Cruising to Bermuda with Celebrity Cruise Line

This Spring and Summer have been really heating up in my world! Since getting back from Cabo and catching the traveling bug, I’ve been doing a lot more travel which alway makes my soul happy. I promised one of my besties to go on a cruise with her through Celebrity Cruise lines which was very nice… and old. Not so much the ship itself but the crowd. Our favorite couple at dinner asked us why we were on this ship with a bunch of old people and we immediately adopted them. Celebrity is known for the food and when you’re two foodies traveling to paradise in the middle of the ocean, it’s kind of a necessity. It was either that or fly there and this seemed like a nice kind of forced disconnect from reality option. Perhaps I’m a bit spoiled nowadays, but the nickel and diming of cruising really puts me off. I would rather pay an upfront price and turn off my brain on board. Drink packages require you to be an alcoholic every day of the week and my liver just can’t handle that anymore! It’s quality over quantity at this stage of life.

We lucked out with only a little rain when we left and by day two, we were laying in the sunshine, enjoying a bucket of beer and attempting to relax and not look at my cell phone except to take photos as there was no reception anyway. When we arrived, we were planning our own sort of DIY excursions and make your own adventures which turned out pretty damned good.

My most favorite part of the trip was the beaches. For a pasty white girl, I really love the sun! And even in May, it was scorching at points even with SPF 75.

Chillin’ on the top of a some cliffs we found in Bermuda.
The original photo of me, curves and all. Flaunt that booty ladies, I’ve never had any complaints!

Then someone decided to reach out and ask to Photoshop one of my Bermuda photos. I had no clue what he meant so said yes and was given this in return…

If you ask a model to Photoshop her photo and she’s a plus model, don’t take away her curves. That shit just pisses us off. If I wanted to be a size 2 and anorexic, I would eat soup all day and pass out all the time.
Yes, the sands really are pink in the South beaches of Bermuda. Start at the tourist trap beach and hike until you find road again, there’s buses and taxis everywhere.
The sand is pink only in the South beaches in Bermuda because of tiny red organisms that grow beneath the coral reefs just off the shore. When they die and fall to the ocean floor, the organisms mingle with bits of coral and crushed shell that are washed onto the beach and make the sand appear an otherworldly shade of pink.
Rocking my new Michael Kors bikini in Bermuda’s South beaches.
Look at this amazing location a la Vanna White at Bermuda’s South beaches.

Literally starting the week we were there, we went to a street fair which had the native dancers on the street. Since there is not stone native to the island, I bought some pink sand earrings. Bermuda is an interesting mix of old world culture and British prim and proper ways. Men wore suit jackets with the Bermuda shorts and socks up to their knees with loafers. Uber and Lfyt are not allowed, all tours go though the tourism board only and AirBnB rentals are sparse. It’s very government controlled and squeaky clean unlike Caribbean countries.

The Gombey is an iconic symbol of Bermuda, this folklife tradition reflecting the island’s blend of African, Caribbean and British cultures, incorporating them over time into a unique performance art full of colorful and intricate masquerade, dance and drumming.

Always obsessed with caves, that was on my can’t miss bucket list and lucky me, there was not one but three caves all interconnected and one available to go swimming inside!

Crystal Cave is an underground cave in the British overseas territory of Bermuda. It is located in Hamilton Parish, close to Castle Harbour. The cave is approximately 500 m long, and 62 m deep. The lower 19-20 m of the cave are below water level.
Fantasy cave was my favorite with its sprawling length and the water connected to the Crystal Cave next door.
The Crystal caves beauty from the steps leading down which were very narrow and winding.
My pasty white self enjoying a swim in the natural public caves that connect to Crystal and Fantasy caves. People were cliff jumping about 20 feet into the water as well.
Our last adventure at sea was going snorkeling over the many shipwrecks that got caught on coral reefs in Bermuda.

Our voyage back was a little rocky as we headed into a severe storm that forced the crew to board up some lower deck windows but we made it home safe and sound! Would I go again? You betcha. But next time, I’ll be flying and staying for a week. And maybe this time they will allow us to rent mopeds (we were two blondes denied access probably for the best)!

Falling in Love with Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Since I was a teen, I wanted to live a bi-coastal life with my favorite seasons on the East Coast (Spring, Summer and Fall) and escape chilly Philly to somewhere warm in the winter (usually California and sometimes Florida). Perhaps I don’t own any warm weather property (yet) however I can escape the cold to the land of sunshine and lollipops, especially now that my back is fixed up with no pain and I’m literally less than 5 degrees curved now from scoliosis fusion surgery! So this trip was extra special and an encouragement from my Scoliosis Inspire & Inform group to take a one-year “Spineaversary” to celebrate being back to my healthy self yet again. And that I did!

One of my best friends from Penn State University lives in the ‘burbs of Los Angeles while her family (nicknamed my California family) lives in the hills of Poway, outside of San Diego, CA. I had Mexico on my mind for months and decided to lump the trip together to make a sort of vacation/modeling/acting/back to vacation/visiting my California family trip. I started out in Del Mar after flying SouthWest and taking an Uber (funny fact, Uber is cheaper on the West Coast while Lyft is cheaper on the East Coast even though both based out of California).  Staying at the Hilton Del Mar for 3 nights kicked off my trip, which is being upgraded with a sweet outdoor oasis. The best parts were the convenient complimentary shuttle in a 5 mile radius and the hot tub every night with views of the stars. The worst part was when I was taking cell phone shots with my Samsung Galaxy S7 of the ocean creeping into the sand, the water hit my feet and I instinctively dropped the phone – into the waves – and fortunately saw the black sparkle case beneath the surf and saved my phone from certain Wilson style death. It still worked but boy was my heart racing because I was leaving for Mexico the next day! Later on I was stressing over the fact it wouldn’t hold a charge as “moisture was detected” but thankfully by the end of the long day, it was working fine… so they are water resistant but we’ll see how long the phone lives now with some salt water residue.

Arriving at the airport “5 minutes late but it’s no big deal” after breakfast with an old high school friend and his wife, Alaska Airlines sucked with their baggage fee and only one bathroom available on board (I also got stopped and swabbed on the way back)! But when I arrived, I was instantly in love. Our hour long shuttle took us to the marina where I was spending the next 5 days in luxury paradise at adults only Breathless Resorts at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Located on the tip of the marina with views of Land’s End, it was perfect for walking, shopping, exploring and pretty much everything you could need within walking distance including a private beach to snorkel, paddle board and kayak.

The view from my bedroom balcony at sunset in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Photo by Cassie Hepler
From the VIP deck view at Breathless Resorts at sunset in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Land’s End at sunset in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Cassie Hepler enjoying dinner with a view every night outside at Breathless Resorts in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
The following day was the one day it was raining in months in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico so I went on a tour at Secrets, a sister resort away from the marina and more secluded. Photo by Cassie Hepler
A storm rolls in  at Secrets in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico during my tour at the sister resort away from the marina and more secluded. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Without the storm, this photo would have never happened. It made for perfect napping weather and as soon as it passed, so did my tiredness. Photo by Cassie Hepler
A whale watching tour brought us by Cabo San Lucas Land’s End in Mexico. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Lazy seals and sea lions became pets to some locals at Cabo San Lucas Land’s End in Mexico. Photo by Cassie Hepler
I went on a whale watching tour and almost cried out of joy when I caught this extremely rare photo of a mother whale jumping out of the water right after her baby in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. February is migrating and mating season for a slew of whale species. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Eventually I got into the vacation groove and became much like this solo sea lion sunbathing on this rock. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Of course I had to do some modeling while in such a beautiful location and partnered up with young and very talented Stephanie Poth Photography in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Stephanie Poth Photography caught the perfect angle of Cassie Hepler’s beloved sombrero with Land’s End in the background in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Cassie Hepler rocking her scoliosis scar on the private beach at Breathless Resorts in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Cassie Hepler playing in the water on the private beach at Breathless Resorts in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
Cassie Hepler rinsing off the sand in the outdoor showers by the private beach at Breathless Resorts in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Stephanie Poth Photography
Stephanie Poth Photography was all in for the golden powder photoshoot in the endless pool at Breathless Resorts in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Overall it was one of the best vacations of my life. Would I go back? In a heartbeat. And is it safe for women? Most definitely. I even carried my purse around with no fear and went on a bar crawl with the fun resort entertainment crew my first night. But to really know Cabo is to make some local friends (which I did) and return with a local tour guide where you won’t see another gringo (or gringa) besides yourself. Take a Pepto Bismol every morning, don’t drink the tap water but try some local cuisine. Drink the tequila, do all the tastings, enjoy the laid back vibe and live on “Mexican time”. It’s delightful.

Juicing Doesn’t Have to Suck With Pure Green Juices and Smoothies

The key to juicing is not to “juice” – you know when you just drink liquids in a hope that fat will melt off your ass magically somehow. The key is to using it as a supplement – i.e. a replacement for lunch or breakfast if you can swing it (I love my protein in the morning however). They even have a coffee with almond milk one. Just eat healthy the rest of the day. And even though these juices that arrived a little later than the new year, they are keeping me healthy, happy and the dreaded winter plague away!

Pure Green Juice & Smoothies are handcrafted from all fresh fruit and vegetables through a cold press process which preserves live enzymes, vitamins and minerals to purely nourish your body. With a mission to transition the mainstream population into a healthy lifestyle, all Pure Green locations around Manhattan strive to provide customers with sustainable energy throughout the day, whether it be in the form of a cold pressed juice, made-to-order smoothie, or nutrient rich acai bowls. Pure Green promises to restore your energy and recharge your life through simple, fresh, delicious ingredients. Pure Green also offers customized cleanses with consultation from Pure Coaches. 

Founder and CEO Ross Franklin, a health and wellness expert, and one of the guys behind the popular cold press juice brand, Liquiteria, founded Pure Green in 2014. His passion and dedication have led him to create a brand with Pure Green that focuses on not just health, but something that is easy, fun and attainable. Franklin is driven to continue his expansion and take Pure Green to become an international world-class brand.

Current NYC Pure Green locations include: Greenwich Village, Murray Hill, Financial District & Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. Pure Green is set to open two new locations this month in Tribeca & the East Village! Plans for Pure Green Upper East Side and Williamsburg are underway, along with 2 of the first locations outside of New York. I’m praying for Philly because my NurtiBullet is not getting any love lately. And let’s face it, juices (and food) tastes better when someone else does it. Happy juicing!

Here’s How To Have Unlimited Networking Contacts

There is really no big secret to networking. Yet people make it seems like it’s some mysterious endless array of pay-as-you-go business mixers that usually leaves them deflated and uninspired. Don’t be silly. You can literally network everywhere you go. All you need is some inspiration.

