Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Boy, Was I Ever Wrong - Monica.

By Monica Vest Wheeler

When I decided in 2008 to write a book on coping with stroke, several people told me I HAD to talk to some gal named Marylee Nunley. I had no idea who she was.

When Retreat & Refresh Stroke Camp executive director Marylee Nunley answered her phone in April 2008, she had no idea who I was. I identified myself as also being from Peoria and the author of a new book on coping with Alzheimer’s and co-author of an earlier volume on cancer. Now I wanted to write about stroke. Oh, and I wrote Peoria history books.

When I showed up at her house a week or so later, I immediately noticed a photo on the entryway wall. Marylee and I had a connection … other than both being short in stature. We had been honored in 2005 at a local event that recognized 25 women in leadership and were in the group photo. And on the magazine cover, my photo was below hers in the block of mini images. But we hadn’t actually met.

As we sat at her dining room table, I explained that I was focusing on brain-related topics for my book series, “Help Me Cope & Survive!” After working on the Alzheimer’s book for three years, I felt this “calling” to work on brain injuries, illnesses and diseases because brain topics often make people uneasy. Many equate any “abnormal” behavior to mental illness and shy away from people acting or speaking strangely. I had learned so much while working on the Alzheimer’s book that I wanted to address stroke, brain injuries, and brain tumors-brain cancer, all together in the next volume.

Marylee taught me more that day about stroke than I would have ever discovered in a typical classroom. Nope, I knew immediately that stroke had to be its own volume, as did the other topics. Her husband, John, had had a stroke in September 2001, and she was his caregiver. Marylee’s family knew more about stroke than 99.9 percent of the population as her brother’s wife, Meme, had had a stroke just two months earlier in February 2008.

After she briefly educated me on stroke, I asked her about this “stroke camp” I had heard about and why a number of folks had recommended I talk to her. With the enthusiasm of a mother talking about her newborn, Marylee told me about camp, a weekend experience for stroke survivors and their immediate caregivers. Hmm, I wasn’t the camping kind, but I’d love to talk to those who came to camp. I asked if I could attend for the day.

She said I could come as a volunteer at the first camp of the season in early June about 50 minutes from Peoria in Lewistown and talk to campers. Yeah, I had heard of Lewistown, but not this Living Springs campgrounds she talked about. Volunteer? Sure, why not. I had experience working with folks in my service organization. I filled out the form.

After thanking Marylee for her assistance, I headed home and put that date on my calendar. Sure, I could give up some time in June to get a bunch of interviews. Then I’d keep moving on with my research.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

To be continued …


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