loss, numbness in her feet and stretch marks on her shoulders.

"A lot of this, I would not change one bit," said the bubbly 18-year-old, who talks a mile a minute as she tries to get across all the thoughts running through her mind.

"If I hadn't gone through this, would I have met the people I've met? The doctors who were so amazing, even the people who wheeled me into the operating room? Would I have made the connections I've made? No," she said. "Anybody can have a great high-school experience, but would I really appreciate the stuff I have everyday if I hadn't gone through something? Not that I recommend people go through a brain tumor."

Chanelle was a 16-year-old junior at Mountain View High School when doctors thought a thyroid condition caused her extreme mood swings.

But her problems went far beyond crying for no reason. Her hair fell out in clumps and acne dotted her face. Pockets of flesh formed in her stomach and on her back, a condition she says is known by the lovely name "buffalo hump."

She gained 40 pounds in a few months. When she performed at the school's "Idol" competition in March 2007, classmates whispered she looked like she was pregnant.

The girl who had been a model, dancer and cheerleader--active in programs since preschool--had high blood pressure and trouble walking.

She couldn't put sentences together, much less express herself through poetry or creative writing, as she'd always done.

"I literally wanted to drop out of high school, and that was completely not me," Chanelle said.

The daughter of Rufus and Cathy Felder eventually learned she had Cushing's disease, a rare condition caused by a buildup of cortisol, a stress hormone.

A tumor right between her eyes, on her pituitary gland, caused the problems.

As devastating as the prospect of brain surgery last September was, Chanelle was glad to know what was wreaking havoc on her body.

"People had been telling me I was crazy," she said. "When they said I had a tumor, I was crying because I was happy I finally had a diagnosis."

Chanelle is thrilled to be active again, and these days channels her energy into dance.

After she graduated in June, she followed doctors' orders to take off a year before college. She's trying to get back in shape by working out with her dad, a retired Marine. The two plan to run the Army 10-Miler next month in Washington.

One day, she and her mother noticed a new dance studio off Courthouse Road in Stafford County.

Chanelle had taken dance classes from ages 3 to 14. But the disease caused so much pain to her feet, she could barely climb steps at times.

"The thought of not being able to dance was so painful, I didn't even want to talk about it," she said.
But she couldn't stop thinking about it. She talked herself into attending two days of programs at the new Amyclae Dance Academy, then signed up for 13 of the 17 classes for teenagers.

"I can't tell you what a lifesaver this was," she said. "The classes have only been going for two weeks, but they've been the best two weeks in the last two years."

Chanelle still has problems. She struggles with balance and a number of the demanding positions in advanced ballet. Still, she smiles.

"She just glows," said teacher Corey Holmes. "She doesn't just do the steps like a lot of dancers do, she radiates."

Studio owner Tina Singer has taught for 15 years and has never seen anyone inspire others like Chanelle. "Her eyes light up with every step she takes," she said.

Recently Chanelle chatted with students, teachers, parents, younger siblings and anyone else in the room. She told a girl at the front desk how much she liked her haircut and a fellow student that she had the same kind of shoes.

When Singer--also known as "Miss Tina"--coughed in class, Chanelle asked if she still had bronchitis. An hour later, after Miss Tina put the ballet students through a rigorous workout, she asked the class members to look like they were enjoying themselves.

"They're normally a happy bunch, they really are," Miss Tina told a visitor.

Chanelle was the only one who responded. Her face was aglow, even as she grimaced through some of the steps.

"I'm always happy," she said, "even though it hurts."

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425 

HER FUTURE Chanelle Felder, 18, plans to rebuild her strength this year, then attend community college for two years. After that, she'd like to follow in the footsteps of her father and be a social worker.

Rufus Felder spent 20 years in the Marine Corps, then earned a degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. He works in Washington with substance abusers.

Chanelle sees social work as another way of expressing herself and helping others.

"Poetry is emotion, dance is emotion, social work is emotion," she said.

HER ADVICE Chanelle Felder struggled with various symptoms for eight months before she was diagnosed with Cushing's disease, a rare condition that affects 10 to 15 of every million people. Only 10 percent of its victims are children or adolescents; the rest are ages 20 to 50.

Chanelle kept track of her "weird symptoms," which varied from physical problems, such as numbness in her hands and feet and weight gain, to emotional issues, such as crying uncontrollably and feeling panicked. She suggests that others with medical problems do the same.

"I thank God every day for doctors, but they're not gods, they're humans," she said. "You know your body better than anyone else. Listen to your intuitions about what's wrong with you."

Copyright 2012 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.

Day 17: Note to Self