People (even my niece) said to me, “You have a friend who does everything,” and in part that is true. I have been building a network of professionals, creatives and friends since I moved to Philadelphia in 2006. But the key element of that is the follow-up. No matter if I’m going to a private dinner or a gala, I’m always networking, giving out and collecting business cards. Giving them out may get you a Google search and some hits on your social media accounts. But few people actually reach out to connect beyond that any further. This is where you can stand out and be different. Take that stack of cards out of the trash and actually reach out to the people on the cards. Email them with a Subject line of “Nice to meet you at LIST LOCATION/EVENT HERE” so you can remember where you met and it doesn’t become one big confusing mess. I also have three email addresses – one for writing and blogging, one for social media and one for modeling and acting. Creating a “Networking” folder is key and using searchable terms in the email creates consistency and makes it easy to find people you need in a pinch. For instance, if you meet an accountant, make sure to use that in the email such as “I may need an accountant someday and would love to keep in touch.” That way your email already saves it as a sent message with the easily searchable keyword of accountant. If people don’t reply (which happens), don’t worry. Just move on.

And of course sometimes you need to be “off” so you can just enjoy the moment wherever you are. But don’t miss an opportunity to connect with someone amazing because you were feeling antisocial that day! A couple minutes of your time may give you that “in” you’ve been looking for and you can always politely excuse yourself and promise to follow up at a later date.

Yes, I have actually reached out to all these people who are now locked in my email.

Do not use social media as a way to network. Facebook has those annoying little pop up messengers, Twitter is too limited and Instagram and Snapchat messages… it just gets to be too much. You can start initial contacts and get leads there but take it to email when it starts panning out. Trust me, it will keep you sane and also weed out the people who are not serious and want to waste your time.

There are three types of people in this world: givers, takers and matchers, according to psychologist Adam Grant. Takers get called out eventually for always taking, givers need to learn to reign it in and matchers are the best place to be as you are always trying to help others.

Whenever I think in my head, “these two people need to meet,” I instantly email connect them whether or not I am getting anything out of it (good karma maybe?) Granted, I do not always remember names (I could actually use an assistant for this) but I never forget a face. And that goes a long way. Don’t stumble, just say hello with a handshake or a hug, depending on how well you know each other and ask how they are doing. Usually someone else will say their name or their clues of current life events will tip your memory off to the name of the person you are speaking with.

Along the lines of givers and takers, I have experienced both. Mainly the takers try to come and bleed me dry being a matcher and sometimes too much of a giver (I’m working on that one). I had a taker who became fast friends with me a few years back. I’m usually one to screen people first but because she was a friend of a friend, I thought she was a solid person and let her in my circle. Big mistake. This “friend” was only there for what I could give her which was tagging along to media events, media dinners and getting free things from me. When I would ask her to do something in return for my blogs, she would complain and throw a hissy fit like a child. Eventually her greed cost me a job and that was one life lesson I will never forget! There was also the time a taker came into my life after a mutual friend had passed away and we connected. Soon after I found out she was using all my contacts for her own blog posts and even representing herself as the editor/contact for my babies, Explore-Philly.com and Explore-NJ.com. Needless to say, she was kicked off the sites and out of my life just in time as she tried to log in days later no doubt to cause a ruckus. Recently I joined a West Philly newspaper as assistant editor and soon found out I was with a whole group of takers who bounced checks, didn’t pay me my full weekly salary and more hassles. I decided to cut my losses asap and quit. Big surprise, they shorted my last mailed check yet again but I’ll leave that up to karma now.

Sometimes you just have to move on and let your sparkle shine. Now carry on friends and network the heck out of the new year! Happy connections to you all.

‘Tis the Season for Modeling, Photography Scammers & Catfishing

One thing a lot of people ask me as an established model/actress/photographer and vetted journalist is how to spot a scammer. Well, fortunately for you, I have been getting hit hard lately. And the scams are getting more and more complex with legit looking websites, one person who got targeted by scammers even had to put a disclaimer on his website and even friends trying to sell off their beloved vintage furniture for a move cross country are getting hit. I’ll break it down for you so you can see the email/text pattern (there is never a direct phone call made, red flag number one), the horrible writing style (like that of a 5-10 year old usually) and the fun you can have in the end messing with these scammers!

Subject: Model Needed
Jamie Bright
Fri 8/26, 3:12 PM
Hello, 
I saw your contact email on Model Mayhem website and I am interested in working with you. I am a professional photographer and I have a client who needs a catalog update for a new magazine release. If you are interested in working with me kindly email me back so I can give you more information about the shoot. 
Thanks
Jamie Bright Photography
Modeling Scam Website
Modeling Scam Website
This seems like a normal email with proper English used, a website and more information available, But once you click on the website (based in Florida) and call the number, it goes to a text voicemail option (Scammer red flag number one). They even have a Facebook which made me reply, it really did look legit. But read on…
Hello Cassie,
 
Your email was received and it shows you are willing to be a part of the shoot. This first edition of my client’s magazine will be shot in around your area on the 7th of September, 2016 and the crew is expected to be available from 9am till the end of the shoot, which should be by 4pm.
 
The shoots will be used for the magazine pages and the pictures will also be exhibited on the magazine website. Therefore, you are required to be flexible, reliable, self-motivated, enthusiastic, with a professional appearance and a passion for delivering exceptional service. You must have excellent interpersonal, communication and listening skills. You should also have up-to-date knowledge of available make-up kits and beauty products.
 
You will be paid $900 for your service with a 50% deposit on agreement. In the rare case of overtime, you will be paid $100/hr for the overtime.
Responsibilities:
 
You will be responsible for the purchase of the outfits you will be using for this photo shoot from the wardrobe stylist we have hired for this shoot.
 
NB: Funds will be made available to you for the purchase of the outfits.
 
You stand a chance of making a reasonable amount from this deal, and even a noticeable fame. I believe that it will be a positive experience for you especially if you are looking to expand your portfolio.
 
Kindly let me know if you are fully willing to accept this job offer and can meet the above responsibilities listed.
 
Thanks
Immediately red flags were going off left and right after the more extensive email. “My client’s magazine will be shot in around your area” is red flag number one. There is no name of the magazine and no location for said “photoshoot”.  “You will be responsible for the purchase of the outfits you will be using for this photo shoot from the wardrobe stylist we have hired for this shoot. NB: Funds will be made available to you for the purchase of the outfits.” Nowhere in the history of photoshoots will a model ever purchase outfits for a shoot from a wardrobe stylist because that is a wardrobe stylist’s job – to provide you and the photographer with looks. “You stand a chance of making a reasonable amount from this deal, and even a noticeable fame. I believe that it will be a positive experience for you especially if you are looking to expand your portfolio.” No one should have to sell you on a photoshoot, you should see the value right away and know if it is worth your time and energy. When I responded with my cell phone number multiple times saying call me, no one ever did. BIG surprise.
Next up we have an email from someone with the subject CASTING CALL in all caps. Right off the bat, don’t yell at me!
Seeking : MALE & FEMALE ACTOR/MODELS FOR AIZEL COMMERCIAL SHOOT
Event Date 1 : September 26th 2016 and September 27th 2016
Event Date 2 : October 7th 2016 and October 8th 2016
Compensation : Paid (Negotiable)
Nudity: Not ApplicableHelloGood day,We got your contact from modelmayhem and i wish to inform you that BlueRay Photography has an interest in working with you, We are Looking for Males and females for the First Quarter year sales  commercial  video advert/Co-operate Photo Shoots, We strongly wish you will honor this invitation. If interested, and available for any of the above dates (Either Event Date 1 or Event Date 2 ) , please contact us via e-mail and be sure to Include your current location in other to be considered for immediate booking and you will be provided with additional details. (bluerayphotos000@gmail.com).Warmest Regards,
Tom Bullard
Event Director
BlueRay Photography®
www.BlueRayPhotos.com

Notice how the English is horrible, the syntax is painful for an editor like me and the very idea is absurd. Being the girlspy that I am, I played along (and find somewhat sadistic pleasure in messing with these people). So say someone didn’t click on the website link and did respond (and if they did, the URL changes to http://ww17.bluerayphotos.com/ a non-existent website immediately.
Modeling Scam Website
Modeling Scam Website
When I respond with what is your phone number so we can discuss (already knowing this is a scam but playing along), I get this email below.

Hello Cassie

Thanks for reaching out in regards to the upcoming shoot notice,   it would be an honor to work with you. BlueRay Photography ; is a leader in professional photography, specializing in portraiture and commercial photography. We have built a distinguished reputation for providing quality service while producing a superior product with highly trained staff of professionals, we have both the knowledge and expertise to create and capture the perfect image of you. And here we are again, calling for an upcoming commercial ad shoot to market collective second Quarter year sales catalog for attires, Bags, Shoes and Purses for our reputable Russian based client (AIZEL) who believes in fashionable life style.

About AIZEL

Multibrand boutique, Aizel, and its online sister, Aizel 24/7, embody the concept of modern, upmarket shopping. A hot spot for Russian design talents and a much-talked about shopping place, Aizel is the creation of Aizel Trudel, a representative of Christian Louboutin and Diane von Furstenberg in Russia. Unsurprisingly, the Aizel stores stock the aforementioned brands, and offer an enviable selection of such renowned designers as Stella McCartney, Victoria Beckham, Oscar de la Renta and Mary Katrantzou. Aizel has also collaborated with established Russian brands Viva Vox, A La Russe, Walk of Shame and LUBLU Kira Plastinina, amongst others. and that is why they have decided BlueRay Photography for their Commercial advert work nationwide. For more information, please visit http://www.Aizel.ru/

The Commercial Photos Is For What ? This project is aimed at featuring a large collection of designer Bags, shoes, apparel and accessories and other items from various designers and manufacturers, to be displayed in an online Media ad and Electronic billboards nationwide. Our obligation in respect to this piece of project is to generate some marketable commercial advertisement to feature these items, where all models will pose with the various items and exhibit a commercial character to attract consumer’s attention. It’s very simple and works the same as any typical promotional or commercial advert shoot. The end product from the commercial shoot is an online Media ad, Electronic Billboards and Network Medias that would convince the public to make these collection a top choice among others.

* The event Date :  Event Date 1 : September 26th 2016 and September 27th 2016  in case that is not a convenient day for you we can reschedule for October 7th 2016 and October 8th 2016

* Time : 10 A.M. – 3 P.M
* Nudity : No
* No level of experience is required. (Free Model Coach available upon request).

