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.
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.
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.
American Syringomyelia & Chiari Alliance Project