A Dublin model has spoken of her inspiring path to recovery after being diagnosed with ‘death sentence’ cancer in 2006.
When Lana Salome Kurasidze learned she had a tumor the size of a chicken egg in her brain, she thought her life was over.
Doctors have admitted that the young woman has only three months left to live. It was sixteen years ago.
Now the inspirational woman has learned to walk again and can even manage her favorite high heels.
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The Latvian native is a disability activist and was determined to pursue her modeling career as a wheelchair user, despite a lack of representation in the industry.
Lana told Dublin Live she thought her life was over when her doctors discovered her brain tumour.
She said: “I was diagnosed with very aggressive brain cancer in February 2006, stage 4 glioblastoma multiforme.
“It’s a so-called ‘death sentence’.
“My tumor was located in my brainstem, which is an inoperable place, and it was already very big at the time of diagnosis (the size of a chicken egg).
“The doctors predicted that I only had three months left.”
“I felt like that was it and my life was over. But that was just the beginning.
“After that, I realized that I didn’t just want to give up and decided to try to overcome the disease. I always had one main thought in my mind – that I really want to live and that there is I still have a lot of things I need to do!”
The Ballymun resident was a hostess at one of Dublin’s most popular nightclubs at the time of her shock diagnosis.
Her family in Latvia tried to hide how serious her illness was as they lobbied for the treatment she needed.
She said: “I didn’t know anything about brain cancer until I was diagnosed.
“For me, it was something that only exists in the movies. Also, the doctors never told me how bad my situation was, they only told my mother and she preferred don’t let me know.
“It wasn’t until 2013, when I moved back to Ireland after my treatments in Latvia, that my Irish friend told me how bad my diagnosis was.”
Doctors are blown away that Lana is confidently back in high heels with the help of a walking aid.
The young woman has completely regained her independence, a goal she has been pursuing for many years.
She said: “I honestly don’t understand why doctors look at me like I’m ‘living dead’. They seem to prefer not to comment too much on my case.
“But every time I meet a new medical professional, who doesn’t know my case, they think I’ve just been diagnosed and are amazed to hear my story. It can be quite funny to see their reaction!
“Besides my mobility issues, I have a number of other disabilities – I’m visually impaired, I have a slight speech impediment, my hands don’t work very well and I have a neurological condition which causes tremors in my body. By the sound of this, I shouldn’t be out of bed, but you can barely notice any of this when you meet me in person!
“I was always sure that I could walk again, even though many professionals told me that I had no chance.
“Now with this amazing device, LifeGlider, I walk on my own! I’ve taken a HUGE step towards my end goal of walking independently in high heels.
“Previously I had been told it was ‘more than likely impossible’, but that’s just my nature – to smash predictions.”
Lana is President of the Ballymun Active Disability Interest Group and shares her journey to recovery with others.
She said: “I started my journey a long time ago when I was still bedridden and unable to lift my head or sit up independently.
“At the time, I weighed 94 kg.
“My physical therapist recommended exercises to me and I was doing thousands of repetitions of the exercises instead of the twelve prescribed by my physical therapist. I was exercising five hours a day, six days a week. By the time I became more strong and started going to a regular gym. I had already learned to stand independently and take care of myself.
“I lived in a rehabilitation center in Latvia with my grandmother, who helped me with everything.
“I did not receive any financial support from the state, because a person sentenced to death was not entitled to it, and I was surviving on the money given to me in Ireland and Latvia.
“I wanted to go back to Ireland, my home, and when I finally did I was in a wheelchair and alone.
“I joined the local gym, learned to cook for myself, garden and even take care of my cat!
“I continued to work on my walking skills and did regular walking exercises around my block using a standard walker with support from my neighbor.
“It actually gave me the idea to look for a safer walker because I have some pretty serious balance issues. I googled it and that’s how I found LifeGlider, the device that changed my life!”
Learning to walk again was never going to be easy after eleven years of using a wheelchair.
However, Lana was determined not to give up even when it seemed like she was fighting against the odds.
She said: “I was in a wheelchair full time for eleven years. After I got my LifeGlider it was very difficult to learn to walk again because my body had forgotten it and I was automatically moving backwards.
“So, on purpose, I didn’t use my wheelchair at all for a week, relying on LifeGlider instead.
“It’s very safe on a smooth surface, so I was able to safely use it on my own at home.
“I improved quickly and now I am able to walk up to 9 km a day!”
Lana feels that there is a lack of representation of disability in the media, especially in the modeling industry.
She said: “At first I thought I couldn’t continue my modeling career while I’m in a wheelchair, but then a guy told me I’m still beautiful and I should give it a try.
“So I went and it worked.
“I think it’s very important that people of all abilities have the opportunity to participate in different areas of life and I am proud to participate as a model with a disability in modeling shows – in a wheelchair or on my LifeGlider .
“There’s not a lot of modeling work in Ireland, even for able-bodied models, so models with disabilities have almost no chance – especially for someone like me with such a severe disability, as I can’t do my hair or put on makeup.
“I’m slow when changing clothes and need help moving around, moving on stage, or striking poses for the camera.
“Unfortunately, modeling with a disability is very complicated, but luckily there are some good people in the industry who are willing to do their part to help us.
“I truly believe that nothing is impossible, if you really want it!”