Professionally, I spent my first twenty years performing as an actor. As a graduate of the Juilliard School of Drama, I got to work with some amazing companies including John Houseman’s Acting Company, Joseph Papp’s Public Theatre in New York, The Eugene O’Neill Playwright’s Conference and The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I also appeared in national commercials and sit-coms. But then I got sick.
As a kid, I was nearly destroyed by anorexia nervosa, but at 15 managed to rebuild myself enough to complete high school, college and graduate school. I became an actor and life was good. I moved to LA, met the man who became my husband and thought I was going to live happily ever after. Then my dad died in a car accident and anorexia got a hold of me again. I went to a very good hospital for five months and got better, but developed a primary immune deficiency disease called CVID, which caused me to have chronic colitis and a lung disease that destroyed my left lung. Sadly, I was no longer physically strong enough to continue working as an actor.
I was lost. I didn’t know who I was or what to do, so I turned to my German shepherd Gus for comfort and guidance. My love for him inspired me to explore career options that involved animals, which led me to the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association, where I became the Coordinator of Volunteer Programs for eight years. One of my jobs was to write the weekly newsletter, and I discovered I loved to write. Over the next couple of years, I wrote my first book, THE OXYGEN MASK RULE: How My Battle With Anorexia Taught Me How to Survive, published in February 2012 by CreateSpace, which was a finalist in the Women’s Issues category of the 2012 International Book Awards.
I loved my job, but my health was deteriorating. My colitis got so bad I had to get a gastrostomy tube just to get enough nourishment. I started carrying a medical backpack containing my tube-feed formula and a pump so I could infuse nutrition 24 hours a day. I didn’t mind carrying it because otherwise I would have been house-bound. But even with the tube feeding I continued to grow weak, This was when one of my doctors recommended that I get a service dog to support me. Enter Henry, a Chihuahua-Dachshund. We went to six months of training and he became an official service dog. I thought life was going to get easier, but I was wrong.
As soon as Henry joined me at work, I got bombarded with questions about my illness, which left me feeling embarrassed and exposed. And because my disability was not obvious to the world, I faced scrutiny and judgment about Henry’s presence. These difficulties were more than I bargained for and I wanted to retire him early, but he didn’t let me give up. We trudged forward and I learned to advocate for people with “invisible disabilities.”
My experience with Henry inspired me to write my second book, GIVING PAWS: Having a Service Dog for a Hidden Disability, due to be published in the fall of 2017.