“After my stroke, I went to a lot of support groups. The survivors were older than me and talked about what they ate that day. I wanted to talk about going back to work, among other things. Those groups weren’t for me, but I needed support so I started a group for survivors under 55.”
Candace co-facilitated Different Strokes for Different Folks for six years with a friend and social worker named Janet Fleishman. Janet eventually led the caregivers group, and Candace led the survivors. She found the work so satisfying that she decided she wanted to go back to school and become a social worker.
Two years post-stroke, at age 51, she enrolled at Los Angeles Valley College, then went on to California State University in Northridge (CSUN). Returning to school brought her face-to-face with her stroke.
“I was rarin’ to go. My plan was to go to college and finish my graduate degree in four years, but I was in denial about the effects of my stroke. For instance, I couldn’t read anything that was new to me. I would read and read and read a paragraph only to find I did not know what it said. Or I’d raise my hand in class to ask a question but could not get the words out. I have expressive aphasia and my brain was holding my words hostage.”
Candace didn’t know aphasia affects what you say and read. Taking tests was really hard because of auditory perception problems. “It seemed to me that people were talking too loud and too fast. I couldn’t follow things in class. I was so anxious. Taking tests was mind-boggling. Everybody made so much noise when they handed in their tests. I couldn’t concentrate.”
Finally another disabled student suggested she take her tests in the Disabled Department. A counselor there arranged for her to take tests where it was quiet. Other accommodations were made, such as a statistics tutor — “I could barely say the name, let alone understand any of it!” She also got extra time to hand in papers because she is a one-handed typist. She graduated from CSUN with a B+ average and a degree in psychology. The California Rehabilitation Department paid for her undergraduate degree, including books and parking.
Graduate school at the University of Southern California was more challenging. USC is a private school, and only a small part of her tuition was paid. Candace took out a 30-year loan to pay for things. “I’ll be 89 when I pay it off, but that money was well spent.”
Her master’s degree in social work involved a four-year program with internships in the second and third years. “I did not know how to be a counselor, how to really listen. I came home from school many times crying and wanting to quit. I also wanted to be treated like everybody else, without any special accommodations.”
It took Candace eight years to finish school, but she was awarded her master’s degree in 2002 and began job hunting at age 59. She got turned down at the first adult health center she approached but found a second one nearby. The woman who ran that center had a son who was looking for someone with a master’s in social work at his center. He hired her as a supervising social worker at the Be Well Adult Health Care Center on the 10th anniversary of her stroke.
"I wanted to work with stroke survivors or anyone who has had their life pulled out from under them. I lead a stroke support group the participants named ‘Caliente’ because they are hot! The survivors are struggling with their strokes, just as I was and still am. Most of the participants are Russian, Hispanic and Filipino, but we’re all in the same boat. We provide a great service to them, and it makes me feel good."
“I purposely work part-time because I have many other commitments. I am on the board of the Stroke Association of California and started You Are Not Alone, a visiting program for survivors who are still in the hospital and their families. Plus I speak on stroke for the American Heart Association. I have to remember that I had a stroke and I need rest and relaxation so I don’t have another.
“I love my life right now. After my near-death experience, everything is so much more meaningful. I count my age since I had a stroke. I say, ‘I’m 11½ years old’ and act like I am because I always had a big kid in me. If I die tomorrow, don’t feel sorry for me. I am having a wonderful life!”