From Childhood Curve to Adult Triumph: Sheryl’s Scoliosis Journey 

Rita Roy: Hi, everyone. My name is Dr. Rita Roy, CEO at the National Spine Health Foundation, and I’m your host for the Get Back to It podcast, where we tell real stories of healing and recovery. What does it mean to get back to it? It means overcoming spine problems through treatments that work in order to return to the people and activities you love.
Whatever that looks like for you, it means getting back to your life. We’re here to share the success stories of those who did just that, and some of these stories you are not going to believe.
At the Get Back to It podcast, our goal is to tell stories of spinal champions who’ve been able to achieve a better quality of life through spinal health care. In today’s episode, I’m delighted to be speaking with Cheryl Miller, a spinal champion whose journey began when she was diagnosed with scoliosis in the eighth grade after a fall in gym class.
Since her surgery in 2022, at 64 years of age, and following the death of her husband immediately prior, Cheryl has gotten her life back, doing activities of daily living without difficulty, enjoying her grandchildren, and even helping her daughter renovate homes. Today, we’ll talk about her journey back to a life she enjoys.
Now that you know what to expect, let’s get back to it and dive right into Cheryl’s story.
Sheryl Miller: My journey started in eighth grade when I was sent to the nurse’s office after falling off a horse in gym class. She saw my back and immediately told me I had scoliosis when she pulled back my long hair that was close to my waist and, and looked at my back and said, you need to go to an orthopedic doctor.
watching it for six months.
Rita Roy: Cheryl remembers seeing the x ray from the doctor and thinking how horrible it looked. Three months after her visit with an orthopedic doctor, she returned complaining of pain. She was then sent to a scoliosis doctor in Manhattan.
Sheryl Miller: Surgery was an option for me back then, but it would have meant a year out of high school and a full body cast infusing the whole spine.
So instead, my family and I agreed it was better if I wore a Milwaukee brace throughout high school. But we didn’t understand what that meant. Being thin, the brace rubbed my hip bones so badly, they bled. Once the brace was off, I felt so much better, even though I had a 56 degree curve as a teenager.
Rita Roy: Many years later, and after having two children, Cheryl’s curve advanced to 70 degrees from that 56 degrees as a teenager.
Sheryl Miller: Throughout my adult life, I often sought the advice of many spine specialists. But then 11 years ago, my husband came down with stage 4 lung cancer that spread to the brain and spine. He could no longer walk or move. He became very overweight, wheelchair bound, and often fell. Trying to move him over the 10 years really affected my spine and my curve progressed.
to about 100 degrees and I was in tremendous pain.
Rita Roy: Cheryl tried many non invasive treatments like intense traction, Schroth PT, pain injections and much more. Between her extremely sick husband, intense pain and concern over what her future would be like post surgery, she was overwhelmed and apprehensive.
Sheryl Miller: I was 64 years old and my health was changing. On top of that, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure. Pressure and osteopenia. I knew my spine would not hold up for much longer. The ribs and pelvis were so close and I was told once they touch, I wouldn’t be able to get through the day without constant agony.
I knew I was running out of time.
Rita Roy: Cheryl knew she needed help. She knew she needed to find a spine specialist who was experienced in the proper procedure necessary to correct her spine. Fortunately, she found Dr. Lenke, a highly specialized spine surgeon. Located in Manhattan, close to where she lived.
Sheryl Miller: Once I read Dr.
Lenke’s website, I realized he specialized in complicated cases like mine. And believe me, I would have gone anywhere for a great doctor. From the moment I met Dr. Lenke, I knew he was the doctor for me. From his wealth of knowledge, explanations of the surgical procedure, and most importantly, that he would make a 3D model of my spine, that he would study a month before the surgery.
Knowing he was going to those lengths and still confidence that Dr. Lenke would be the most prepared physician I could find.
Rita Roy: While Cheryl had been in denial for years, she ultimately realized based on her age and complications like osteopenia and high blood pressure, she knew her situation would worsen if she waited much longer.
She was running out of time. So she scheduled her surgery with Dr. Lenke, which was monumental for her.
Sheryl Miller: The surgery itself was an arduous undertaking, and Dr. Linke approached it with incredible skill and precision. It was a nine hour surgery, with rods and screws in every vertebrae. Other doctors wanted to do multiple surgeries, but believe me, one surgery was enough.
