FIP Spotlight

Meet Mandi Foster!

For this month’s Formidably Impressive Person, I’m so happy to feature an amazing individual I have known for about ten years, Mandi Foster. I first met Mandi through friends at the Georgia Renaissance Festival, and in the time I’ve know her I’ve always seen her as someone who exudes strength and positivity – even while dealing with some really tough stuff. We’ve both reached out to one another over the years for support with chronic health conditions and the emotional fallout of life.

I am so pleased this FIP agreed to open up and share her story with us, and I hope it touches you as much as it did me.

This interview was conducted online. My questions are in bold, and Mandi’s responses are in normal script. Any additional notes I felt needed to be added post-interview are in italics.

MY INTERVIEW WITH MANDI FOSTER

Thank you so much for agreeing to share your story, Mandi! From your social media posts, I see that you and your family were able to travel over the holidays. How was that?

We spent our Christmas holiday in Medellin, Colombia. We have family there and Bettina was able to visit her mother who is in a home for Alzheimer’s patients. It was quite an experience!!

[Note: Bettina is Mandi’s closest friend, and Mandi lives with Bettina and her husband.]

I’ll bet! I’d like to get started with some pretty basic questions like… Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Huntersville, North Carolina. A little town north of Charlotte.

And what do you like to do to have fun? 

When I am able, I enjoy walking/hiking or just being outdoors. When I have no energy I usually color, the adult-themed coloring books are my go-to right now.  Just spending time with friends makes me happy as well.

I’ll admit, I have a Golden Girls coloring book I’m pretty obsessed with right now… Getting into a little more personal territory, what are your current diagnoses?

I am currently dealing with GBM4 (glioblastoma). In simpler terms, a brain tumor located near the brain stem. 

A pretty serious diagnosis, from what I understand. What was the journey like that brought you here?

I started having seizures in 2006 while I was stationed in Japan.

Just to be clear, you were in the military?

I was in the US Air Force for four years. I was a plumber in the civil engineering squadron. I absolutely loved my job. It broke my heart to be medically discharged, and I fought and appealed their decision to discharge me. I lost.

Thank you. Please continue.

After 12 months of travel and tests, they diagnosed me with a “malformation” in the brain, and I was sent to have a gamma knife procedure. This was basically a type of targeted radiation treatment. After the procedure, I lost my health insurance and wasn’t able to pay out of pocket for scans to see if it had any effect on the “malformation.” Later in 2012 (yes, I almost went 5 years without seeing a real doctor) after being misdiagnosed with adrenal gland cancer and getting a second opinion at Emory Hospital [in Atlanta, Georgia], I was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

During the treatment for that, the doctor started looking into my other health issues that included seizures, migraines, and at random times having blackouts or not knowing how I got from one place to another. After several different types of tests and scans I was diagnosed with the glioblastoma [the brain tumor near her brain stem, which many consider to be inoperable]. At the time I was off of chemotherapy for my kidney, so we began another round of another type of chemo for the brain tumor for 12 weeks. The chemo worked to shrink the tumor in 2015.

During my next scan a year later we saw that it was growing again, so we tried another round of chemo. That failed. We moved to radiation therapy, which also failed as well. The tumor continues to grow. My doctor has consulted 13 other neurosurgeons internationally, and because of the location of the tumor they have all recommended not to have surgery. I now await to see if proton therapy is an option for me. Otherwise, there are no other options.

Again, I want to thank you for opening up and sharing. I know it isn’t easy to go through and explain – after I’m sure dozens of explanations to loved ones and doctors and strangers – some of the most difficult events in your life. But I also know that there are others out there who might be comforted to know they aren’t the only ones with complicated, frustrating story. So, thank you.

Now that we have a bit more information about your health journey I want to know, what does everything you just talked about look like on a daily basis? For example, you wake up around when, maybe brush your teeth, drink some coffee? What does your “normal” day look like?

I’m not sure the last time I had a “normal” day. Depending on how or if I slept depends on when I am able to pull myself out of bed, if at all. When I do get up for the day, I start with my medications and supplements for the day. Usually a small time after that I can tell how my day is going to go and be able to tell what I will be capable of doing that day.

If you didn’t have health limitations, what would you want your normal day to be like?

I would like to hope I would still be doing the things I was doing before I became limited. I typically worked 9 to 10-hour days four days a week, running 6 to 7 miles every day to every other day, along with working at an animal shelter on my day off.

When you put it that way, I can definitely see how big a life shift this has been for you. What do you see as your biggest limitations? How do you work with them, or around them?

My biggest daily limitations are lack of energy and physical pain all over my body. Other limitations are caused by anxiety, seizures, and migraines. Green tea energy drinks help some with my energy level, and a plant-based supplement called kratom helps me with my pain level daily.

The idea behind My Sudden Sight is that through all the frustration and limitations of living with chronic illness, there can be wisdom and understanding in our experiences unlike what other people have in their lives. For me, my recent “sudden sight” has been the acknowledgement of a fantastic network of people who love me and want to be there for me – as well as my ability to finally ask for help!

What has been one of your biggest “sudden sights” throughout your experiences?  

Patience! Patience with myself, my condition, my limitations, and also patience with other people and their education and acceptance of what I am able and not able to do. I have come to a place where I feel this has happened to me for someone to be able to learn something. It may be me, it may be someone else, it may be many people. If someone can learn from my experience and it can help improve someone else’s life in the future, then it’s worth it. 

Okay, one last question – hopefully a fun one! What is your favorite way of practicing self-care?

I have found that cooking is a stress therapy for me. I cook for my family, and when I am able I cook dinner for friends who I know are very busy so that it is one less thing they have to do. Cleaning is a self-care to make me feel like I am at least contributing a little to the household. Anytime I am able to be outdoors helps me mentally and physically.

A FEW WORDS FROM A.C.

Before this interview, I actually knew very little about Mandi’s story and her life before illness. I am incredibly grateful for her strength in sharing her journey and for just how incredible she is as a person. Mandi, to me, truly embodies the concept that we are not our illnesses – even though a lot of us feel that way sometimes. In talking with Mandi, you see this vibrant, whole person who just happens to have health issues. There is so much we can learn from that. I think the quote Mandi includes in her email signature says quite a lot about exactly who she is as a person:

“I shall take the heart. For brains do not make one happy, and happiness is the best thing in the world.”

Frank L. Baum

Mandi has brought the world so much happiness through her interactions with friends, her time as a medical professional, and even playing various street characters at the Carolina and Georgia Renaissance Festivals (my favorite was always her court jester!) Thank you for sharing with us, Mandi! May we all come away from reading this will a little more patience.

XO, A.C.

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