*Compensation : The Total money pay for the job is USD 7,500 (Tax deduct-able) and you will get $500 as your advance/upfront booking fee and balance of USD 7,000 will be payed immediately after the completion of the commercial shoot and this $7000 also covers for the right of Aizel and BlueRay to use all your Commercial videos/Commercial Shoots made for our own commercial interest for the period of 3 months. That means Aizel and BlueRay are entitled to use the produced shoot for advert work for the period of 3 months only and this will be backed up by a contract. (Advance/Booking ($500) + Usage rights and Services ($7,000) = $7,500

*Location/Venue of event: The shooting will hold at a rented studio in your location – (we shall arrange a suitable Studio and convey its detail to you unanimously.)

We’ll be responsible for your hair do, Make Up artist and transportation, except for your wardrobe/costume that will be shipped to you directly from a contracted fashion stylist in charge. Also, note that the payment for your wardrobe will be made available by us and your clothing measurements has to be forwarded to the fashion stylist, REASON being that, the payment for your wardrobe has to be made or billed to your Name/info as requested and acceptable business terms by the Fashion stylist, to ENSURE a tallied customization and label to be printed on your costumes. (Read this Paragraph again)

In addition, an advanced deposit/upfront pay of $500 shall be mailed to you to insure your engagement on the upcoming cast with us in line with our business ethics. However, you will NOT only receive a paycheck of $500 but also an EXTRA amount that you will use to pay for your wardrobe/Costume bills which you will forward to the Fashion stylist in charge of your Wardrobe/Costume along with your measurements.

Actors/Models may attend the shoot with their choice of Friends/Parents/Manager/Spouse/Guardian (maximum of two) and should not arrive audition later than 9:30 a.m. to commence make-ups and attend a brief introductory class about the proposed project and shoot starts by 10:15 a.m. This shoot is going to be fun as different acting characters maybe involved, which is the real sense of this project. Take the courage to participate in this paid and legitimate offer as we look forward to working with you.

Final Note : we recommend that you read the content above OVER AGAIN and do not hesitate to ask question if any. Actors/Models are selected based on their willingness to participate and their agreement to the content of this Paid event and readiness to work hard with us. Below are the required Payment and Sign-up details you are to forward to us for filling and to mail you the aforementioned Paycheck for your Upfront and Wardrobe bills:

———————————————————————————————————————————-

INFO NEEDED
1. Your full name
2. Physical address (No P.O.box),
3. City,State
4. Zip code
5. Home contact (Home phone number and Cellphone number)
6. Your age
7. Previous working Experience,
8. 2 Picture photographs.
9. Reference
10. Other Websites where we can find your online profiles ?

———————————————————————————————————————————-

Do not hesitate to ask any question if any concerning the detail above. I hope to read from you as soon as possible and we look forward to working with you on this project. Have a wonderful day ahead!

Warmest Regards,

Tom Bullard
Project Director
BlueRay Photography®
www.BlueRayPhotos.com

Obviously it was the words “hair do” that did this email scammer in. Haha! For no photoshoot ever did anyone front me money for anything. A deposit for photography and/or modeling is common to hold the date however my guess is this “check” would have somehow wiped out your bank account. How they do that, I have no clue. But they can try through your Paypal or other online money account as well. If anyone can’t make a phone call and wants to front you money like a weed dealer, again it’s probably a scam. Rule of thumb, if it’s too good to be true it probably is, your momma was right (again)!

This next one looks pretty much the same as the last one, down to the lengthy rambling email and makes-no-sense writing style.

Hello
My name is Steven Castle, I saw your contact on Model Mayhem and I am interested in working with you.
I am a professional photographer, we are calling for an upcoming commercial ad shoot to market collective new, creative and colorful iPhone 7 cases for our reputable client (Ulmart) who believes in fashionable life style along side with technology.
If you are interested in working with me kindly email me back so I can give you more information about the shooting.
Regards,
Steven Castle
Owner / Photographer
Steven Castle Photography
Modeling scam website
Modeling scam website

The website looks legit, even has a celebrity modeling some high couture fashion on his portfolio pages. But again, one phone call to the number listed and it’s a digital text number. No professional photographer is going to miss possible clients like that! But of course I email back with feigned interest.

Hello,
Thanks for reaching out in regards to the upcoming shoot notice, it would be an honor to work with you. Steven Castle Photography; is into Fashion Advertising, Short Gigs/Film casting, Local Casting , Extras and Real People Casting , Crowd and Audience Casting , Taping services for actors and models who need to be auditioned for other shows working in North America & Europe, Canada, specializing in Fashion Photography and casting / Advertising Photography / Automotive Photography / Editorial Photography / Beauty Photography / Portrait Photography / Celebrity Photography / Studio Photography / Location / Catalogs / Magazine Editorial Assignments Fashion & Advertising Photographer / Art Director / Director of Photography / Creative Director.
 And here we are again, calling for an upcoming commercial ad shoot to market collective new, creative and colorful iPhone cases for our reputable Russian based client (Ulmart) who believes in fashionable life style along side with technology
About Ulmart
Ulmart is one of Forbes top-20 Russian online retailers.
Revenue : $1021 million
Founded : 2008
Website: Ulmart.ru
Employees : 6500
Figures : 10 million people are currently involved in loyalty programs.
Ownership : Its co-founders, St. Petersburg entrepreneurs Alex Nikitin and Sergei Fedorinov. In 2008, Nikitin’s company “Kimbrig” bought bankrupt “Ultra Electronics” and opened the first “Ulmart” store. 2 years later, the project raised investment: 60% of the business is now owned by Dmitri Kostigin and Avgust Meyer, who formerly owned “Lenta,” while 40% belongs to Nikitin and Michael Basinkevicha. Fedorinov holds the post of general director.
Business : Sells “everything you can plug in to the mains”,and accessories. You can order the product on the website, by phone or go to stores themselves.
Last year : More than 400,000 orders were delivered directly to customers.
For more information, please visit http://Ulmart.ru
 The Commercial Photos Is For What ? This project is aimed at featuring a large collection of new iPhone7 cases from various designers and manufacturers, to be displayed in an online Media ad and Electronic billboards nationwide. Our obligation in respect to this piece of project is to generate some marketable commercial advertisement to feature these iPhone cases, where all models will pose with the various iPhone7 cases and exhibit a commercial character to attract consumer’s attention. It’s very simple and works the same as any typical promotional or commercial advert shoot. The end product from the commercial shoot is an online Media ad, Electronic Billboards and Network Medias that would convince the public to make these collection a top choice among others.
* The event Date : Event Date 1 : October 28th – 30th 2016 in case that is not a convenient day for you we can reschedule for November 4th – 6th 2016
* Time : 10 A.M. – 1 P.M
* Nudity : No
* No level of experience is required. (Free Model Coach,hair stylist,wardrobe stylist and Make up Artist available upon request)
*Compensation : The Total money pay for the jobs is $1400 (Tax deduct-able) and you will get $500 as your advance/upfront booking fee and balance of $900 will be paid immediately after the completion of the commercial shoot, a brand new iPhone 7Plus and this $1400, also covers for the right of Ulmart and Steven Castle Photography to use all your Commercial videos/Commercial Shoots made for our own commercial interest for the period of 3 months. That means Ulmart and Steven Castle Photography are entitled to use the produced shoot for advert work for the period of 3 months only and this will be backed up by a contract. (Advance/Booking ($500) + Usage rights and Services ($900) =$1400 + A Brand new iPhone 7Plus.
*Location/Venue of event : The shooting will hold at a studio – (we shall arrange a suitable Studio and convey its detail to you unanimously 72 hours to the shoot date as part of our company security policy)
  We’ll be responsible for your hair do, Make Up artist and transportation, except for your wardrobe/costume that will be shipped to you directly from a contracted fashion stylist in charge. Also, note that the payment for your wardrobe will be made available by us and your clothing measurements has to be forwarded to the fashion stylist, REASON being that, the payment for your wardrobe has to be made or billed to your Name/info as requested and acceptable business terms by the Fashion stylist, to ENSURE a detailed customization and label to be printed on your costumes. (Read this Paragraph again Please)
  In addition, an advanced deposit/upfront pay of $500 shall be mailed to you to insure your engagement on the upcoming cast with us in line with our business ethics. However, you will NOT only receive a paycheck of $500 but also an EXTRA amount that you will use to pay for your wardrobe/Costume bills which you will forward to the Fashion stylist in charge of your Wardrobe/Costume along with your measurements, In other words , Steven Castle Photography and Ulmart will provide all financial materials as regards this gig is concerned and you don’t have to pay for anything.
 Actors/Models may attend the shoot with their choice of Friends/Parents/Manager/Spouse/Guardian (maximum of two) and should not arrive audition later than 9:30 a.m. to commence make-ups and attend a brief introductory class about the proposed project and shoot starts by 10:15 a.m. This shoot is going to be fun as different acting characters maybe involved, which is the real sense of this project. Take the courage to participate in this paid and legitimate offer as we look forward to a successful working relationship with you.
 Final Note : we recommend that you read the content above OVER AGAIN. Actors/Models are selected based on their willingness to participate and their agreement to the content of this Paid Event and readiness to work hard with us. Below are the required Payment and Sign-up details you are to forward to us for filling and, to mail you the aforementioned Paycheck for your Upfront and Wardrobe bills:
——————————————————————————
INFO NEEDED
1. Your full name
2. Physical address (No P.O.box),
3. City,State
4. Zip code
5. Home contact (Home phone number and Cellphone number)
6. Your age
7. Previous working Experience,
8. 2 Picture photographs.
9. Reference
10. Other Websites where we can find your online profiles ?
—————————————————————————–
I hope to read from you as soon as possible and we look forward to working with you on this project. Have a wonderful day ahead!
Best Regards,
Steven Castle
Owner / Photographer
Steven Castle Photography
Again a horribly written email with money up front, almost the exact same format as the previous and makes no logical sense. And again, I asked to be contacting over the phone and no response.
Perhaps the most messed up experience I’ve had is one for photography by a far better scammer who used texting as his tool. He claimed to have needed a photographer for a family reunion in the suburbs of Philadelphia and was happy to pay my day rate. When he was evasive about the location, I grew suspicious. He then claimed he was in the hospital with an ear infection (thus why he couldn’t talk on the phone, I told him let me talk to your nurse) and needed someone to pay the party planners after he forwarded the money. I told him I was not comfortable doing that and then the claws came out, asking me why I wouldn’t help someone in need, etc. I told him to go f&%k himself and go scam someone else and he got even nastier. I called the number and it went to voice text yet again. That one was the most annoying as I had spent hours emailing and texting and wasting my time/life! But this is the job of an entrepreneur, sniffing out bad apples and keeping snakes at bay. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I won’t even get started on the guy who tried to Catfish me through Facebook, claiming he was friends with a bunch of gorgeous models and foreign “football” players!
Hopefully my stories can help your Spidey sense detect a scam from a mile away and save you some grief.

