PAST IS PRESENT — EPISODE 3

Can’t Never Could: One Woman’s Story of Resilience

At Humana, we’re working to make healthcare more human by making it more personal, a little easier and whole lot more caring. That’s why we get to know our members as people first and members second. Our Past is Present series highlights real Humana members’ real stories. Stories of perseverance and triumph. Stories of good fights won and challenges overcome. Stories of how the past shapes the present—for the better.

Farm to values.

Debora F. comes from “hard stock” as she likes to say. Her grandparents survived the Dust Bowl on a Texas farm. They taught her the value of hard work, frugality and self-reliance. During her early childhood, Debora lived on her grandparents’ farm with her mom (a widower) and sister. Debora helped pick and shell peas, raise the chickens and tend the plum orchard. When she didn’t think she could do something, her grandma would say, “Can’t never could.” And then Debora would muster the strength, energy or stamina to do whatever she thought she couldn’t. Her grandma’s “Get your butt up and do it” would echo in her mind when she struggled. Her grandmother’s playful nudge got her through more often than not. It kept her going and would re-energize her if she faltered. She learned how powerful it could be in challenging moments to challenge her grandmother’s voice and encouragement. Her grandparents also taught her the value of treating others as she would want to be treated and the benefit of seeing the good in others. She took these lessons with her as she grew up.

A mentor in Mom.

Debora’s mom owned the local town newspaper. Debora tagged along as her mom covered stories. She learned to watch, listen and learn. Debora’s mom kept an open mind and encouraged her daughter to do the same. Debora explored the world for herself and got to make her own decisions. Despite her mom’s busy schedule, she always made time for Debora to play or teach her something. Debora learned how to be patient from her mom, to live in the present moment.

Learning to trust.

In high school, Debora’s mom was recruited by the Associated Press for a position in Washington, D.C. Miserable for the first six months, Debora missed her friends, family and life back in Texas. But then, something changed. She started going on school field trips to museums, hiking trails and, most memorably, a ropes course. The ropes course challenged her to be vulnerable with her schoolmates and herself. They did trust exercises where they could fall back and trust the person behind them would catch them. They climbed rope ladders and repelled down walls. The experience taught Debora to rely on others and showed her own strength and courage. It gave her confidence and shifted her perspective about herself and the world around her. She confronted her fears and learned she could indeed be brave, that she had friends, that she could do whatever she put her mind toward.

Parenting with patience.

The family moved back to Texas. Because the credits were different and she would have to repeat classes, Debora decided to get a G.E.D. After school, she went to work and met her husband while working at a company that made boat trailers. She worked in the office, he worked in the shop. Their affection grew over time and eventually they married and started a family of their own.

Debora embodied the lessons from her grandparents, mom and ropes course with her own two boys. She led by example. She taught them to be respectful. She let them explore themselves and the world around them. “You have to give kids some choices or they’ll never learn to make a choice,” she said. She didn’t put certain things off limits, so her sons didn’t feel like they had taboos. As a result, they didn’t feel the need to rebel. They knew they could count on her for support and guidance, just as she counted on her grandparents and mom.

When things got tough, Debora tried to channel her mom’s patience and calm and her grandmother’s resilience. She turned to her faith and prayed. She knew that if she believed things would get better, they would.

Staying strong.

In her mid fifties, Debora had an unexpected brain injury. It turned her life upside down. The little things she took for granted were no longer possible. Still, she knew she could either accept the situation as hopeless or she could work to change it. She chose to work. She understood that even incremental change would be an improvement and that improvements would compound over time. She put her energy into improving her health, her strength, her stamina. She had one goal: get better. She made it the focus of everything she did. “It depends on how much you want it,” she said. “You have to be in the right state mentally.” Just as she had as a mother, Debora leaned on the lessons of her childhood. She cultivated a positive outlook. She put in the effort. She makes physical therapy her top priority and exercises using online videos geared to people with brain injuries two to three times a day. She kept her grandma’s voice in her head and told herself, “Never say never. I’m strong.”

She takes the lessons she learned from her mom’s journalism—to be curious, to learn, to show up. She continually educates herself about her brain injury and recovery. She tries new tools like electric stimulation to massage her muscles and improve her flexibility. She’s found a community of survivors online. They share information and support each other. She keeps her faith alive and leans on her husband, just as she had to with her classmates at the ropes course, for support. She understands that persevering is a choice. It’s about choosing to not let the situation overshadow what she has done before and what she’s capable of moving forward. She decides to stay strong. She stays positive. She goes to bed knowing she put in the hard work. She draws on the lessons of the past to stay resilient in the present so that she can have a better future. And she does it one day at a time.