How Heather Went from Survival to Pioneer for Change
When Heather Hancock was born more than three months prematurely – at 25 weeks gestation – doctors warned she would struggle to survive the first 24 hours of life.
But Heather defied the odds. After three months in an incubator, the tiny baby was well enough to be taken home. That was the first day her mother, Edna, was allowed to pick up her baby and hug her.
As a toddler growing up in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Heather was slow to crawl and meet her physical development milestones. Meanwhile, her younger brother, Colin, born 13 months after her, was advancing rapidly.
Her family faced a fight to enroll her at the local school.
“Back then, disabled children were shunted away to special schools out of the public eye,” she says. “I was integrated into the public school system, which was great for my education but not good for my social life. Kids did not accept me very well, and neither did their parents, so I endured incessant bullying from kindergarten through to grade 12.”
The bullying took its toll on Heather. By the age of 14, she was having suicidal thoughts but fought through them, crediting her faith for continually bringing her comfort and purpose during dark times.
As an adult, Heather was keen to pursue a career as a registered nurse but faced more hurdles. Halfway through her training program, she began to experience pain in her knees. Being on her feet for hours on end and the job’s physical nature was too much for her. Mustering her characteristic grit, Heather went back to college to get an office administration certificate. She was determined to work in healthcare and took up a position as a unit clerk in an outpatient clinic.
However, after a 22-year career, Heather began to experience painful lower back spasms. The pain made it impossible for her to walk for several hours each day, and she took medical retirement at 44.
“It seemed like nobody could tell me what was going on,” she recalls of that time. “In Canada, there is no doctor that specializes in adults with cerebral palsy. It feels like you are just cut loose when you are 18 and told to “have a good life!”
Although she underwent rehabilitation and saw physiatrists who work with spasticity and stroke patients, she noticed a stark difference from the care she’d received as a child.
“It can get harder to find a team of doctors as you get older,” she explains. “Today children with cerebral palsy are sometimes treated by a multidisciplinary healthcare team. It would be great if adults had the same access to help, equipment, and physical therapy. Finding the right team of doctors is crucial so that everyone can put their heads together and come up with a plan.”
Professionally, Heather pivoted to other talents. She forged a new career as a professional coach providing inner healing for women suffering from trauma and abuse. Then, in March 2019, Heather began working as a contributing writer penning fiction and poetry for CoffeeHouseWriters.com. She became an editor in June 2020. Working to her own schedule helps manage her pain.
“When you are your own boss you can schedule things for times that work better for you,” says Heather, who now writes from home in Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, Canada.
Meanwhile, Heather continues to advocate for the Cerebral Palsy community. She relentlessly contributes to research and discussions on the CP Research Network’s MyCP community forum to ensure that the “absence of knowledge and care for the adult CP community” is addressed. She is also pushing for change with her local cerebral palsy association in Saskatchewan and national and international groups.
“I’ve been a pioneer since I was old enough to walk,” she smiles. “I may not see the benefit in my lifetime, but the younger generations will.”
Thank you Heather for sharing your inspiring story!