Inspiration from a former co-worker

Nancie's team, the Schauderifics.

Nancie Schauder’s name first appeared on our staff roster 20 years ago, in October 1991. She was, as I later wrote, “one of those gifts that popped out of nowhere in the early days of our magazine’s history.”

Nancie was a vital member of our advertising sales staff for nearly 10 years, before she left the magazine to return to her true calling: teaching a developmental preschool class in the Cave Creek Unified School District.

I have seen Nancie only sporadically since then, but always find her presence inspiring. She is the consummate optimist, smiling and hopeful through anything life throws her way — including her mother’s slow death from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) and her own battles with medical challenges and injuries.

In March of 2010 Nancie developed blinding headaches that found no relief in pain medication. There were other puzzling symptoms, but there was no immediate diagnosis.  Nine months later she underwent brain surgery for something I’d never heard of: Chiari malformation.

The definition, according to the Arizona Syringomyelia and Chiari Support Group, is a “malformation…characterized by a downward displacement of the lower part of the brain into the cervical spinal canal.” Part of her brain had moved into her spinal canal, blocking the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid.

Symptoms, according to the support group brochure, include debilitating headaches, nystagmus (involuntary eye motion), difficult swallowing, vomiting and “positional pain” exacerbated by heavy lifting.

Two months after surgeons sawed open her skull, Nancie volunteered at our annual Camp Fair, where she stood behind a table of brochures about special needs camps and answered questions from parents. It’s something she’s done for us often over the years since she left — a way to show that, no matter what else is going on in her life, she still cares about the people she met through Raising Arizona Kids and she still believes in our mission to support families with information and resources.

Participants at Saturday's Walk to Conquer Chiari.

Yesterday, Nancie’s friends and family members made an early morning show of support for her. With hundreds of others, we enjoyed a pleasant one-mile “Walk to Conquer Chiari” through picturesque Anthem Community Park. September is Chiari & Syringomyelia Awareness Month.

Until I arrived, I didn’t realize that Chairi malformation and syringomyelia (another chronic disorder involving the spinal cord) affected such a diverse age group or manifested in so many different ways. Participants with Chiari wore purple beads to designate themselves from the rest of us; one was a young child dancing through bubbles,  one was a teenager confined to a wheelchair.

Former NFL kicker Chris Dugan ended his remarks chanting, "We will win!"

Nancie was lucky. She had one brain surgery which, thankfully, has alleviated most of her symptoms. Former NFL kicker Chris Dugan, whose opening remarks launched the walk, told us he has undergone 43.

Learn more

Arizona Syringomyelia and Ciari Support Group
Kathi Hall: 602-504-0883
Shelly Norris: 480-893-3951
Email: azsyringochiari@cox.net
azsyringochiari.blogspot.com

American Syringomyelia & Chiari Alliance Project
asap.org

Conquer Chiari
conquerchiari.org

Renae Hoffman and Karen Cournoyer LeClerc with Nancie Schauder (right), wearing their "Schauderific" ball caps.

After the walk: Former RAK Operations Director Debbie Davis, RAK Account Senior Executive Susie Drake and Nancie, who was on the phone making last-minute arrangements for a beautiful brunch she hosted for her team.

One "walker" participated by riding on her dad's shoulders.

The Phoenix Suns Gorilla made an appearance.

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