I am truly amazed. That the exceptional results Dr. Linky achieved considering the complexity and severity of my condition,
Rita Roy: Dr. Linky performed a successful posterior spinal fusion from T two to the sacrum. From the physical transformation in her body to the overall improvement in her quality of life, the results are beyond what she could have imagined.
Sheryl Miller: Everyone I met has horror stories about someone they knew that had a much smaller spine surgery and not doing as well as. I am. I have more mobility than I ever expected. I live independently and I’m thrilled every day at how well I’m
Rita Roy: doing.
Wow. Cheryl, your story is incredible for so many reasons. Gosh. Um, you, you know, you had a severe and complicated case. You basically could hardly do anything in terms of daily living activities. Many people would have given up the battle, but you persisted. I’m Cheryl, I’m so interested in learning more about what motivated you to keep persevering and to find solutions to find a surgeon who could help you.
Sheryl Miller: Well, Rita, I’m extremely persistent by nature, which is probably what kept my husband alive for almost a decade longer than expected. But as a mom, I tend to put myself last. But I was in so much pain that I couldn’t function any longer. My whole body felt like it was in electric shock. From the moment I got up, I had trouble with everything.
I could barely brush my teeth, nevermind work and take care of my husband. The pain shots weren’t helping. I knew I was in trouble and needed surgery. I knew I was out of time and had to find a solution immediately. Cheryl,
Rita Roy: how long did that go on in that, in that way? Was that pretty much for that 10 year duration that your husband was sick?
Sheryl Miller: You know, Rita, it was more of the last couple of years. My husband got very heavy, he couldn’t stand, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t dress himself, he could barely feed himself most days. He couldn’t shower, he couldn’t do anything. Many days he couldn’t even communicate. I tried to stay focused on the task with my husband, and not dwell or get upset, which got me through the days and had good results for him.
It was overwhelming for both of us, but I have to tell you, part of what helped me to do all of it was that my husband had the best attitude I have ever seen. Oh,
Rita Roy: that’s wonderful.
Sheryl Miller: He was so sick, yet he was so positive. Every day that he could talk, you would ask, how are you? And he would always say, I am great.
He handled it all, no matter how difficult, with amazing grace, he was inspirational. So I need to carry that forward and help other patients, which is what my husband was trying to do before he got sick. I’m currently hard at work setting up a non profit as we speak.
Rita Roy: Cheryl, that, that is amazing. This is such a beautiful story.
Um, gosh, I’m, I’m, I’m so taken. I’m, I’m looking at you as we’re recording this and I see on the screen here a beautiful, healthy, gorgeous, fit, happy woman looking, smiling back at me and I can hardly believe what you’ve been through. I really just, um, I’m just, gosh, I have goosebumps thinking about it. You know, your, your story is, is It’s so, uh, it’s a long story starting from being a little girl and dealing with the brace embraces have come a long way since then.
Um, you know, the, the, the days of full body cast our ancient history, uh, as, as you’ve seen now and, and your entire life, you’ve kind of dealt with a spine. challenge in a, in a spine journey, were there moments in the, in the middle part of your life when you were raising kids that your spine pain would flare up or did you sort of coast along with that 56 degree curve for a while?
Sheryl Miller: I’d often have intermittent pain, but I was able to deal with it. And I was worried about raising a family and having the risk be, be greater. So I, I kept putting it off until, until my husband got sick and then it was too late. Yeah. I had to
Rita Roy: take care of him. Yeah. And so do you, do you feel that in the time that you were caring for him, that the sort of wear and tear, the physical nature of caring for your husband was really what kind of set the degenerative processes into place that made the curve accelerate in terms of it getting worse?
Sheryl Miller: Absolutely. There’s no question. There was a three week time period where he kept falling and I’m pretty stubborn and I didn’t have a Hoyer lift back then and I was trying to lift him up by myself and my spine actually went out another fifteen degrees in that three week period. Oh my gosh. Gravity, age, and constantly yanking on him every which way and you know you turn around and a couple years later it’s a hundred degrees and you’re in
Rita Roy: agony.
Wow. And the osteopenia, that’s such an important part of your story. Bone health as it relates to the spine is, is a really, really important aspect that’s often misunderstood or not well, you know, known by most people. Um, do you, did you have the osteopenia during that time as well, do you think?
Sheryl Miller: Everything came on in the last 10 years while he was ill, but I knew enough that if it got to be full osteoporosis, then I’d really have a problem doing spine surgery. Yeah. And the osteopenia kept getting worse. And on top of that, because of the pain, I think the blood pressure, I always had low blood pressure and the blood pressure started spiking up.
