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Q&A: Cut the Cravings with Jennifer Curran

Published October 11, 2017

It is with great pleasure that we introduce, Jennifer Curran.

After high school ended, the Ronkonkoma, New York, native found herself a resident of sunny Florida, relocating to Boynton Beach with her wonderful family and adorable cats. She is a crazy cat lady and we mean this in the best way possible. Her family is close-knit so when her older sister, Tina, moved with her significant other to Charlotte, North Carolina, it was no surprise that the Curran Clan moved with her. As a family, they now call North Carolina home even though they still root for the New York Rangers, but we won't hold that against her.

And through it all, Jennifer carries on while living with a herniated disc as well as bulging discs. She is strong. She is fearless. #cantstopwontstop

Her longtime boyfriend recently proposed and the two (along with their cats, of course), finally saved enough from working hard and bought themselves their dream apartment.

To top it off, she's got natural charisma. Throw in overcoming a tobacco addiction and add back pain. JC, as we like to call her, knows that the struggle she's in today is only developing the strength she needs for tomorrow (and she's strong). So, let's not waste any more time. This is her story. 

Q: Hi Jennifer. How are you today? Can you share three words you would use to describe yourself?
A: Hi Macey. Thank you for asking. I am having a pretty good day. I would say that I'm strong, hard-working, and honest.

Q: Let's start with how your journey with back pain began.
A: I was about 17 years old in high school. I had been out all night with friends where we spent most of the evening lounging in a hot tub. The teenage standard.

The next morning, a friend picked me up. When I went to sit down in the car, which was already extremely low to the ground to begin with —it happened.

The car was a 1990-ish Hyundai Elantra. As I sat down, I heard something “pop,” it didn't feel right. I felt a sharp pain in my lower back. Instantly, I screamed. And honestly, I couldn’t walk for the next few days.

Immediately following the “pop,” I popped some pills myself — prescription from the ER. They ran some tests and when I felt better, they sent me home. Days later, the pain never went away. After the pills wore off, I was back to square one. So I went to another doctor who gave me an MRI and found out I had herniated discs. I couldn't believe it.

They prescribed me more pain medicine and after a few days, I finally started to feel better. Ever since that day though, I have dealt with chronic back pain. My back will randomly go out on me without warning. In addition, I get muscle spasms.

Q: Do you know what caused your diagnosis?
A: My father actually also deals with this. He has the same herniated disc diagnosis. I am not sure if that's why I was more susceptible to the injury, although it makes sense for it to be hereditary since we have the same condition.

You know how, "misery loves company" — well, some days, we share in the pain while other days, I feel good and he doesn't, or vice versa. Pain definitely doesn't have a time stamp (she nailed it).

Jennifer Curran with her familyQ: You mentioned you were shocked upon receiving the diagnosis, which we can totally relate to. Can you share how it affected you mentally and emotionally?
A: For over 10 years, I have dealt with this, and I will for the rest of my life. They don't call it chronic pain for nothing because it really is forever but we have to take it one day at a time. It helps no one to freak about what I can't do in five years. If we all did that, we'd go crazy.

Though, when I found out at 17, it made me angry and wonder what I did to have this happen to me. I often pondered if I could have prevented it in any way. To this day, I go back and forth in my head about everything leading up to it. While I try to not feel guilty because the damage is done. We can't have regrets. What matters now is how I move forward — so I try to not look back.

Q: How much of your day is impacted by pain?
A: It depends on the weather and activity I’m doing but it's always a factor in some fashion. I call my body a barometer sometimes because when it rains, it hurts worse.

If I'm at work and it's the weekend, I have to mentally prepare because those are the worst days to labor pain wise. I’m always extremely busy on Saturdays and Sundays so I don’t even have time to take a break, even if I need one. Honestly, I have to mentally prepare that I'll be standing and moving nonstop.

On the other end of the spectrum, if I sit for long periods of time, my tailbone and lower back begin to hurt. It'll get really bad sometimes where I have to stand up and stretch after awhile. It does get annoying, but this is what I have to do to not feel pain, and who wants to feel pain? I'll take stretching and breaks over continued pain, am I right? (Oh yes.)

Q: What things do you do differently today because of your pain? (i.e. housework, did you have to update any routines, the way you sleep, etc.)
A: Sleeping is a huge thing. Today, I sleep with a pillow between my legs every single night. It's the one thing that helps me fall asleep and feel comfortable doing so. When I sit on my couch, I have to put a pillow behind my back as well, which helps to straighten myself up and keeps my spine aligned.

Everything else, I just do a little bit slower and try to pay attention if I start hurting. As they say, slow and steady wins the race.

Q: Treatment wise, how do you manage your pain today? What do you find the most relief from? What works the least?
A: I find exercise very helpful. I do have to be mindful and not overwork myself because I can end up in a lot more pain over the next few days. Staying active in general and knowing when to rest and take it easy helps me a lot too. Rest can be just as beneficial as working out and if you know me, you know I love my naps.

My dad uses an inversion table every day. He swears by it. I tried it once and got really nervous. It wasn’t for me, but that's OK. Not everything is for everyone. Like how the table works for him, I like walking. You just need to find what works for you.

