Community & Current Events

How she survived a potentially fatal illness

By: Ann Douglas

Photography by Aaron McKenzie Fraser Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Aaron McKenzie Fraser

Community & Current Events

How she survived a potentially fatal illness

By: Ann Douglas

Survivor: Colleen Jones from Halifax

"There are people who 'walk dead' their whole lives," says six-time Canadian and two-time world champion curler Colleen Jones, who is also a long-time CBC-TV broadcaster. "They are sleepwalking and zombieing their way through life, doing the exact same thing every day…. And then there are other people who have had serious illnesses and, when they recover from them, have this new zest for life. The sky is bluer, the sun is brighter: Everything about life is better after a personal health scare."

Colleen knows what she's talking about when it comes to savouring the sunshine after a dramatic health scare. On Dec. 3, 2011, while setting up for a practice at the local curling rink (she was coaching her youngest son's team at the time), she started to feel really ill – so ill that she knew she needed to go home.

After throwing up in the car several times while driving, she stumbled in the front door and headed for the closest bedroom, where she laid down and curled up in a ball. Her husband came in to check on her and called an ambulance; at the hospital she was diagnosed with a cerebrospinal fluid leak and bacterial meningitis (an illness that can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities and – in about one in four cases – death).

The leak required surgery that resulted in a painstaking recovery. Initially, she had to lie completely still without even moving her head. "Sports psychology came into play," Colleen recalls. "Trying to be mindful. Trying not to get too far ahead of myself. Setting little goals for myself: OK, this week I'm going to walk to the end of the block."

Ironically, while she was working on taking control of her recovery, Colleen was learning to relinquish some of her sense of control over her life – a difficult lesson for a self-confessed type A personality.

"Prior to my illness, I had the feeling of, 'I'm in control of my life. I'm in control, I'm in control.' But then you realize health is a fickle thing. And life is an even more fickle thing."

Realizing just how sick she was forced Colleen to give up some of that control. "I remember experiencing that in the hospital. At first, I had this moment of 'Oh God, not that!' when bacterial meningitis was mentioned. But once the spinal tap was ordered, I thought, What will be, will be."

That's not to say Colleen has suddenly mastered the art of living a type B life. She still finds herself defaulting to her old ways. What is different now is that she catches herself and reminds herself to ease up so she can enjoy life more.

"It's hard to fight that, because I've had 53 years of doing it that way, of trying to micromanage, of trying to overachieve, of trying to be superhuman," she confesses. "I have to tell myself to stop trying to control it all. To just enjoy this moment."

Check out more inspiring stories of women who rebuilt their lives in the wake of disaster.            
                                              
This story was originally titled "I Will Survive" in the September 2013 issue.
           
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How she survived a potentially fatal illness

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