Back in Almost Full Action from Scoliosis Fusion Surgery

I would say at this point, 6 months from scoliosis fusion surgery I am about 90 percent healed. The numbness above my right butt cheek has shrunk down even more and it is not numb anymore on the right front of my pelvis. Dr. Heller said it will continue to go away until I forget about it altogether. I can’t imagine ever forgetting it completely. However, I’m sure there will be vacation days of travel and wonder ahead that will keep my mind occupied on the beauty of the world. I am also officially allowed to twist 25 percent now which certainly makes driving and swimming easier, although the Jersey Shore ocean waves are still a challenge so far.

And the best news of all… my spine now measures 16.5 degrees (before it was 53 degrees lower lumbar and 23 above). A normal spine is within a 10 degree range. I am almost normal (but was never really normal which is fine with me)!

My scoliosis fusion as of August 2016 with a measure of 16.5 degree curve.
My scoliosis fusion as of August 2016 with a measure of 16.5 degree curve.

I have noticed, as has my massage therapist John H. from Soothe.com, that when he massaged my back in the numb spot, it turns red. We assume it is because of the blood coming back to the nerves which is never a bad thing! He is still not allowed to massage anywhere near my spine scar within a three inch radius as the bone will continue to graft for the full year. I also noticed my Freddy Krueger slash on my right side gets a little red and splotchy sometimes too after exercise.

This is John H. from Soothe.com who comes about once a month, sets up his table and hypnotic music and tames my back since before and after surgery.
This is John H. from Soothe.com who comes about once a month, sets up his table and hypnotic music and tames my back since before and after surgery. Now the focus is more on my shoulders and neck since that is the part taking all the movement nowadays.

The reason I am doing so well is because I have a team of people supporting me and making sure I am well taken care of including these guys, Terry and Steve, from NovaCare in Bala Cynwyd. I see them about once a week and they have taken me from weak to strong, both mentally and physically. Terry likes to torture me so I say we schedule on torture Tuesdays or Thursdays with Terry. Steve was gaining credits for grad school and is done now but you can find his smiling face at Roxborough Creamery slinging ice cream when not down the shore. Terry is leaving at the end of this month and sadly, so am I. I think I will return for monthly checkins however am doing fine on my own and visiting the gym, doing yoga and planks as much as possible as well as improvising the awesome app SworkIt when there’s no time for the gym. It’s the end of an era but this is a good thing!

Novacare rehabilitation physical therapists Terry, left, and Steve were always keeping me in tip top shape, even doing planking contests with me.
Novacare rehabilitation physical therapists Terry, left, and Steve were always keeping me in tip top shape, even doing planking contests with me.

I asked Dr. Heller what to do to extend the life of my spine since there will be more wear and tear on the top and bottom vertebrae. He said running is jarring for anyone, to not gain weight “don’t get fat”, keep my core strong, no chiropractic neck cracking anymore (darn) and not to lift heavy things. So that’s the plan until my year mark in February 2017 when I will be able to fully twist and am totally healed.

In the meantime though, I have been enjoying the health benefits of having a straight spine and strong core with my modeling.

Cassie Hepler modeling some couture lingerie. Photo by BE Photography
Cassie Hepler modeling some couture lingerie. Photo by BE Photography

Obviously if you scroll down in my blog, you will see a huge difference in my waist, physique and more from the before shots. It is exciting to be back in action and I’ve been making the most of it! The plan this year is to get some fitness shots as well since I am not allowed to expose my scars in the sun for a year, it’s all one piece bathing suits so far. But next year, watch out! Maybe a bikini debut in Mexico, we will see! Speaking of fun in the sun, I realized I was a little too pale for summer lately so I was thankful to my friends at Skinny Tan for sending me a kit to bronze myself without looking orange and ruining my pasty white complexion.

The Skinny Tan kit contains all the essentials for a good looking tan without becoming orange.
The Skinny Tan kit contains all the essentials for a good looking tan without becoming orange. The bronzer comes in handy for those pesky bathing suit straps and legs on the go while the body mousse is another quick full body fix that lasts a little longer. The 7 day tan I will be delving into with some help from my friends on vacation in September to Long Beach Island. I’ll have that sun kissed glow without the skin damage!
And look how tan I look here from it with my brother from another mother Jason Doran at Stratus Lounge when he won Sexy Singles 2016.
And look at the healthy glow of the Skinny Tan with my brother from another mother Jason Doran at Stratus Lounge when he won Sexy Singles 2016.

Speaking of healthy glow, I also got some help from an excellent line of makeup as well, Nakeah Cosmetics. Lip stains in two of my favorite shades, red and pale pink, were perfect as I hate reapplying lipstick all night long. Who has time for that anyway? I actually used the lip liner they sent me as eyebrow pencil for when it’s really humid out (which is all the time in Philly) and it doesn’t move until I wipe it off. Now that’s what a girl wants.

Nakeah Cosmetics Make Up Samples
Nakeah Cosmetics sent me some of my favorite lip stain shades to sample and I loved the long lasting wear with minimal flaking aspect.

And I’m also looking forward to getting back in the photography and well as business consulting groove. I have so many people ask me to pick my brain or help them start or energize their careers, I added it to my pricing page as an option, check it out! My friend, Jay Doran, above in the photo in white and blue with me, came to me for a photoshoot before he even moved to the area. We got some great, friendly shots of him to use for wherever he ends up (most likely a millionaire motivational speaker is my guess) but I wanted to share some photography as well. My lovely artistic and musically talented friend, Bonita Adele, will be back for our annual fall photos soon.

Jason Doran models a nice, friendly relaxed pose. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Jason Doran models a nice, friendly relaxed pose. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Since Jason Doran is heavily into fitness, it only made sense to show off his guns and those baby blues. Photo by Cassie Hepler
Since Jason Doran is heavily into fitness and the mind body connection, it only made sense to show off his guns and those baby blues too. Photo by Cassie Hepler

On another note, keep an eye out for some amazing fashion designs from the lovely Victoria Wright this fall with me modeling them! And a trip to NYC this fall as well to continue working with Healthy Guru after the amazing Hamptons trip this summer. And this just in – I will be sponsoring and photographing a red carpet wellness event this fall with The Wellness Universe. Remember you can always follow me on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter as well as Snapchat (I’m cassie.hepler) for instant updates. Until next time!

Progression of a Model & Actress: How I Got Into Modeling & Acting

This is by far one of the most frequent questions I get from models, photographers, strangers, coworkers… pretty much everyone. So I wanted to share my story which may help inspire others to chase their dreams.

I was sitting at a corner cafe in Paris enjoying my beer blanche de bruxelles when someone stopped me on the street and said, wow you should be a model/actress!

Me circa 2008 at a corner cafe in Paris.
Me circa 2008 at a corner cafe in Paris, France.

Just kidding! That’s the cliche and not the norm (although that’s usually how runway models seem to tell the tale).  My story is a more DIY tale much like me.

I was attending college at Penn State University, obtaining my communications degree in journalism with a minor in English. There was a website way before MySpace and Facebook called Friendster (do any other computer geeks remember that as well as a very antiquated chat program on green screen?). Anyway, I had posted some horrible, grainy quality photos of myself taken with the world’s biggest digital camera as my profile picture and some more for good measure. Shortly thereafter, I received a message from a photographer based out of Maryland who asked me if I ever thought about modeling? I said sure, of course I have. And ironically when I was in a car accident when I was 16 where the car rolled and my shoulder got eaten by the back window, fixed with stitches that now looks like it spells out “Slayer”, I psychically thought as it was healing, what about my modeling career?

So he suggested doing a photoshoot and would pay me. I agreed but only if my roommate could tag along as she was a photography major, take pics of us shooting and be my escort. He agreed and we went to the shoot, were greeted by tons of wardrobe, food, wine… pretty much whatever we wanted. It was a great shoot and a fun time and I still have pics of it somewhere in a photo album. He then suggested putting those photos onto the modeling Facebook of the time, OneModelPlace.com and being my mentor. I happily agreed as modeling was much better than doing any work study program or working at AccuWeather as I had been (the parental deal was college was paid for, I would pay my own living expenses however). But I soon found out State College, Pa. is smack dab in the middle of nowhere-ville and needed to travel to get work which usually led me to Philly, Pittsburgh or surrounding states.

Eventually I ended up in Philadelphia, taking a copy editor job at The Times Herald in Norristown and making my home base Manayunk, which is safe and has easy access to the trains and highway. And that’s when things started taking off for me. A new website, ModelMayhem.com had emerged offering a better networking and casting experience.

Some of my first modeling shots when I moved to Philadelphia were with Scott Church, who went to school with my best friend and roomie.
Some of my first modeling shots when I moved to Philadelphia were with Scott Church, who went to school with my best friend and roomie. I also had a love obsession with two tone hair at that time.IMG_0016small

Networking through ModelMayhem.com had really given me the mileage and reach I needed to contact top photographers in NYC, DC and Philly easily. Being a “plus model” and bouncing from a size 8 to the largest size 14 in college, I am steadily at an 8-10 nowadays (and especially after scoliosis surgery in February 2016). On the East Coast, the plus size is smaller (like my size) and on the West Coast it is larger. But being a plus model is more difficult, which means you have to work twice as hard as the straight, standard sized models (size 0-2) to book gigs. I just took it as a challenge to help change the idea of beauty to a healthy standard (normal sized women in the U.S. are size 12 on average). Besides, strong is the new sexy!

A shoot with Synthetic Shadows in 2016 in my old bedroom.
A shoot with Synthetic Shadows in 2016 in my old bedroom. Recently I shot with someone again from 2008 and he said my face is so different now. I can see that but for the better I hope!
A haunting fashion shot with Rick Pickert Photography back in 2015 when I was a brunette. I think I make a better blond.
A haunting fashion and jewelry shot with Rick Pickert Photography back in 2015 when I was a brunette. I think I make a better blond.
Kevin Loreaux reached out to me via ModelMayhem in 2006 and we have been shooting steadily since.
Kevin Loreaux reached out to me via ModelMayhem in 2006 and we have been shooting steadily since with a few publications under our belt nowadays.
Photo by Kevin Loreaux.
Photo by Kevin Loreaux.
Since Kevin Loreaux reached out to me, Philadelphia and the surrounding tri-state area has shown me nothing but love.
Since Kevin Loreaux reached out to me, Philadelphia and the surrounding tri-state area has shown me nothing but love.