And I knew if I’ve got a heart problem and I’ve got a, you know, bone problem, nobody’s going to operate. And the light bulb went off plus the pain pushed it over the edge. And I said, I have to do something.
Rita Roy: Yeah. Cheryl, I’m curious. Physically, what did you look like during that time? Were you, were you bent over?
Were you, did you have a hard time? I mean, I’m looking at someone who’s sitting with absolutely perfect posture and it’s like making me want to sit up better as we’re chatting here. What did, what did you physically look like during that, those years?
Sheryl Miller: My daughter took a picture of me the day before the surgery, which I still have.
From the front, I didn’t feel I looked so bad, but I couldn’t see it from the back. And, um, looking at pictures and looking how it changed and clothes started fitting so differently. And there’s no question, I look like one of those hunchback people, you know, you see. And you wonder what’s wrong and everything became difficult.
I became extremely weak. I had trouble opening the orange juice to be Frank. Oh
Rita Roy: my gosh. It’s so hard, really, really hard. And, and so your, your body’s going through this and you’re caring for your husband. I mean, this is just, um, it’s such an inspiring story to, to hear what you’ve been through and that you persisted and that you did not give up on yourself.
And, and even through the, you know, the loss and the, and the grieving of, of losing your husband and going through all of that, you’ve, you know, that persistence got you through to where you wanted to find solutions for yourself. You’ve got grandchildren, right? And you’ve got two daughters and there’s still a life to live, right?
Sheryl Miller: Absolutely. We’ve been, eight months post surgery, we took a family vacation to Disneyland, and it was wonderful. We were at a resort, we played miniature golf, I even picked up the ball. They were all worried that at Disney that I wouldn’t be able to walk and keep up. I had no problem, we were just really impressed.
Rita Roy: That is awesome. That is awesome. And I bet the grandkids love it too. Right. Um, how old are your grandkids, Cheryl?
Sheryl Miller: I have a three and a half year old and a seven month old. Oh,
Rita Roy: so fun. So, so, so much fun. So during the time that you were. Um, looking for solutions to, to find, um, Dr. Lenke. What was that? Can you talk to us a little bit about what that journey was like?
Did you interview, um, numerous doctors or how did you, um, you know, how did you arrive finally at finding Dr. Lenke and deciding that he was the right one for you? We talked about the things that he talked about with you preoperatively that made you feel comfortable in that decision, but were there other doctors that you had seen or did you get other opinions?
Sheryl Miller: I got many opinions and I said I’m very persistent and regularly I would make appointments and meet doctors and in my own mind say, is he the doctor for me? And based on how they would answer my questions, I kept ruling them out and I never felt comfortable. taking the risk on surgery. And even when I was at the very end in tremendous pain, I went to see a number of doctors, but Dr.
Lenke really made a tremendous difference in how he communicated. And the most important thing to me, and one of my greatest pieces of advice, is that. I find I always talk to patients in the waiting room. I learned that from Jillian, my husband. Interesting. And that is one of the biggest pieces of advice I can give people, is you’re always wondering how it’s going to go.
Why did I feel comfortable in the waiting room at Dr. Lenke’s office? I saw several people with similar conditions, they’re also on the website, and I knew that he had dealt with very complicated cases like mine, and I was able to confirm it, speak with them, trade phone numbers, oh my goodness, everybody laughs at me, but that’s the best advice I can give patients.
Don’t read a magazine, don’t spiral down, talk to other people, talk to other patients.
Rita Roy: Cheryl, that is such great advice and honestly, that’s what we are all about here at the National Spine Health Foundation and our Spinal Champion community is creating a place where people can go to listen to the real stories from others.
And, you know, in doing this, we, we, we intend to give hope. to others, that you can hear real stories and, and learn from other people. And we even have an advocate program. So if somebody wants to actually connect with somebody who’s been through spinal health care, they can talk to somebody, they can, they can have an exchange and, and talk to other peoples.
You know, we say a hundred million people in the United States suffer from a spine condition, but yet when you are diagnosed, you know, You feel alone. You feel confused. You feel isolated. You don’t know where to turn for help. And that’s where we want to be as a source of help and hope and knowledge for people who get a diagnosis and they just don’t know what to do.
