A Former Student, a Constant Inspiration

Have you ever met someone and instantly known that your life was going to change so much for the better just for knowing her? This has happened a few times in my life, but there is one person in particular who still, after 16 years, has the ability to surprise and inspire me.

Her name is Elena.

I have known Elena for 16 years. I met her when she was a 2nd grader and I was lucky enough to be her teacher. I continued to work where Elena attended school, so I got to watch her from a distance even after she moved on from my class.

One summer in early elementary school, Elena began to have some serious health problems.

After many doctors and tests, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease.

I have seen many different health issues in my life, but Crohn’s Disease is one of the ugliest I have ever known.

It causes intense pain in multiple areas, wears down muscles in various places, affects organs that can cause fevers and even more pain and it causes fatigue that is overwhelming.

That says nothing about the psychological effects.

There are also the multiple visits to the ER and long stays in the hospital. Add to this the periodic inability to eat solid foods, which brings liquid nourishment, and sometimes even a feeding tube that has to be worn to accomplish that feeding.

This is all overwhelming just to read about or watch and that is without ever experiencing any of this trauma first hand. I have watched it many times over with Elena and I have seen the anguish that often goes with it.

However, in the 16 years that I have known her, I have seen her overcome these hardships so many times.

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She focused her energy on being an advocate and was on the board of the local Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

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She also hand-made and sold blankets, then donated some of the proceeds to the aforementioned foundation, while giving some of them to children in the Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

Her college career has started and stopped several times due to her condition, and yet she still keeps trying. Some of her instructors have given her a hard time for missing classes or made her feel like a failure because she was unable to complete a class, yet she continues to pursue her goals.

There has been nothing, so far, that has kept her from chasing her dreams.

Elena’s latest endeavor is international travel. She has purchased a ticket to Stockholm, Sweden because, as she put it, “I have a travelin’ soul and so much of that has been tucked away in the past because of health circumstances.”

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This young lady has chosen to be courageous for so much of her life through a brutal chronic illness and is now choosing courage once again, in a different form.

Life is full of moments that can be seen as challenges or opportunities. We can walk away and give up or rise to the occasion and embrace that moment as an opportunity to learn something new or gain life experience.

Elena is choosing to travel to a place unknown and experience life in a new way.

She is going on an adventure that seems to encapsulate her outlook on life. She is embracing the opportunities and living life, taking a trip that some may never have the courage to take.

Facing the world with a sense of adventure and taking the risks that help foster growth and understanding – that is who Elena is.

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Every time I think my life is difficult and the challenges seem insurmountable, all I have to do is look to her experiences in life.

I am reminded that life is best lived when it’s seen for the beauty and the possibilities.

I see Elena’s strength and I am reminded that I can go to battle rather than backing down and giving up. There is beauty on the other side of the so many difficult times in life.

This amazing soul has found inspiration in so many moments that most would see despair. Over and over again, she has chosen selfless over selfish, courage over weakness.

She has chosen fight rather than flight and inspiration over desperation.

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She lives in the moment and has learned to make the most of every moment that is given (especially when she is feeling well, but even when she is not) and has taught me to appreciate those moments, too.

I have been so lucky to watch her grow up and become a young lady who has shown me how to live for the now and love those around you with all your heart.

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