Having fresh content, much like working in media, is also key to a successful modeling career thus why as a beginning model, it is imperative to find exceptional photographers and do trade work (TFP is the short version) where you trade time for photos. Two of the shoots above were trade work back in the day. If you can afford it, hire a couple of key photographers who may post your pics on their websites or social media. That kind of publicity you can’t pay for! And remember models and photographers, your name and face are your reputation, don’t end up on the dreaded black list (future blog post about that coming soon).

I am now signed with three agencies (see my ModelMayhem page for all my credits and info), and have gotten acting work (Amtrak, QVC, indie films) through MM as well as from photographers who have referred me from modeling shoots.

It’s taken a lot of hard work to get where I am now, working weekends while working a newspaper desk job and missing out of some fun activities sometimes. But if it’s your passion and your dream, you will never work a day in your life. And who doesn’t want a life they don’t need a vacation from?

 

Scoliosis Fusion Surgery & Scars Only Make Me Stronger

You know it’s funny. I didn’t know how having scoliosis surgery would effect my modeling and acting career. But surprisingly it only made it – and me – stronger. Apparently everyone is not a shallow Hollywood jerk face we are all lead to believe. People barely notice the scars and if they do, a simple retouch in Photoshop or Lightroom clears them up in one fell swoop. As humans, we are not perfect. It is our imperfections that make us beautiful.

Since healing from surgery, I feel like a new, better version of myself. The kind of person who doesn’t take crap from anyone and has a strong sense of purpose and an even stronger sense of faith – in myself, the universe and life. It’s as if I was given a second chance at making my dreams come true. And you can bet I’m gonna reach the stars, moon and beyond.

I’ve had to shed some dead weight that was holding me down but that’s all part of the process I suppose. Some people were poking holes in my canoe. I see that now. I also see that I was using alcohol as a sort of pain management before surgery and could easily drink a bottle of champagne myself, then ask for more. That is not the person I am inside. That was the person my curving, twisted, painful spine had made me. And now everything is crystal clear. I see now who is really there for me, through thick and thin. Some old friends came out of the woodwork to support me and for that I am forever grateful. However it is much like the saying goes, it is who is there for you during times of happiness and sickness that truly count.

As promised, here are my scoliosis scar photos, some blended into my X-rays by my photographer friend Mark Harris Photography. He did an excellent job being my unofficial/official back study photographer. Little did we know when starting out, I would end up being a cyborg. You must assimilate says my father!

Here is my back circa January 2016.
Here is my back circa January 2016.
And here is what lay beneath in January 2016.
And here is what lay beneath in January 2016. At the time of surgery, the curve had reached 53 degrees.
The other side of my back with a slanted, visible curve in January 2016.
The other side of my back with a slanted, visible curve in January 2016.
Certainly not the most flattering photos but realistic nonetheless. My incredible shrinking spine had pushed my waist to the left side.
Certainly not the most flattering photos but realistic nonetheless. My incredible shrinking spine had pushed my waist to the left side.
And even with arms up, my crooked spine had shuffled my body to one side and I was gaining weight rapidly. It makes logical sense that if your organs are squished, your body cannot metabolize properly.
And even with arms up, my crooked spine had shuffled my body to one side and I was gaining weight rapidly. It makes logical sense that if your organs are squished, your body cannot metabolize properly.
My scoliosis scars 10 weeks post operation complete with Freddy Krueger slash on my right side where the doctor went through the front, put spacers in between some of my vertebrae and shaved some bone off my right hip to graft unto my spine.
My scoliosis scars 10 weeks post operation complete with Freddy Krueger slash on my right side where the doctor went through the front, put spacers in between some of my vertebrae and shaved some bone off my right hip to graft unto my spine. I still have that ridiculous mole which is called my chocolate chip.
So you can see exactly what lies beneath, Mark superimposed my new bionic spine right where the scars are placed.
So you can see exactly what lies beneath, Mark superimposed my new bionic spine right where the scars are placed.
After we grabbed the back shots, we headed to the nearby Gorgas Park for some colorful warm weather photos.
After we grabbed the back shots, we headed to the nearby Gorgas Park for some colorful warm weather photos.
My butt was a little flat white girl pancake like here. I've been delving back into yoga, squats and the stairmaster to fix that problem. Unlike most women, I find that flat pancake butt look very unattractive.
My butt was getting flat white girl pancake like here. I’ve been delving back into yoga, squats and the stairmaster to fix that problem. Unlike most women, I find that flat pancake butt look very unattractive.
Just me and my kitten pants hanging out in the park, looking taller, straighter and more streamlined.
Just me and my kitten pants hanging out in the park, looking taller, straighter and more streamlined from a photo from my cell phone.
I still can't twist, but can do the mashed potato. I'm also not allowed to fully bend yet.
I still can’t twist, but can do the mashed potato. I’m also not allowed to fully bend yet.
This photo sums up how I feel in general. Happy, revamped, energetic and looking forward to what the future holds. It's good to be back!
This photo sums up how I feel in general. Happy, revamped, energetic and looking forward to what the future holds. It’s good to be back!

And just like I said, I have been hitting the gym hard as well as physical therapy weekly. Most people think PT is easy but not with my new trainers… I mean therapists. Lucky me, I get a two for one deal as a student named Steve is shadowing my new guy, Terry. So they both torture me twice as much! And on my days at the gym, I have been doing walking, climbing and the elliptical, adding in hand weights, planks, side planks and squats. Just last weekend I returned to yoga class which was nice although I couldn’t do all the moves or twist, I could still work my legs and drop down to the ground from a plank which surprised even myself. Of course there are days I need to rest my body and I remind myself of that and do so. But it isn’t easy.

Going on a trip down south with one of my besties and making a pit stop to model along the way was a true test of endurance. We spent almost 12 hour days running around, doing tours and exploring and by midnight I would crash. Then up and at it again at 9 a.m. Granted, she drove all the way and I did nap along the route and totally crashed with I got home, but it was worth it. And I think it proved to me that most of my limitation is in my mind. If I feel this good now, I can only imagine how amazing I will feel by next year!

 

 

 

 

On The Mend: Healing & Feeling Fine From Scoliosis Fusion Surgery

From the last post I made, I have progressed so much it is actually unbelievable sometimes. Since the first physical therapy session at Novacare in Bala Cynwyd in April, I have been making “double progress” as my physical therapist Chip said. The last time I went, I got yelled at for trying to do a plank on my own at the gym because I’m “not ready yet”. However, I can now do a plank with ease at 20 second intervals. The next challenge? Working back up to side planks which used to be easy for me to continue to straighten out the fusion (I still lean a little to the left).

13315334_10153470108491816_5178497710273198006_nX-rays taken May 16, 2016 at Bryn Mawr Hospital. The right of the photo is actually the left, see the little “L” above my seemingly right shoulder. They had me face the X-ray machine this time which they have never done before. 13315757_10153470108366816_7684649317030804277_n Side view of X-rays taken May 16, 2016 at Bryn Mawr Hospital. A frequent question people ask me is how long are the screws? Well, according to Dr. Heller’s surgery notes they are 5.5 millimeter titanium screws and 6.5 diameter cobalt chrome rods.

And that’s the Catch 22 about healing from a scoliosis fusion. I feel like I could run a mile most days however I’m not even supposed to run yet, maybe work up to a light jog as my doctor said. In reality, I want to go to the gym every day and then go out at night and see my friends but that is not realistic. So I reserve my energy during the day if I have a project at night and vice versa. It is a constant battle dealing with my Type A personality! I am slowly doing full days however 8+ hours and driving downtown and back, errands and more is very tiring for me. The true test will be driving down to Laurel, MD in June to spend time with one of my friends then road tripping with her as passenger down to Charleston, S.C. I will bring my trusty small blue foam pillow that has served me and my achy back well!

Today I sold the granny walker on Craigslist. It felt good to get rid of it and help someone else along the way. It was also a chapter in my life I would like to laugh at as a soon to be distant memory. When I first started walking about, my goal was a couple miles a day without the walker, my right leg was numb all the way down to my knee. I literally had to look down to make sure ol’ righty was keeping up. It was, I just couldn’t feel it. As I keep moving and going to physical therapy, that numbness is now a small band that wraps around my right hip from my back to side where they shaved the hipbone to add to my spine. I also get these lovely little stabbing shooting pains in that area however I can feel again when it happens so I know feeling is coming back. My doctor says that band will continue to shrink until it is gone. My physical therapist claimed this may be my new normal and I assured him it is not.

Coming off those narcotics (Oxys and Valium) was tough. Mainly my sleep schedule was non-existent. I would flip flop around (the best I could as I had to sleep mostly on my back like a vampire) all night long, barely getting any rest which did not help me get any exercise. It was a vicious cycle. I tried melatonin and finally succumbed to Tylenol PM, my go-to when I’m wide awake for hours. I’ve added trying to sleep on my sides to the mix now with it being more comfortable on the left for some reason.

One thing no one tells you about is how will you shave your legs if you are not allowed to twist or bend all the way yet? This was something I struggled with as even putting Nair on to burn the hair off was impossible. Some people from my group showed me some shaving extension gadgets but I still could see me twisting with it. So I went up the street to the ladies who do my nails and they hooked me up with the cricket wax as I call it, smooth on bottom, blond hair left on the thighs.

First she places the wax on in smooth coats.
First she places the wax on in smooth coats.
Then a firm press to get the hair to stick.
Then a firm press to get the hair to stick.
Rip! Off goes the hair. Some people said it hurts too much. As one of my friend's said, after what you've been through this will be nothing. And it was.
Rip! Off goes the hair. Some people said it hurts too much. As one of my friend’s said, after what you’ve been through this will be nothing. And it was.
Gross! I'm just not hippie enough to have dark leg hair. Good thing my thighs are blond!
Gross! I’m just not hippie enough to have dark leg hair. Good thing my thighs are blond!

Something else no one tells you is that you will need to get slip on sneakers. Because as soon as you are left to fend for yourself, there is no way you are going to reach to tie your laces. So I ordered some Sketcher knock-offs online in pink and black since they will be temporary sneakers until I can get my beloved Nike’s back on. I wonder if not having sneakers at first kept me from healing even faster but we will never know.

Further limitations still include no full bending or twisting, so lunges and squats are my go-to to pick things up off the floor. I will hopefully have buns of steel this year! Driving is also hard without twisting. My future car will certainly have a back up camera, built-in GPS with internet, heated seats and fully adjustable driver side seat.