You know, we work so hard to make sure that our content is. Truthful. It’s vetted by the experts. Dr. Linke is on our, on our board. So, you know, contributes to the content development and it’s unbiased so that we’re not selling anything. We’re not promoting products. We’re just giving information and education so that people can make informed choices, but also.
Gain hope to know that there are solutions out there, that they can live a full and active life and make it through Disney World with their grandchildren, if that’s what they choose to do, like you did. It’s amazing.
Sheryl Miller: Absolutely. And I totally agree with what you’re saying that staying positive is absolutely key.
Doing the research, talking to patients, all of the resources you’re providing, I wasn’t aware of back then. And if I had known I would have been on the phone with all of them, but if anybody wants to talk to me anytime I am available, I find this is the best way to learn, but everybody has to do their own research and that that it for themselves, they have to be comfortable with their
Rita Roy: choices.
That’s such good advice, Cheryl. And you know, a lot of times people don’t know where to go to get that information. So we are just pushing really hard to get our name out there so that people can find the National Spine Health Foundation at SpineHealth. org, they can find our podcast, they can find patients to talk to.
And we rely on people like you to, to, to volunteer your time and share your stories and be willing to, to be an advocate to others. I’m just so appreciative, I’m so appreciative for your time and, and, um, and your willingness to share with us. It just, it’s awesome. I, I do want to tell our listeners that you can see Cheryl’s, um, x ray pictures, which are just incredible to look at, the sort of before and after, uh, pictures.
And those are available on our website. Cheryl was featured in the last edition of our Spine Health Journal, and you can search for Cheryl Miller’s story on our website. And, and. Take a look at at those images. It is just amazing. Cheryl, how do you feel when you look at those pictures?
Sheryl Miller: I carry those pictures on my phone and I show them to anybody who wants to see.
Um, I’ve showed them to everyone I work with. And let me tell you, going back into the office after surgery, and of course COVID where people hadn’t seen each other for a while, and everybody said to me, you look amazing. I’ve grown two inches in the torso. Wow. As you said, I’ve got now perfect posture. And it just feels like I have a second chance to live a wonderful rest of my life.
Rita Roy: Cheryl, that’s bringing tears to my eyes. That’s amazing. That’s wonderful. Yeah. I, you know, I, I have not as much metal as you have in my body, but when I, whenever I get to the airport and I have to go into the special scanner, you know, I feel like the bionic woman. I feel like I got my life back. And you really do feel empowered, uh, to be able to reclaim your life.
and do the things that you love doing. And, and that’s, that’s amazing that you’re doing that. So Cheryl, any, any other advice or, uh, words of wisdom that you can give to people? I think
Sheryl Miller: the biggest thing people have is fear and that’s what prevents them from moving ahead and seeing my pictures. And, you know, I’m happy to show more pictures, but, um, to see the difference in the transformation and even the x ray pictures of what it looked like right before.
I don’t know if you saw my before and after x ray. I did. I looked like a spiral staircase but you know all of this. Comes together and what a transformation, you know, people are telling me how great I look and I feel so thrilled at how I’m able to move and do everything and, um, and be independent. It’s, it’s wonderful.
Rita Roy: Yeah, the movement is so critical to how we live, right? And it just being disabled is, it’s the worst thing that can happen to you. So being able to move, being able to walk, exercise, uh, do the things that you are doing. It’s critical to our vitality and our longevity. I mean, it’s just absolutely critical.
And it shows. And then the, you know, the unintended consequence of that is that you look great, yeah. One of the things that’s astounding about your case is that pretty much your entire back is fused, right? And from the top of your mid back, your thoracic spine, all the way down through your lumbar spine to your hips.
You know, when you were a little girl, having a surgery like that would have required A full body cast and being in bed for months, probably, right? Yes. When you had your surgery with Dr. Lenke, how soon after your surgery were you walking? I
Sheryl Miller: was walking the second day, the day I got out of intensive care. I started PT in the hospital, physical therapy in the hospital, and I did physical therapy for nine full months.
I kept going and finding all different, you know, physical therapy providers, chiropractors, anyone who could help me, looking to constantly make sure I left no stone unturned to get the best results that I could. And I think that made a tremendous difference. I’m pretty active. I recently moved and we all know how, um, daunting a move is, packing boxes, carrying boxes.