Q: You mentioned work. I believe your job is to decorate cakes (jealous!!) at the Bakery in Publix. You are also trying to stay in shape and eat healthily. So, we need to know if you find it difficult not to indulge in the cakes staring back at you? How do you maintain that self-control? 
A: That's literally the number one question I get asked. When I first started working there, I sampled a lot. It was really hard not to. I don’t so much anymore.

I usually bring yogurt, bags of celery sticks, cherry tomatoes and string cheese to work with me so that when I get hungry, I have healthy snacks and am not eating pieces of cake all day. Although fun, in theory, the effects of sugary foods actually hurt my weight loss goals and make me feel tired and unmotivated.

Also, protein bars and shakes are great too, especially on those days when I don’t take a break (Jennifer said with a smile while laughing. I think we just found her favorite snack!) Those help me to not indulge in the sweets and honestly helps to keep me satisfied.

Q: What are your go-to foods to feel good, but also taste good too? And, what are the foods you absolutely avoid?
A: I love chicken, specifically grilled chicken, which is my go-to with brown rice and a vegetable; it's the perfect dinner. I try to eat a fruit or vegetable with each meal as well.

I'll usually make egg whites with an English muffin for breakfast paired with a piece of fruit. I avoid bacon like the plague (she smirked).

I don’t know if I really “avoid” food but I mainly try to make healthy choices. Like I said, it can be hard, but I play the tape. How will I feel after? Will I be so tired I can't move? If yes, I'll avoid.

Q: You were considered a smoker in your past life, right? Why did you make the move to quit?
A: For health and wellness reasons, I knew I had to quit. I feel so much healthier. Plus, I smell better too! It's a win-win.

Q: Can you share with our Backers who also smoke, how you were able to quit and how long it's been since you had your last cigarette? You make it look so easy. 
A: I first tried using electronic cigarettes when I initially stopped, but they really hurt my throat. So, one day I just up and quit.

I got really sick with bronchitis and had walking pneumonia. I have never felt so weak in my entire life. I missed over a week of work and lived on crackers and ginger ale. I actually got bronchitis quite a bit when I smoked. I have asthma, and when I got sick that time, I never wanted to feel like that again. So, I quit —cold turkey.

I bought cinnamon candy fireballs and drank a lot of ginger tea when I wanted a cig. Anyone wanting to quit, I suggest buying gum or lollipops to use every time you want one. Also, cinnamon helps lower cravings.

Q: How has quitting had a positive effect on your health and back pain?
A: Today, I feel amazing since quitting. I no longer hack up a lung upon waking up or have to run to a cigarette after everything I do. It’s amazing how much that cigarette controlled me. After any meal, I needed one —after basically anything, I needed one. My breathing got so much better as well. That was the first thing I noticed when I quit.

It’s been three years since I’ve had a cigarette and I couldn't be happier. My back pain thanks me too.

Q: Do you ever want a cigarette? How do you deal with cravings and not give in?
A: In the beginning, it was hard. I can't lie. Anyone who wants to quit, just know it will not be easy. If everything were easy, everyone would be doing it. Tell yourself, you don't need easy, you just need possible, and it's possible, I promise.

Jennifer Curran with her fiance.Caption: The recently engaged couple poses for a quick selfie as they make their way to a dinner date.

Plus, everywhere I went, I noticed everyone was smoking, everyone. I had never noticed this before (Jennifer chuckled and we joined because we know how true that is). Like if you break up with a boyfriend and you see their car everywhere — just like that. 

But like I said earlier, I ate a lot of fireballs and that helped to lessen my cravings. Today, I don't even want one. I can say that with firm certainty, which is crazy, but true.

Q: Do you find there is support for individuals living with chronic pain? If yes, please describe the support you've observed? If no, what would need to be done to gain support for the back pain community? 

A: I’m sure there's a lot of love in actual support groups whether online or in person. But personally, a lot of people don’t understand the severity of chronic pain and think people lie about it.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of people may say they are in pain just to get medication, but for those of us that are actually in pain, we get looked down on because of those people.

My family and finance have been the most supportive.

Q: What would you like others to know about chronic pain? 
A: Chronic pain is serious and does affect a lot of people —most likely, more than we even know or think. Don't assume someone who says they are in pain is only saying it as an excuse. Chronic back pain is real.

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to someone who was just diagnosed with a herniated disc?

A: Take it one day at a time. It can be overwhelming because it does change your life completely. I can’t do a lot of things that everyone else can and it’s sad. But, it's not the end of the world. So just to take it slow and be patient. Everyone's body is different and what works for me may not work for anyone else. I just try to be mindful of the activities I chose to do and to be strong. It gets easier with time and patience.

Wow. How inspiring? To not only quit smoking but to genuinely not want another cigarette? She is strong because she's been weak. She is beautiful because she is aware of her flaws (she is perfectly flawed). She is a lover because she's felt hate.

Let's live like Jennifer Curran. Thanks for listening, people!

Updated: June 4, 2019

Information provided within this article is for educational purposes and is not a substitute for medical advice. Those seeking specific medical advice should consult his or her doctor or surgeon. If you need to consult with a specialist, you may be able find a health care provider in our Specialist Finder. SpineNation does not endorse treatments, procedures, products or physicians.

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