Picking back up the groove of my online blogazines in May, Explore-Philly.com lead me to an ironic turn of events. One of my photographer friends who has been supportive through this healing period, Drew Callaghan Photography, informed me about the Setting Scoliosis Straight scoliosis gala coming to the Pyramid club. So I reached out via email to the co-founder and she immediately emailed back, offering us tickets to come, cover and celebrate together. I also included her in the Facebook Scoliosis Group so her and her son have support through his journey with scoliosis.

A lovely view from the Pyramid club at sunset.
A lovely view from the Pyramid club at sunset.
All dolled up in a gown with camera in tow. Miss Teen New Jersey was there and exclaimed how at 6 months she was barely functional. I was 3 months post-op here.
All dolled up in a gown with camera in tow. Miss Teen New Jersey was there and exclaimed how at 6 months she was barely functional. I was 3 months post-op here.
Another reminder of all the beauty and amazement in the world yet to come!
Another reminder of all the beauty and amazement in the world yet to come!

At the scoliosis gala, I learned of a new technique called tethering, which is ideal for children who “have a diagnosis of idiopathic scoliosis (adolescent or juvenile), or idiopathic “like” (i.e., post-syrinx decompression); are 10 years of age or older, with remaining spine growth; have thoracic, thoracolumbar or lumbar curve(s) of 30 to 60 degrees.

The idea is “growth modulation” – partially restraining one side of the spine to allow growth on the other side – to reverse the abnormal scoliosis growth pattern in the anterior thoracic (upper) spine in a less invasive surgery. Titanium pedicle screws are placed on the convexity (outside) of the vertebrae that are causing the scoliosis; a tether (a white polyethylene-terephthalate flexible cord) is attached to each of the bone screws in the vertebral bodies of the spine. When the tether is tightened, it compresses the adjacent screws to help straighten the spine. The affected curve(s) show an immediate improvement right after surgery, and continued improvement over time as the spine grows.” Click here to learn more.

I also discovered a slipped disc surgery on Facebook that gets rid of the need for rods completely as that is currently the only option to keep the spine straight for adults.

Since medical marijuana is now legal in Pennsylvania for medical use, I asked the doctor about using it for pain control someday. If I do end up having pain, I would much rather take this natural herb as a better alternative than oxys and valium or any other pharmaceuticals. My high school essay was not a waste after all! He agreed however they do not dispense it there yet, I would need to go through my primary at Drexel. I would also not be allowed to smoke it as smoking of any kind will ruin the fusion. He told me to bake it, and reminded him my best friend who came to previous appointments is a pastry chef. He got a loud laugh out of that.

And so much for getting a tattoo. Considering I will be fully fused in 20-30 years as the bottom two vertebrae will be getting all the use, that would make for one botched ink art piece!

According to Dr. Heller, the curve is currently between 10-20 degrees. We forgot to measure it on screen as we were extra busy that day. I was also being interviewed for a story for Jefferson Hospital’s blog that day by their marketing department and a photo with Dr. Heller. In the meantime, he wants me to lean to the right and strengthen that side in physical therapy to pull the fusion straighter while it continues to heal. The total healing time for my spine to completely graft bone over the new spine? One year. When will I ever be able to twist again? One year. There’s lots of log rolling going on.

So far though I do not have any pain and no pain medication needed. Yes, the rods will remain inside me for forever and no it doesn’t hurt amazingly. Think of it like architecture. Rods and screws are built around my spine into the flesh as a support system. And physical therapy are the ones making sure it stays solid about once a week and leaning the right way.

How much did the surgery cost? It cost my insurance $300K. I have Obamacare and a platinum plan through Blue Cross with premiums at almost $400 a month. Co-pays for the hospital and “rehab facility” were $250 a night with a max charge of 5 days for me. X-ray and doctor visit copays are $30 each and X-rays are required for each doctor visit.

For about a week straight, I began having some moral and ethical issues of having children and passing it along to them. The dilemma was gripping my heart tightly so I reached out to get some facts from my doctor via email (yes, good doctors email you back). And as usual, he set my mind at ease as I couldn’t imagine moving forward knowing small children would have to suffer through this surgery.

“There is a genetic predisposition. That said unless you have many female family members with scoliosis your case is likely sporadic.  There is a saliva test to see likelihood of progression of scoliosis.  From what I understand it is not very accurate. And don’t think it will be helpful. I will look into if there is any other genetic testing,” said Doctor Heller. The good news is my father is the only one with scoliosis in my family and a small curve at that less than 18 degrees which is considered slightly normal range. I look forward to hearing more and getting tested in the future to put my mind at ease.
Stay tuned for the next post soon about professional photos of my scar and more with Mark Harris Photography!

 

I Am Now Part Robot! Scoliosis Fusion Surgery a Bionic Success

Well, it is now almost 2 months since I was sliced and diced at Jefferson Hospital on Feb. 12, 2016 around 9 a.m. Three days before surgery, I was told by my employer to use up my vacation days and then go on unemployment. So much for that plan of being supported and having nothing to worry about but recovery. But this is the rhythm of my life. My life has never been easy and deep down, I had a feeling it was too good to be true. Too late to file for any disability claim, I just focused on the task at hand: mentally and physically preparing myself for what I will call going through slight hell and back but worth the pain in the end. I’m not one to sugarcoat things and if you are considering this surgery for yourself or a loved one, you must know that it will be emotionally draining, physically a struggle and mentally a beating for 6 weeks to 2 months. But for me, my quality of life was going quickly downhill. There was no alternative. Some people get braced young and are fine the rest of their lives. Some get braced and still curve later in life. Some never progress beyond a certain degree. It is a gamble and the medical community claims it is in your DNA as part of your genes according to my beloved Scoliosis group on Facebook. You can get tested for it and so can your children. Please join and ask the group to learn more.

I will take you through the journey and if you’re squeamish, do not read on. It’s some pretty gruesome medical stuff at points. There are no graphic videos or anything, just some staples being removed is as bad as it gets.

Before surgery, I had to get allergy tested for metals (and for the fun of more poking and prodding, the regular allergy testing). My scoliosis spine surgeon, Dr. Joshua Heller, wanted to make sure I was not allergic to chromium which is 10 times stronger than titanium and going to be my rods. So the allergist taped on about 30-50 metal tabs on my back and told me not to get them wet for 3 days.  It was as uncomfortable as it looks and itched, especially under sweaters. Fortunately I am not allergic to any of those metals. And fortunately, I no longer have those lovely back rolls either.

The metal allergy testing strips I wore for 3 days to make sure I wasn't allergic to chromium for the rods to be placed in my back.
The metal allergy testing strips I wore for 3 days to make sure I wasn’t allergic to chromium for the rods to be placed in my back.

After my pre-op appointment, I was swabbed for MRSA, had a urine sample taken, breathing levels checked and was told I was unable to take some of my vitamins such as Fish Oil, supplements and no Motrin or blood thinning drugs which would impede my healing.

The night before surgery, my mother and my boyfriend stayed over and of course I couldn’t sleep. So I watched that Norman Bates movie with my mom and then tried to get some sleep. I would say I got maybe 3 hours max. We all loaded in the car and flew downtown at 4 a.m. for our 5 a.m. checkin. Once they actually checked us in, things started moving faster. The day before, my father and stepmother, mother and boyfriend had lunch and they were there for my send-off as well. My best friend made it in the nick of time too.

As soon as I checked in for surgery, they shipped me and one family member back and since it was me, mom and my boyfriend at that point, mom was beside me. We waited, they took my stats, quadruple checked my name and surgery, we wiped myself down with alcohol wipes head to toe and I was given a gown, granny panties and yellow socks with slip guards on them. That was the time to document my back before.

I had my hair in braids as that was the suggested way to wear it from the scoliosis group. No muss, no fuss.
I had my hair in braids as that was the suggested way to wear it from the scoliosis group. No muss, no fuss.

Soon I was settled in a bed and ready to roll. I kind of half hugged and baseball shook and held everyone’s hands as I rolled away, calmer than I thought I would be. Nurses even asked if I was on medication I was that chill. I think I was just exhausted. Off we went for even more X-rays which we ended up not doing as I had gotten them done a week before, after fighting with my insurance on why a scoliosis patient needs full neck to hipbone scoliosis X-rays. So far, I know they do them at Jefferson and Bryn Mawr Hospital in Philadelphia.

Then I was back waiting and finally off to anaesthesia and the pre-surgery area separated by blue curtains. They quadruple checked my stats and name yet again. Dr. Heller popped by and we discussed the surgery again. I asked him what he ate for breakfast and he said a bagel and coffee, I said good and that I hope they break for lunch. He mentioned he would have time to eat after they were finished putting spacers in between my vertebrae from the front. He also mentioned perhaps finishing the rest Monday. My eyes must have burst out of my head as if to say oh please no because he then assured me, he will likely finish that day and it would take about 12 hours total.

Soon after, they started putting needles in my hands for the anesthesia to go in. First they numb it, then inject the huge needle which serves as a plug for whatever drug they want to give you. Everyone was very kind, nice and I even joked around at points. They had to stab me a couple of times to get the right vein in both hands but that’s normal for me for blood taking too. I have thin skin and hiding veins I suppose. The last thing I remember was, “We’re going to give you something to relax you.” And I was out.

When I woke up, I was in the exact same spot expect my first thought was, “I’m crooked.” It was as if my body was rejecting this correction in my mind but I was determined. I then wanted to move my legs and asked if I could they said yes, please do. I had them all over the place! I would drift off for a second and then a female nurse would say, “Breathe, Cassie. Breathe.” And I would stir and take a breath in. It took weeks before I could take a full breath in as my lungs were becoming compromised and now I had full access to my lungs which needed to heal.

I kept asking when I would get to see my family, once every hour. They kept me in ICU for about 2 or 2 and a half hours and I was finally allowed to see everyone. It was late. I think it was a 13 hour surgery and my mom didn’t even leave the hospital until she knew I was OK. Everyone was amazed I was as with it as I was for going through such an intense surgery but most of the rest of it is foggy. I just felt love, got hugs and told my mom to go home and get some rest after we hooked me up to a morphine drip finally after being in pain and constantly bugging a nurse to inject something into my IV.

Random nurses and assistant doctors would come through and introduce themselves to me and ask questions, none of which I remember in my morphine haze. Dr. Heller popped by at some point to update me. And much like his face in this pic, it was also a blur. So I took some photos as I do naturally to remember.