I moved to a place with stairs. I’m going up and down and I feel like I can do anything. I really do. I feel so
Rita Roy: lucky. That is amazing. Well, that recovery period is, um, is just remarkable. I mean, it’s just, it’s just absolutely a miracle. I mean, we talk about the miracles of modern spinal health care, um, to be able to go from a scenario where you have this major surgery, massive major surgery, and two days later, you’re walking.
Walking around, you’re doing physical therapy. It’s, it’s incredible. It’s really, truly a miracle. And, and that’s what, you know, again, that’s part, part of our mission here is to let people know that, you know, you can have these big procedures and um, Recover and, um, the recovery happens right away and you’re, you’re moving.
You’re not on the sidelines of life even during the recovery. So the recovery is you’re back, you’re back in your home and you’re going to physical therapy and you’re, you’re doing all of that. Did you, did you need extra help at home after your surgery? What? What was that like for you?
Sheryl Miller: So, because I lived alone, my husband had passed, Dr.
Linke required that I have someone move in for a month, which I did. And I have to tell you, I couldn’t wait for that to be done. It drove me crazy to be so dependent, but I, I needed it. But you know, I was working from in the hospital. Hospital. I brought my laptop and don’t tell them in the hospital , but I got outta bed myself and I went and got it outta the cabinet , and I was closing contracts and making phone calls right from that bed and, and doing business.
So That’s amazing. I didn’t miss a beat, you know, like maybe two days, but, um, gosh. I just felt so lucky. Um, I think some of it was my husband from above was watching over. Dr. Linke would come in every day and say, tell us about the pain. And I said, I’m not in tremendous pain. He’s like, this is shocking. You know, these pain pills to push that pump, do whatever.
Yeah. And I was really, really fine. So there was a lot going on mentally and physically and emotionally, and we got through it all together. And the whole. team, Dr. Linke’s team, the hospital, everybody was wonderful. But I am going to give you one last piece of advice for your listeners. And that is don’t sit around worrying or complaining.
Use the energy to research and find solutions. It’s way better spent than spiraling down.
Rita Roy: Well said, Cheryl. Well said. Really nice. Cheryl, are you being treated for your
Sheryl Miller: Osteopenia? Yes, I take Prolia once every six months. Prolia injection. And I gotta tell you, it’s daunting to have insurance, um, approve it.
And I am like a maniac with that, because I don’t want to miss anything, especially with everything I’ve gotten like that. Right. I don’t want those bones and the screws and all of that loosening up or anything, you know? Yeah.
Rita Roy: Well, you know, can we just maybe talk a little bit about your bone health? We are doing a lot of work on bone health education and awareness in the foundation And so when you were diagnosed with your osteopenia, it was was it Did Dr.
Linke diagnose that for you, or did you have that diagnosis before you met him?
Sheryl Miller: Yeah, it was locally, um, because of my scoliosis, my primary care sent me for a DEXA, you know, a bone density scan, and then, um, When we saw the numbers, um, he said, you know, it’s not so bad. And then I waited a little bit. And then another doctor said, I would treat this.
So then I started again. I’m like a really good researcher. And, um, for that, I wanted to go locally for the spine surgery. I would have gone anywhere. My husband, I would have gone anywhere. We live in New Jersey and my husband was on for clinical trials. And we, we started, we were all over including Most of our treatments were in Boston, so we were driving every three weeks, or I was driving, and I’m a terrible driver.
His worst nightmare was being so sick that he couldn’t drive and I had to drive him. He said, with was horrified. Anyway, we were doing it every three weeks, and, uh, that was daunting. And yet, you know, all of it was daunting, but you do what you have to do. Right. What it is, but, um, for the back to the bone density, once I started, I knew I wanted to keep up with it and it’s, I feel that it’s really helped, you know, I try to take some extra supplements as well and, um, and try to stay active.
Rita Roy: And Cheryl, when you met Dr. Lenke for your surgery, was there anything in particular that you needed to do for your bone health to prepare for surgery?
Sheryl Miller: You know, on his website, I saw that he’d be, and he’s very frank, which is refreshing, right? Yes. I’ve heard he’s told other patients, like, you need hip surgery or knee surgery before I’ll take you on, and he didn’t.
I was fortunate that he said, we need to do this and do it soon. Yeah. That, that doing the 3D model of the spine. I mean, other people go in and open you up and then they’re first going, well, what do we do now? He had a month for his subconscious to say, when I go in, this is what I’m doing. No, let’s try this.
