At 21 years of age, Cynthia Toussaint thought she had her future all mapped out. She was an aspiring triple-threat performer, with ballet dancing at the center of her passion. Like many young people, Cynthia never anticipated that anything would get in the way of the fulfillment of her dreams. But a mysterious, crippling illness did just that – and put her on a 30-year journey to reinvent herself and overcome the chronic pain that turned her world upside down.
Toussaint eloquently writes about the discovery of her illness, taking readers up the present time in a new book titled Battle for Grace: A Memoir of Pain, Redemption and Impossible Love. Her book begins with a minor ballet injury that grew into the chronic pain disease, Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS). Toussaint describes in the book that her leg “felt like it was on fire”, but that doctors dismissed this as being all in her head. It took 13 years – much of that time being bedridden, unable to speak and even contemplating suicide – for an accurate diagnosis.
As Toussaint began to make a positive shift in her life, accepting her suffering and forgiving those around her, she became an advocate and activist women like herself. “More women suffer from chronic pain that goes undiagnosed and undertreated,” says Toussaint. “I’m hearing from many women who share their stories and thank me for going public with mine.”
The love of her life, John Garrett, never left her side despite the physical abuse and negativity Toussaint heaped on both John and herself during those dark years. For this reason, Battle for Grace is also Garrett’s book, as his emotional “take” as Toussaint’s partner, caregiver and witness is expressed at the end of every chapter.
Toussaint believes that women are subject to gender bias from the medical profession when it comes to pain diagnosis and treatment. This belief is a big part of the reason she started the non-profit organization, For Grace, which fights to ensure the ethical and equal treatment for all women in pain. As well, she puts on an annual Women in Pain Conference each September.
Battle for Grace is a relatable, inspirational and real story that so many people with chronic pain can connect with. Those who feel alone or ignored in their pain symptoms will gain courage to keep fighting for a diagnosis and good treatment. People having to modify their lives or change their path in life due to chronic pain will find the inspiration to keep searching for their reinvented ‘self.’ Even the caregivers, struggling to be of comfort and strength to their suffering loved ones will be able to relate to this journey.
Update on Cynthia Toussaint:
To date, Toussaint’s CRPS is in partial remission! While uncertain what caused the improvement, she said “I know in my heart of hearts that writing this book and reliving all of the trauma with John ‘exorcized’ a lot of my anger, sorrow and pain. And I now advise all women in pain to journal, as I’m a firm believer in Narrative Therapy.”
After almost two decades without exercise, she swims a mile three times a week, and does a one and a half hour ballet-Pilates workout several times as well. She is able to wear all kinds of shoes, sandals and boots (after having to wear the same pair of Reeboks for 10+ years.) She’s been able to play her beloved piano again after 15 years of mostly not being able to use her arms or hands. And perhaps most joyful of all, her singing voice has returned! Her first CD, Wonder, that she dedicated to all women in pain is now available at forgrace.org.
Toussaint used to believe that the best women in pain could hope for was belief and dignified treatment from their physicians. Now, she is living proof that all can improve significantly at any point of their illness. Says Toussaint, “I’m a firm believer in self-care – following our passions, positive attitude, meditation, narrative therapy, diet, exercise, etc. – and that we with pain must take control of our own wellness!”