DrHellerShowingXray
This is what my spine looked like before surgery with the latest X-rays from Jefferson. I was 25 degrees above my curve and had progressed to 53 at my curve which I had predicted. The blue plastic tube with a ball in it was a breathing device to help my lungs get readjusted as I felt like I couldn’t fully get my lungs full of air. I wasn’t given one at first and Dr. Heller was not very happy about it and people started jumping to get me one asap.
Post operation X-rays of my spinal fusion lower lumbar T9-L4 front view.
Post operation X-rays of my spinal fusion lower lumbar T9-L4 front view.
Post operation X-rays of my spinal fusion lower lumbar T9-L4 side view with metal staples.
Post operation X-rays of my spinal fusion lower lumbar T9-L4 side view with metal staples.

My first room I had a roommate and could barely remember her name. Our curtain divided us however our curiosity and sheer boredom soon got us talking about our doctors and surgeries. She also had back surgery and was on a morphine drip and blue plastic breathing device. I hope her healing is going as well as mine.

At one point, Dr. Heller was not happy with the X-rays and we paused everything to wait for the word of more surgery. More X-rays were taken so he could see if my body was adjusting to the surgery properly. In his words, “I did a limited fusion for you, by not including the L4-5 disk. If you were way off coronally post-op, we could have gone back to give you a little more curve (to bring your head back over mid pelvis). Thankfully you are able to correct on your own and thus I think we made the right choice by hopefully giving you many years of flexibility through two healthy discs (L4-5 and L5-S1).” And I felt just as thankful for not having to go through it again.

Soon I was moved in my own room with a view that few Philadelphians ever see. I slept most of the time, enjoyed groggily looking at the beautiful architecture and remember my family and boyfriend visiting, bringing flowers and a teddy bear. At this point my healing was going as planned and normal, according to the doctor.

My first bouquets of flowers from two men in my life I love, my father and boyfriend. Not pictured here, a teddy bear because I guess I'm still my dad's little girl.
My first bouquets of flowers from two men in my life I love, my father and boyfriend. Not pictured here, a teddy bear because I guess I’m still my dad’s little girl.
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Enjoying the view to the left, it was just me, my earplugs and sweet rest with the Center City skyline.

JeffersonViewVertical LookingOutJeffersonWindow

A couple people from my workplace came by to say hello and see how I was doing. One brought by these delicious chocolates I’ve never tasted before which were quickly devoured.

DeliciousChocolate

The hospital staff deemed I was not healed enough to tackle the spiral Manayunk staircase I had at home so they offered me a booklet of rehab options to choose from. I wanted Bryn Mawr Hospital however my Blue Cross insurance would not cover it (that’s a whole other blog post about the bullshit that is the archaic American health care system I learned so well this year). So I went with closest distance to Manayunk (it makes my mom nervous to drive in the city) and of course with good ratings and chose Cathedral Village in Andorra, right across from Kohl’s. It was Presbyterian (I’m spiritual, not religious but find kindness is kindness) and it technically was an old folks home however it had a gorgeous church, greenhouse and Japanese sand garden. So I showed my mom how to use Google Maps, put in the address and we parted ways as they said I needed to take an ambulance and was not ready for car action quite yet. Even freshly doped up beyond belief, that was a rough ride. It felt like we hit every single pothole, then again in Philly that’s not hard to do.

When I arrived, they showed me to my room and just kind of left me there. I was totally confused, thinking there should have been some sort of orientation like a tour or something. As soon as I lay down, I passed out in the remote controlled mini bed for a while (I barely fit with my feet touching the bottom of the headboard) and when I woke, I hobbled down the hall holding the railing until a nice handsome nurse gave me a granny walker complete with seat in dark blue. In the elderly world, it is a pretty sweet ride or so I hear.

Of course I was the youngest person they’ve ever had there. It smelled of death and urine except for my room which was full of flowers eventually and I kept it cool and let the fresh air clear the space. My mom eventually made it after getting lost with my rolling luggage and goodies and I was so happy to see her. And right after she arrived, a good friend/my future realtor showed up with delicious salmon for me to enjoy. Unfortunately, it “got lost” in the fridge and we never tasted a bit of it but her perfectly timed arrival was a pleasant surprise.

That night however was a living hell. They did not have my medication on hand and as my mother put it, “I looked like a lion trying to escape it’s own skin.” As one point, she begged the nurses to take me back to the hospital in tears. Finally, a doctor appeared and gave me what would be my medication from them on: Valium with Oxycodone and 350 mg Tylenol in between. I was allowed to take Oxys for breakthrough pain as well which was needed sometimes. As mentioned before, the bed was small and very uncomfortable as it was plastic and felt like I was sleeping on nails (or in my case, screws, which I was) so my mother went and bought a foam mattress cover at Kohl’s which made my stay at the old folks home much more comfortable. I told the tale to one of my nurses later on and he said that happens to everyone who comes in. Shame on that place for making people twice my age suffer needlessly. But I was stuck there for another week or so and we made the best of it.

The next day, a delivery of the most fragrant arrangement of flowers arrived from my friends at City of Hope.

CityofHopeFlowers2 CityofHopeCloseupFlowers

As more friends visited, even more flowers arrived from my best friend, then edible arrangements from my bestie’s sister (my adopted older sister) and an old school State College friend from my PSU days.

My bestie brought a bouquet of colorful and cheery beauties.
My bestie brought a bouquet of colorful and cheery beauties.
RhondaFruitBasket
Apparently pineapples are healing because of the bromelain in them so my bestie’s sister made sure to load up her Edible Arrangements for me.
MarkFlowers
My photographer friend of years brought me a bouquet of flowers and some sushi for me as I was jonesing for some tuna and eel, which also mysteriously went missing from the guest fridge.
MarissaFruitBasket
My Penn State University friend sent me more fruit just when I was running out of the other stash!
A very sweet gesture from one of the ladies all over town, which surprised me from the newspaper.
A very sweet gesture from one of the ladies all over town, which surprised me from the newspaper.

I was completely blown away by the amount of love everyone was sending me through flowers, visits and then just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, my brother, his wife, my niece and her best friend came to visit for the weekend with me and my mom. It was so nice to hug them (the best I could) and spend time together. We took my granny walker and my granny looking self outside and did some exploring however the greenhouse was closed on weekends but just the fresh air was nice. The rest was kind of a blur but I felt that love.

Catherdral Village walking path to the greenhouse.
Cathedral Village walking path to the greenhouse.
The Japanese sand garden was a nice zen touch.
The Japanese sand garden was a nice zen touch and my niece now wants one to tend to.

And one of my model friends from when I first started delving in brought me gifts, flowers and most importantly her support. She is also a nurse (and singer) and made sure to check my wounds herself.

Bonnie Adele made me take a selfie at the old folks home. Only for her!
My sweet friend Bonnie Adele made me take a selfie with her at the old folks home. Only for her!

Days at the Cathedral Village consisted of eating on a timely schedule. Breakfast was around 9 a.m., I never joined the cafeteria because sitting on wooden chairs was painful at that point so I would just eat in my room with a tray over my bed. Lunch was at noon sharp and dinner around 5 or 6 p.m. where you had a choice of three options. One night, I had to let my mom order and she ordered egg salad sandwich which she loves and I hate and I’m pretty sure she had food poisoning that night. I think that was the only night she didn’t visit me.  A mother’s love is truly healing and as she said, “You’re my baby, I’m not leaving your side.” Even though her baby is almost 8 inches taller than her now.

Soon physical therapy started however I would walk the long length of the hallway and back with my granny cart just to get some exercise. I soon learned there were oreos and goldfish crackers in the kitchen near the piano room so  I would go, fill my robe’s pockets and walk back and repeat. It was junk food motivation! Everything else I always ordered healthy to help my body heal and drank Ginger Ale to settle my stomach. They were there for us as snacks so I loaded up and had to wean off my oreo addiction when I got home. I now have a Whole Foods version which of course are not as delicious in trans fat so that helps.

Anyway, PT consisted of taking an elevator to the third floor and walking down a long hallway to a room even though there was one closer to me, I suppose they figured that walking was part of it. I had an escort each day however once I beat him to it, which the staff found amusing. They had to make sure I could get up and down those Manayunk stairs so that was part of it – stepping up and down on a tiny wooden stair set. I would do leg kicks and 3 pound weights and they would call it a day. I still to this day wish I would have been at Bryn Mawr, everyone said it was the best PT in Philly.

A random drive-by flutist came to our room and asked to play a song, it was lovely and uplifting and very kind of her to bring us healing songs.
A random drive-by flutist came to our room and asked to play a song, it was lovely and uplifting and very kind of her to bring us healing songs.

On the following Friday, a lady from the office came and told me around 5 p.m. that my insurance was not covering any more of my stay and of course the people to call to discuss this decision with were “closed” by the time I spoke with a human. One of the nurses was as disgusted as me. So I was kicked out the next day and told to take my time, which I did. I ate breakfast, got my every 2 days shower (and stood the last time), ate lunch and was finally released into the wild with my mom. We were on our own. I had pre-filled the car with pillows as instructed by the scoliosis group and mom loaded up the car, I awkwardly got inside with her help with the seat laying back and soon we were home. My roomie greeted me with a card and candles and I know I was a zombie looking creature at that point. I could tell by the look in her eyes. Mom said I needed to rest and let me tell you, as soon as I was in my bed with help from my bar assist, I melted into my marshmallow topper and passed out for hours. There really is no place like home.

A medley of cards from friends and family, including my boyfriend's family and one of my best friends from PSU out of California sent some entertaining adult coloring books too.
A medley of cards from friends and family, including my boyfriend’s family and one of my best friends from PSU out of California sent some entertaining adult coloring books that greeted me after the hospital and at home.

Adjusting to life at home was difficult but with advice from the scoliosis guidebook from my Facebook group, I was well equipped with a seat for the shower, a toilet lift with bars, a hand grabber and a bed bar to help me “log roll” as they call it out of bed. I had prepped everything to be higher so I wouldn’t have to bend in my room and put a dry erase board on the wall for reminders, ideas and more (I actually had a dream to do so a while back and it has been very helpful because these narcotics make you dumb, slow and moody). The valium seems to make me worse but I’m sure the Oxys aren’t helping either. And for a writer and editor not remembering words, it’s very frustrating. I’m sure the surgery caused its own trauma, markedly no menstruation yet which I don’t miss but do plan on having children sometime. However, obviously not anytime soon. I would have to wait until my surgery anniversary date of next year to even start trying to allow my bones to graft as he used bones from my hip for my back, another reason to be taking mad vitamins, which a nutritionist suggested with a power healing program and eating as healthy as possible.

