rewriting life after stroke: acceptance, self-discovery and hot pickled Peppers

Catching up with Christine, 2020

I met Christine in 2001 when she and her family moved to my hometown in Alberta, Canada. We shared kindred passions for running . “Why don’t we help others to get active on the trails too?” Along with like-minded friends we formed a committee to support the running community that was already happening.

A favourite reminder of our friendship and running group relationship.

Christine’s calm attitude to just get the work done and have fun while you’re at it! – together with her recreation background and a family that was all-in – was invaluable. Our committee worked like crazy to execute fun, successful running events. Her love for family, fun and fitness was apparent straightaway. But it wasn’t until I got to know Christine better how high she set her personal bar for grit and endurance in pushing the edges for adventure. Rock-climbing, running with a team in the Canadian Death Race , spelunking (a.k.a.caving) – she was game for it all!

On a mountain, Canadian Death Race. Grande Cache, Alberta.
Under the mountain with her son.


Christine and daughter. Colour Me Rad.

I think we would have enjoyed a wild and wacky adventure of our own but the two of us were too busy in our individual worlds. Then in 2007 when my husband and I made our move to Nova Scotia, the likelihood of that happening basically vanished. Before we left Alberta Christine and her husband kindly gifted us a small medal of St. Christopher, historically the patron saint to lighten a traveller’s load and for their protection. Tucked in my wallet for safekeeping on our cross-country trip, this token found a final resting place in the framework of our back-door threshold.

Living several provinces apart, the two of us lost touch until July of 2020, while I was back home in Alberta for a family visit. I popped by her house to say hello.The sight of their comfortable living room triggered flashbacks of committee meetings with laughter and a coffee table littered with cups and snacks. Everything felt the same.

My visit was unexpected, I didn’t want to interrupt family plans on a nice summer day, so I jumped straight into “what’s been happening since we last saw one another?” We shared a few minutes of family updates, then Christine said she’d had a stroke in April of 2017.

What?!! I’d noticed her speech was slightly stilted but overall she wasn’t so different. Christine was an active woman with healthy eating, mindset and lifestyle habits. She had a full life with her family and a fulfilling job. She had been in her late 40’s. How could this be?

Christine shared her condensed version of re-writing life after a stroke:

  • debilitating physical limitations ‘forced’ her to stop denying and start accepting her new normal
  • moving ahead with therapy was rigorous work, to keep pushing ahead was a choice
  • grieving the loss of her career was the hardest part
  • deciding what, how much she could physically, mentally required filtering through new restrictions
  • accepting a stroke had happened in spite of her living a health-focused life was really tough
  • lingering physical sensations, i.e.dizziness, variable skin temperatures, over-sensitivity to noise, loss of taste. Hot pickled peppers became her go-to because everything else tasted so bland!

Coming to terms that this was her new reality, Christine determined she would become ‘The Best Stroke Survivor’. And to help others in their recovery she started a podcast, wrote and self-published a book 7 Jars of Hot Pickled Peppers and continues to write short, encouraging newsletters – with humour and a recipe that is often spicy! Wow. Still the strong woman I knew and admired.

My drop-in visit had extended longer than I intended. She gave me a copy of her book, we made plans to meet again before I went back to NS, and I left with my head in a whirl.

Her story is written as a log of events in chronological order. I’ve included some of them here.

“I knew something was wrong… ..needing to hold onto things to keep my balance…….[but I] suppressed my symptoms, resistant about going to the doctor.” (April 16, 2017)

Holubec-Jackson, Christine. “7 Jars of Hot Pickled Peppers A rollercoaster ride to acceptance.”

April 17, 2017 Christine “couldn’t ignore that quiet inner voice” any longer and went to see her doctor. This was the beginning in discovering her life would never be the same. She received a call April 18th with this message: a CT scan revealed a small bleed in her brain, on top of the brain stem between the pons – “pack your pyjamas and immediately check in at the University of Alberta hospital in Edmonton“. Two hours later Christine was hooked up to IV and underwent a deluge of procedures and examinations, i.e MRI, angiogram, multiple tests, endless questions.

Trying to make sense of it all was exhausting and finally, in a telephone chat with her sister who’d previously worked on a stroke ward, Christine got some clarity on what her angiogram had shown. In short, she had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke1. Yikes! As grateful Christine was to hear her sister’s voice – someone who loved and shared life experience with her – stroke was NOT a term she could yet accept or wrap her head around. Her health looked to be in a spin but she was not prepared for this.

April 20th Christine was discharged: her spirits revived at seeing her daughter’s Welcome Home sign. Eventually, gratefully, she climbed into her own bed; away from the hubbub of the hospital, not the least of it being her roommate’s passion for non-stop country music!

Christine had been released from the hospital with no clear directives for recovery nor medications. Surgery wasn’t an option due to where her brain had been affected. She tried to relax, wondering, now do I just get on with life? Yet the niggling dizziness, nausea and fatigue was putting her on edge. Something was going on.

April 25th, after five days of feeling off and miserable, Christine relayed the symptoms by phone to her sister: “get to emergency immediately; don’t wait for tomorrow morning!” Christine went to a hospital close to home, where a CT scan showed that bleeding in her brain had slightly increased. Providentially, this hospital has a Stroke Early Supported Discharge (ESD) program where rehab therapists come every day to your house to help in your recovery! Christine writes, “… the conglomeration of events that led us to Camrose seemed divine in nature and I thank God for bringing us to this place.”

Christine’s book walks the reader through her self discovery in the rollercoaster ride of physical, emotional and mental challenges like:

  • frustration with being dependent when you’re used to being the caregiver, the one in charge: facilitating First Aid and safety courses, organizing events and making life happen
  • would she be able to play her guitar again
  • living with sensory overload that could topple her mental and physical equilibrium

How did her husband and three teen-age/young adult children manage this? Their solid family relationship helped keep them grounded. Of course it was stretching: balancing the line between helping Christine in what she wanted to do, couldn’t do (yet) – encouraging and helping her get back to swimming, taking slow walks – even driving! Reminding her “give yourself time, rest more, you’re amazing”.

To connect with Christine for more of her healing experience and the progress of her new narrative check out her website and a recent podcast interview with Cheryl Ilor. In my view, to know her is to be inspired!I

Learning to walk again

Not giving up the bass – still part of ‘the band’.

How I wish Christine and I could have shared some exciting, edgy adventures. Yet following her desire to discover and become the best she could in life-changing health challenges is no less an adventure to admire and applaud.

Thank you Christine. Rock on!!

1Simplistic definitions: a hemorrhagic stroke is when an artery or other blood vessel leaks or ruptures blood directly into the brain (accounts for 13 to 16% of all strokes) – as compared to an ischemic stroke which refers to some type of blockage of blood supply to the brain (which accounts for almost all other strokes).

6 Comments on “rewriting life after stroke: acceptance, self-discovery and hot pickled Peppers

  1. Thank you for sharing Christine’s story. A reality check that none of us are immune to the human experience of paying attention to our physical health and its ever changing status.
    So grateful to our medical system that is able provide care when needed.

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    • Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts Ruth. Her story certainly gave me a wake-up nudge not to always believe ‘mind over matter’. And I love Christine’s courage.

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  2. I’ve suffered 5 strokes and can barely walk.she is definitely an inspiration to me.

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    • Thank you for your comment Robert. Sorry to hear of your health challenges, may you have hope and continue to be encouraged by Christine’s uplifting message and courage.

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  3. You are an amazing writer, friend, inspiration! We all have a story and I feel so honoured you took the time to write about mine. Thank you and God Bless!

    Like

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