Try that. You know, it really makes a difference. I interviewed so many physicians and I would drill them, you know, what’s your plan here? How many surgeries, what are we doing? What’s the recovery? Um, how are you going to make sure I didn’t want to be too tall? My husband had hygiene issues and I did not want that.
And when I was in Dr. Lincoln’s office, seven people were staring at me as I said, okay, people, well, let’s talk about what this is going to be like. I don’t want any issues. And they assured me. And part of it is not making me too much taller so that, you know, my arms are right where they needed to be. And they assured me that would be the case, which it was.
So. Having known some of what could have been like, even recently I went to a hand surgeon and of course I whip out that phone, show my picture, and he says to me, I can’t believe you did this. I can’t believe the doctor did it. He said, you know, you could have been paralyzed. I said, We all didn’t know how this was going to go, but I knew I had to do it and I trusted Dr.
Linke. I felt really confident and look at it, you know?
Rita Roy: Yeah. Amazing. So, so your bone health is, is good and your bones are strong and they, sounds like you had, um, you were on. Your treatment before getting, uh, to surgery. And so I’m sure Dr. Linke talked with you about bone health and that how important that is.
He’s going to put all that hardware in there. It needs to, you know, they, they don’t want to drill into plywood. They want to drill into Oak and they want it to stay Oak, uh, so that all that stuff can, can, uh, can stay in there. Right.
Sheryl Miller: Absolutely. Absolutely.
Rita Roy: Yeah. Yeah. Great. Well, Cheryl, uh, this is, this has been so wonderful.
Thank you so
Sheryl Miller: much. Anytime. I’m happy to be an advocate, happy to be, you know, any sort of, if you want to, um, connect me with any patients, do anything, I’d be happy to do so anytime.
Rita Roy: That, that is awesome, Cheryl. Um, oh, Cheryl, you said you were working on a, a nonprofit. Would you like to share a little bit
Sheryl Miller: about that?
Sure. Um, my husband really wanted to give back. Our whole community really supported him and he wanted to give back and he was trying, he was, he was a computer, And software engineer and he was trying to write computer programs and unfortunately after having whole brain radiation, which is similar to a lobotomy when he couldn’t think clearly, he, um, he couldn’t finish that.
So while I’m not a computer engineer and a software architect, we’re taking it in a slightly different direction, but we’ve created a nonprofit that We’re in the final stages of setting up called Patients for Patients. And the goal is to help people understand that they need to find the best doctor for them, the proper diagnosis, and that they need to find the best doctor and the best treatment.
And we want to help them travel as we were able to do wherever that is in the United States, so they can get the best treatment and confirm the diagnosis. And we’re hard at work to do that. We know people need that. They need the financial and support resources to do that. So you’ll be hearing from us.
I’m sure.
Rita Roy: Great. And, you know, I think Cheryl, that’s, that’s the message there is so important that you need to spend the time upfront. to find the right doctor and the right treatment for you. And, uh, don’t be afraid to get multiple opinions. First of all, any good doctor out there will never be offended that you want to get another opinion.
In fact, that doctor should applaud that. Um, so I think sometimes people are afraid they’re going to offend their doctor if they say, I want to get another opinion. That’s not the case. All of our doctors on our board tell us. Get a second opinion. Make sure you know, you know, you feel good about what you’re doing and you’ve confirmed it in your mind.
So don’t, don’t feel like you have to just talk to one doctor and that’s true in any field in medicine, right? Whatever your treatment is and we’re talking today about spine. Certainly spine surgeons recommend getting, Multiple opinions and within specialties, there are sub specialties. So within spine, there are doctors who specialize in deformity surgery, which is what you had.
There are doctors who specialize in disc replacement surgery. There are doctors who are doing mostly fusion. So depending on what you need for your body, you. Want to find the doctor who does that kind of surgery the most often so that’s a little bit of an education that you have to own for yourself and take yourself on that educational journey and it takes time and a lot of times we just want to get the job done.
The answer and get it done and get this, get this thing over with. And I, I even understand what that’s like, cause I’ve lived through that as well. But, but it, it is worth the time upfront so that you get the result that you want and you don’t have to waste the time at the end chasing, maybe not the right solution and having to find now.
How to fix that or how to find a different solution.
Sheryl Miller: Absolutely. Well said, Rita. Well said. Thanks, Cheryl. Well, it’s all wonderful. Well, I can’t thank you enough. What you’re doing for patients all over is amazing. And I’m glad to be a part of it. Wish I’d known about you earlier on, but let’s get the word out there.
