I have observed that life has felt heavy for many people throughout our community. I am reminded of Sisyphus — the mythological character forced to roll a boulder up a hill day after day after day.
We all carry the weight of our boulders as we trudge through rainy weather and the equally dreary post-pandemic world that still feels surreal on most days.
The only difference between us and Sisyphus is that our boulders are invisible to the naked eye.
I learned recently that this is especially true for Kathryn Glaspey, a lifelong Lane County resident who lives and works in Springfield as a dance instructor at Polemic Dance & Fitness Studio located on Main Street in Springfield.
Glaspey is diagnosed with both multiple sclerosis (commonly referred to as MS) and endometriosis, two lifelong illnesses that affect millions of people worldwide. Both of these diseases are difficult to live with and have no cure. It was a shock to learn through her social media that she has been diagnosed with both.
“I suffer daily pain and struggle with all kinds of symptoms from these diseases … though I look and seem fine, I am forever reminded of their presence by the chronic pain, fatigue, and emotional issues I deal with daily,” she wrote on her social media page recently.
I was deeply touched by this post that was paired with an original drawing of an uneven butterfly that symbolizes both of her diseases. In the center is an orange and yellow ribbon.
These words in particular really stood out to me and if you take nothing else away from this article, I hope it is this: “Even the broken and damaged can be beautiful.”
I had first seen Glaspey perform burlesque under the stage name “Pixie Kat.” She was graceful and radiant as she dazzled the audience with her original costumes and high-spirited energy.
I had first talked to Glaspey when I took one of her heels choreo classes at the Polemic dance studio. Even without the added glamor of a performance, she was beautiful and confident with her movements both on a pole and in heels.
But it wasn’t until I sat down with her to talk about her journey that I felt I finally met her.
She is right. The broken and damaged can still be beautiful, and she is living proof of those words.
Glaspey has been officially diagnosed with endometriosis since 2021.
“Endometriosis is a disease where endometrial tissue grows in places it shouldn’t, and it can grow anywhere in the body but it primarily grows in the uterus and pelvic area,” she explained. “There is not a lot of information on what causes it except that it is fueled by estrogen.”
Glaspey, like many women, is open about her frustrations regarding this illness.
“I feel as though because it is a woman’s disease, research into endometriosis and how to cure it are often overlooked,” she said. “And it is extremely hard to get diagnosed. I struggled with pain for years but it was not until I had a cyst that needed to be surgically removed that they were officially able to diagnose me.”
Many women unfortunately have similar experiences. They suffer high amounts of pain that affects them both physically and mentally, but many times their pain is not taken seriously until it becomes crucial.
Emily Roberts, a University of Oregon student who takes classes at Polemic, has also been diagnosed with endometriosis.
“I have been officially diagnosed for two years, but it took five years to receive a diagnosis,” Roberts said. Prior to getting diagnosed she would suffer fainting spells and at a young age, endometriosis even affected her development.
And these are just two accounts from local women within our community. According to the World Health Organization, endometriosis affects nearly 10% of women on a global scale.
Luckily for these two women they have both found a safe haven at Polemic. Polemic Dance & Fitness Studio is a woman-operated business that has been offering various pole classes since 2006.
The studio has provided Glaspey with a flexible schedule where she works around her chronic pain since she suffers from not just one, but two diseases that affect almost every aspect of her life.
I asked Glaspey to explain MS to me in her own words. This disease is less common than endometriosis and affects both men and women.
“Multiple sclerosis is a neurological disorder. What it does is it degrades your myelin – a protective sheathing around the nerves in your nervous system. With that added protection gone, the nerves become more exposed and eventually become damaged over time,” she said, adding that a metaphor commonly used is comparing it to cable wires. Without the protective coats, it damages the wires within.
She explained that MS can affect motor functions, vision, several vital organs, and even the respiratory system.
Glaspey was diagnosed with MS in 2018. She noted that although it was easier to get a diagnosis for MS compared to endometriosis, this particular illness is the one that affects her the most.
She went on to describe a harrowing story of the first time she realized something was very wrong with her body. “It was Thanksgiving and I was watching TV with my feet up. All of a sudden both my feet simultaneously started to go numb like pins and needles … I went to bed thinking it was maybe just an irritated nerve. I woke up the next morning, and the pain was up to my knees.”
As the numbing pain continued up and throughout her body, it was then she had to go to the ER. After a couple months of tests and what she described as “tight hugging” sensations, she was officially diagnosed the following January.
Prior to getting both of these diagnoses, Glaspey’s lifestyle was incredibly active. As a pole instructor and dancer who prided herself on her flexibility, both of her diseases made this way of life more difficult.
These challenges have not deterred Glaspey from living her life to the fullest.
During the pandemic, she took everything she knew about flexibility and published it in a book titled “The Science of Splits and Bridges: The Bender’s Textbook” that can be purchased online or even at the Polemic dance studio.
In addition to being a published writer and a pole instructor, Glaspey also uses her spare time to craft costumes and choreograph routines to perform burlesque — an art form where she can shine and be anyone she wants to be 5-8 minutes at a time.
When researching both of these diseases, I reached out to Jason Davis, who has been Lane County’s Public Information Officer since 2013. I had asked how many people in our county are afflicted with both endometriosis and MS. Unfortunately, these statistics do not exist.
“When public health funding was cut in 2008, it limited the amount of resources the state had to accurately report on and research many health issues on a countywide level. Because endometriosis and MS are both regarded as unpreventable illnesses, they have not been prioritized,” he explained.
The best statistic he was able to give me is that roughly 8,000 people in Oregon are diagnosed with MS.
For anyone who is currently dealing with endometriosis or MS, both Roberts and Glaspey advised that ultimately, an individual knows their body more than anyone else.
When it comes to different treatments and forms of care, Glaspey emphasized the importance of an individual trusting their own intuition. “My best advice for anyone dealing with either of these diseases is to listen to your body and pay attention to it. No two bodies are alike.”
Roberts reflected these same sentiments and also added: “Remember that healing is not linear, and no one knows your body better than you.”
Davis wanted to emphasize that “Thousands of people in our country are affected with these illnesses, but millions are ultimately impacted by the physical and mental toll they take on a larger scale. People rarely take into account the mental-health impact both MS and endometriosis have on not only the individuals, but the caretakers and loved ones of those diagnosed.”
All three individuals I spoke with agreed that it is a shame that more research is not being conducted on behalf of both of these diseases. Glaspey in particular noted the frustration that many people in the medical field are just focused on treating the symptoms as opposed to finding out the root causes.
March may be over, but the awareness and research for both of these diseases should never stop.
I continue to be inspired by Glaspey and her dedication to create art and flourish in spite of the large boulder weighed down on her shoulders.
I know it is impossible for everyone to be aware of everyone’s struggles all the time, but I hope as a community we just remember that we are all weighed down by our own boulders.
It is important to help lift others up when you can.
Sarah de Leon wrote for The Chronicle.