By P.J. Harmer — Rattling Chains staff
Life’s good for Denise Cameron.
The key word in that sentence? Life.
The 28-year-old resident of Syracuse, New York, is living life the way she wants. She’s less than a year from getting her college degree. There’s an awesome internship set up for the summer.
Then there’s disc golf. Oh, is there disc golf. She’s coming off one of the best seasons she’s ever had. And, heck, just to throw things into another orbit, she’s even dating 2010 PDGA world champion Eric McCabe.
Life’s grand, it seems, for Cameron.
But if not for things working out in a crazy way, all of this may never have happened.
See, on Feb. 4, 2012, two days after her 27th birthday, Cameron suffered a brain aneurysm. And if not for everything lining up just right, the situation may have not worked out so well for her.
Despite being young and active, this health issue ran in her family. Her mother died at 51 from a massive aneurysm.
Active in the Central New York disc golf scene, Cameron said she started playing in 2004 or 2005, when she still lived in Florida. She moved to New York in 2008 and continued playing.
Central New York, specifically the Syracuse area, is a pretty solid area to play the game. With plenty of courses and a lot of people, it’s rare to not find somebody playing.
“It was a fun thing to go into the woods and throw discs,” Cameron said.
Cameron had been having headaches for a while. They weren’t normal headaches, though. They bordered on migraines, she said. Alas, she didn’t think it was too serious.
Then came Feb. 4, 2012.
She had played a round of disc golf that day and had come home. She started winding down and took a shower.
Something was off, though.
“I got out and felt really dizzy,” she said. “The headache got worse. I felt like I was having a dizzy spell.”
So, she laid down on the floor. But it wouldn’t pass. Luckily, she wasn’t home alone. Her brother, Todd Beishline, was also home. So Cameron started pounding on the floor of the bathroom. Her brother quickly came up to see what was going on, she said.
“I realized whatever was wrong, it wasn’t going to pass,” Cameron said. “I never thought in a million years it was what it was.”
Cameron’s brother-in-law is a doctor, so a call was quickly placed. After describing the symptoms, which now included being nauseous and having numbness in her right leg, one decision was quickly made.
“I think I remember it more as a hassle,” she said. “I was more annoyed that I had to go to the hospital. I had no idea how severe it was going to be.”
At the hospital, Cameron said she was in and out of consciousness. She had no concept of time and only remembers bits and pieces. She said she remembers the ambulance coming, and other details are fuzzy.
But with family around, including her brother and sister, Wendy Cardvello, the history was known. Her sister acted as an advocate and explained things. A neurosurgeon said it was an aneurysm and they had to go in and fix it.
“I remember having a split thought and wanted to ask what my chances were or what they were going to do,” Cameron said. “But at that point, I had to go with it and they had to do what they had to do.”
Cameron had a subarachnoid hemorrhage, which, according to Cedars-Sinai, is sudden bleeding between the brain and the membranes that cover it. Brain cells where the bleeding occurs can be killed off and the bleeding can also raise the pressure in the brain to dangerous levels.
Looking over the symptoms, Cameron had several. Knowing the family history, she was soon being scanned and the diagnosis was determined.
The thing is, statistics weren’t necessarily on her side.
Cedars-Sinai’s website shows that about a third of those who have a subarachnoid hemorrhage die during the hemorrhage because of extensive brain damage. If not treated correctly, 20 to 30 percent could have a second bleed within a month. But, those who survive three months have about a three percent chance each year of having another episode.
“I was lucky,” she said. “It was in a location where they could access it.”
Cameron said they put two stents and seven coils in her brain.
“It was amazing,” she said. “There was so much luck and it came together.”
How lucky was she?
Originally, Cameron was scheduled to be hiking in Letchworth State Park, which is about 35 miles from Rochester. She backed out of that trip because she had to study.
“Imagine if it happened there and I was with only one friend?” she said.
It’s a safe bet that those close to Cameron would rather not think about that scenario.
Cameron spent two weeks in the neurological unit at University Hospital in Syracuse. She said they weren’t worried so much about the aneurysm, rather any possible bleeding.
Basically, she said, her brain had to reabsorb the blood. That blood, she said, could have caused a stroke. The first two weeks are the most dangerous, so she said they wanted to keep watch.
A few days before leaving, they allowed her to walk around a bit more. She took a stair test.
“It was scary, but at the same time, I knew I was well taken care of,” she said. “I feel like it was more scary for my family. I just kind of went with it.”
Then she was sent home.
“Going home is where I was scared,” Cameron said. “They teach you all the signs of stroke and how you feel. … I was paranoid at times. It was hard because I wanted to be cautious.”
Cameron said she always tried to enjoy life, but this episode has really pushed that thought process.
“I got a reminder that life is short,” she said. “I know it’s cliche, but you should enjoy things. It made me happy knowing I was enjoying life.”
Back to disc golf
One of the questions she asked when this happened was about disc golf.
“My only restriction is no sports where I can get hit in the head,” she said.
With that in mind, she noted whenever she hears someone yelling “fore!” or anything like that, she covers up as a precaution.
It didn’t take her long to get on the course, either. She was playing two months after this all happened.
But, as one can imagine, the costs of a situation like this can add up. Her local community was extremely active in trying to help Cameron throughout.
That group, one which Cameron said was her second family well before this occurred, stepped up in a big way — so big that Cameron said she never could have been prepared for it.
“It was amazing they did all of this,” she said. “Part of it was awkward and uncomfortable because that’s not me. I’ll never be able to express how thankful I am for what they did.”
Cameron has always tried to be active in the local community, attending leagues and helping out at tournaments where she could. This past winter, she co-ran the indoor putting league.
Cameron has kept an upbeat attitude throughout. Because she has a slightly higher chance than others that this will reoccur, she said she’s become a little more cautious.
But life is pretty good for Cameron.
In December, she’ll graduate from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) with a bachelor’s degree in Wildlife Sciences. She’s playing disc golf and said she’s excited for what’s in store for her in the future.
Still, she said she realizes she’s lucky how everything seemed to line up and work out.
“There are so many small coincidences that led up to it,” she said. “It’s pretty crazy. It’s amazing to see how it could have gone in a different way.”
P.J. Harmer is the founder and executive editor for Rattling Chains. E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.