And that’s how we be the best kept secret, right?
Rita Roy: Thank you. Yes. Thank you, Cheryl. That is awesome. Thank you. What do you
Sheryl Miller: think I have to ask? Because you said my story was so amazing. What makes it so amazing? The amount of work I had done in my spine or?
Rita Roy: I think the length of time of your journey that you, you spent an entire life.
With this 56 degree curve that got worse and unrelenting pain and tolerating that for as long as you did. And then having that curve get to a hundred degrees where you have rib on hips. Your ribs are on your hips and you cannot, I mean, you know, you’re only a short period of time away from. Being disabled yourself and being in a wheelchair and not able to care for yourself, you know, and to go from that To the level of complexity of the surgery that was performed on you to what I’m looking at today.
It’s awesome It’s just it’s awesome. And it is, you know, I would say Not atypical anymore. And that’s what we want people to know this, this can happen. And interestingly, Dr. Lenke has trained many of the world’s top deformity surgeons, like he’s the master, but he’s trained them. And so there are other masters out there like him that can do this kind of surgery.
And, and it’s just a miracle, you know, to go from a period and not to. Far history where to have something like you had done to your back required complete debilitation and full body cast in bed for months and a very slow recovery to an uncertain outcome, like maybe it might not work. That history compared to what is happening now, modern spinal health care, it’s just amazing, and that’s why, and I think your story in particular, having lived so long with your scoliosis, and then getting to a point where you were educated enough to say, I’m going to run out of time.
I need to do this now. I’ve spent 50 years of my life not really, you know, managing this in, in the way that maybe I could have or should have, but, but the treatments now are so much better than they were 20 years ago that now’s the time and you did it. And um, that’s just remarkable. Bravo. Thank you.
Sheryl Miller: Yeah. Yeah, shame that I waited so long, but maybe, but maybe
Rita Roy: that was, maybe that was for a reason. Um, and we tell people and like you said today, don’t wait until it’s too late, but it is a big deal. So you don’t want to rush into a surgery. But don’t wait until it’s too late and then you don’t have options.
Um, so, you know, that’s, that’s an important part of it. And put the time in, you know, again, a lot of times people just want a quick answer like, Oh, I just, I went to the hometown doctor, he’s going to do it, it’s going to be fine. And, and sometimes it is fine, but, but it’s worth a second look just to make sure.
And that time is time well spent for sure.
Sheryl Miller: Yes, 100%.
Rita Roy: So that’s why you’ve got to, you know, make sure you have the right diagnosis. Make sure you’re getting the right treatment. Make sure you trust the person and you feel good about the person who’s going to direct that and, and perform that on you. So.
Right, right. And you did all those things. Yeah. That’s awesome. That’s awesome. Well, um, Cheryl, it is wonderful to have you on our Get Back To It podcast. I can’t wait to share this incredible story with our community. Uh, thank you for being with us. And I guess, you know, with that, we can, we can close.
At the National Spine Health Foundation, something we believe in most is providing hope for recovery through sharing stories of success and expertise. It isn’t always easy to find someone to relate to, even though 100 million adults suffer from neck or low back pain every year. To hear more stories of spinal champion recovery and access educational materials about spine health, visit us at spinehealth.
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In this episode of Get Back To It, Sheryl shares her remarkable story. In 8th grade, she was diagnosed with scoliosis after falling off a horse and wore the Milwaukee brace throughout high school. Despite her initial 56-degree curve, she opted for non-operative care over surgery for most of her life. This seemed to manage her pain until her husband fell ill with cancer and eventually required full home care, which took a huge toll on her spine health.

At 64 years old, Sheryl’s health was changing, and she knew she was running out of time. Her curve was now 100 degrees, and her ribs were almost touching her hips. She was in constant, excruciating pain and couldn’t function anymore. Her bone health was worsening with osteopenia, and she was concerned that she wouldn’t be a surgical candidate if she waited longer.

Ultimately, she found full trust in Dr. Lenke, who performed a 9-hour surgery to fuse her spine with rods and screws. The surgery was incredibly successful. Sheryl is grateful to have more mobility than she expected, lives independently, and even kept up on a recent family vacation to Disneyland. She exudes hope and positivity, honoring her late husband. Her best advice is to talk with other patients in the waiting room and use your energy for personal advocacy and research. Seek and find help, no matter how bad your condition may seem.