Someone sent me this meme and I loved it! Thank you whoever you were, I wish I could remember who!
Someone sent me this meme and I loved it! Thank you whoever you were, I wish I could remember who!

After I got some much needed uninterrupted sleep in my own bed, I felt like a new (yet still high) woman. I would wake up, grab a snack off my nightstand, take my meds and carefully go to the kitchen and make my own breakfast as I had prearranged my pans to be high up, no bending required as since I don’t cook much so it was doable. Mom would make her goulash and I would gobble it down and froze me some for later microwave meals.

Before we knew it, it had been 2 weeks and time for an appointment in Bryn Mawr to get my staples out. Dr. Heller’s assistant, Lisa, who I had grown fond of as well, was the mechanic on hand and she pulled them out with precision.

This is a photo not long after surgery while I was in Cathedral Village. Obviously he did more digging where my curve was in my lower lumbar spine.
This is a photo not long after surgery while I was in Cathedral Village. Obviously he did more digging where my curve was in my lower lumbar spine.
StaplesComingOut
Removing my staples although some doctors prefer to use sterile strips. I may have little dots in a year although he thinks they will clear up and I’ve been using Mederma for scars. The bandage on my side is where he went in the front to put spacers between my vertebrae. It looks like Freddy Krueger got me with his scissor hands and is about 2-3 inches long.
Postopstitchesout2week
About a week or so later, this is what my back looked like. No more fat rolls, just a normal, almost straight back with some warrior scars.

About once or twice a week, my mom and I would take trips to places where I could take the granny walker, walkabout and get some much needed exercise. Some days our ailing bodies (she has bad knees and is up next to be a robot) would conflict but we always found ways to move around. The cold weather wasn’t helping much so we would plan outings for sunshine days. We went to the Valley Green Inn which she quickly fell in love with and fed the ducks and of course, met others who knew of someone who had scoliosis and/or surgery. This is so common it makes you wonder exactly why they haven’t eradicated the mutant gene yet? Because viagra is more important I suppose!

The Canadian geese that were getting fed by everyone in front of Valley Green Inn. All we had was raisins from my trail mix and they seemed to like it just the same.
The Canadian geese that were getting fed by everyone in front of Valley Green Inn. All we had were raisins from my trail mix and they seemed to like it just the same.

My mom also decided to go ahead and give her grandkitty Carmella the lion cut I talked to her about. It was an awesome gift because that means less cleaning for me and Carmella had taken such a liking to her grandma that when she went home for a weekend to central Pa. to visit her boyfriend, she attempted to pee on her pants when she came home! Or maybe it was because of the lion cut, we’ll never know. But regardless, we kept ourselves entertained especially when Carmella decided to bring a garden snake in the living room as an offering of love to my mom.

Carmella, the Sealpoint ragdoll kitty gets a lion cut for Spring although apparently the weather hasn't caught up yet.
Carmella, the Sealpoint ragdoll kitty gets a lion cut for Spring although apparently the weather hasn’t caught up yet.

Time flies by when you’re high all the time and all of the sudden it was my 6 week appointment with Dr. Heller. I rolled in with my blue granny cart and was happy to see him and the friendly nurses at the Bryn Mawr office. And he was pleased too as my body was now straightening itself out even more since surgery as expected. Your body literally needs to adjust to its new self and leaning the other way.

2weeks
These were not full body X-rays like Dr. Heller likes because I only had time to go to Roxborough Hospital but they sufficed to make sure everything was staying in place.
PostOpSideXrayCellShot
It’s really weird to see how large these screws are inside my body, some tiny ladies with scoliosis have to use small screws. I guess it’s just a matter of your body’s build.
I wanted to share a photo of the man who fixed my back, Dr. Joshua Heller. Some people were giving me grief and doubting him because of his young age (38 years old) which I considered an advantage as he is caught up on the latest technology and has the stamina to not get tired during the 13 hour surgery. I listened to my gut and as usual, it was right.
I wanted to share a photo of the man who fixed my back, Dr. Joshua Heller. Some people were giving me grief and doubting him because of his young age (38 years old) which I considered an advantage as he is caught up on the latest technology and has the stamina to not get tired during the 13 hour surgery. I listened to my gut and as usual, it was right.

Eventually it was time for my mother to go home and us both to get on with our lives so I began brainstorming the idea for this blog post and have been using my long monkey toes that I always disliked as my hands or to pick things up as well. I also realized how much doing yoga up until the Sunday before surgery helped my body’s flexibility still to this day. Those pesky Manayunk house steps have now become my exercise steps and when Spring decides to actually arrive, I ordered laceless sneakers since I can’t get to my Nike laces yet to get out and about and able to walk around the neighborhood. So even though someone once called my toes, “claw toes” they sure came in handy (and it is genetic as well, we call it the Hepler toes). It’s also a sign of royalty apparently. How do you do? *Curtsey*

Cassie's "monkey toes" that have been very helpful after surgery. Photo by Dim Dom Photography
Cassie’s “monkey toes” that have been very helpful after surgery. Photo by Dim Dom Photography
My monkey toes in blue polish! Photo by Dim Dom Photography
My monkey toes in blue polish! Photo by Dim Dom Photography

Relying on friends and my boyfriend is rough since they all work weekly day jobs but they have been very supportive. And even some old photography friends came out of the woodwork to offer their hands of help. My walking exercises has gone downhill a hit however since I can’t drive on narcotics and because Mother Nature is bringing winter back for some reason. My best friend did drag me out on a crispy, cool and sunny Spring day for a walk on the Manayunk Towpath this time without my granny walker. Granted, I had to take breaks but kept on moving. Because that’s what you have to do in life.

All bundled up on the Manayunk Towpath sitting on the mosaic steps smiling because life is too short to frown.
All bundled up on the Manayunk Towpath sitting on the mosaic steps smiling because life is too short to frown.

So in the meantime, I’ve been trying to slowly take back over control of my online babies, Explore-Philly.com and Explore-NJ.com so I can get things going again by the beginning of May. My days are spent bundled up and online mostly with some sort of exercise thrown in, fighting with my insurance to get full scoliosis X-rays, fighting with unemployment and losing muscle weight I’m assuming because of being too tired to cook so I keep it simple and light. That and if you don’t move much, you really don’t need to eat more. Imagine that! I also think the meds make me less hungry in general. I mean, there’s a reason junkies are so skinny!

Reaching out to one of my old school Manayunk friends, I made it to the almost 2 month appointment April 6, just shy of one week. Fortunately he likes girls in scrubs so I know who will take me to any other appointments if anything popped up! Getting sick of the drugs making me dumb, slow and moody, I was anxious to begin weening off of them and talk to the doctor on how to do so. So off we went to Bryn Mawr Hospital for X-rays where I met yet another woman who’s 24 year old daughter has scoliosis and had the surgery as a child but is now looking at another one as she has continued to curve. There really is no rhyme or reason, but I was glad to help her and directed her to Dr. Heller and the Facebook group. Soon, Dr. Heller will be the scoliosis doctor! I really appreciated the way Bryn Mawr covered my lady bits from getting even more radiation because I will certainly be glowing by the end of 2016 aka the year I have named “Hospital.”

Frontal view of my scoliosis fusion, even straighter this time with my shoulders evening out.
Frontal view of my scoliosis fusion, even straighter this time with my shoulders evening out.
Side view of my scoliosis fusion with everything in place and looking good.
Side view of my scoliosis fusion with everything in place and looking good.

When I walked in, I was warmly greeted by the staff as usual and Anita exclaimed look at you, here by yourself with no walker already and walking around! And I realized she was right, it was the first time I did not need someone to lean on and felt confident doing it alone. All my other appointments before surgery, I brought my best friend.

Dr. Heller was running behind and fortunately my friend was patiently working in the car outside so he was a bit rushed but I only had a short list of questions this time for him. When I first went in to consider surgery, I literally had pages of questions of information as a true journalist should. He seemed amused, but would try to answer as many as time allowed and then I would hit him with more the next time and so on. I  told him I would be putting this in my blog and have a decent following. His ears perked up and he gave me his email to send him my posts so hello there Dr. Heller from the flip side of the hospital. He asked if I felt I was ready to go to physical therapy and I told him I already booked an appointment Saturday at NoveCare in Bala Cynwyd. Dr. Heller said he’s sure I will be their physical therapy poster child in no time. He checked my scars and said the dots will go away soon, poked at the Krueger slash and asked if it hurt and nope. The only real lingering issue is the stiffness of my right side because of the anterior incision. I am not supposed to twist my body so that may affect some modeling shoots later this year but if the photographers don’t understand, it’s their loss. And at one point, I had Dr. Heller feel my waist and say the side with the scar is so hard and the other is just a little less hard. He kind of laughed in delight and asked if that was a bad thing? I realized then I was just so used to not having a waist anymore and may be able to get some abs back again! So now to taper off the narcotics so I can (legally) drive, get my body moving again and get back to work in journalism, modeling and acting.

So off to physical therapy I went with help from my sister-in-law and niece coming to fatten me up for the weekend. And lucky me, they have a physical therapist that only works Saturdays (the only time most of my friends are available) and used to work for back surgeons. In my head, I would be on the bike, elliptical, etc. but realistically he is starting me off in the most important place – my core. Although he said walking is the best form of exercise for anyone so I will continue to do that and up and down the steps. My doctor said no twisting and my PT guy, Chip, said no bending for now too until we get my core strong again.

Since I'm still fighting with unemployment that yes, people nowadays can work from home, I have homework. It may look easy but this is some deep core pilates. His motto is the same as mine, if it hurts, don't do it. It wiped me out pretty good but so far I'm not sore and it's something I can easily do at home - just not on the floor yet because I'm not sure how I would get up again!
Since I’m still fighting with unemployment that yes, people nowadays can work from home, I have homework. It may look easy but this is some deep core pilates. His motto is the same as mine, if it hurts, don’t do it. It wiped me out for a pretty good nap but so far I’m not sore and it’s something I can easily do at home – just not on the floor yet because I’m not sure how I would get up again!

Did I mention I am now 5 foot 7 and 3/8 inches? I wrote it down as I’m surprised myself. I’m curious as I continue to straighten, if I will ever end up my intended height. Only time will tell!

So my next appointment will be in 6 more weeks and by then I should be weened off the narcotics, able to drive myself and almost back to life. It will take a full year for my new body to adjust and see where I may be nerve numb for life. But my new normal has to be better than sleeping all the time! I’ll trade pain for numbness any day.

Keep an eye out for photographer Mark Harris and I to collaborate later this month with photos we did of my back right before surgery and my new back, scars and all. Maybe now it’s time for a tattoo?

My Life in a Nutshell…