Sarah Walker, 51, had set up her chair two weeks ago in Craig City Park, ready to enjoy a sunny afternoon at the annual Whittle the Wood Rendezvous.
Seeing live music with her daughter, Crystal, is one of her favorite pastimes, but when the first drum beat rattled from the speakers, Sarah felt the familiar, searing pain in the side of her face.
The vibrations had triggered a debilitating pain in her face and jaw called trigeminal neuralgia, a condition she has dealt with for four years.
The condition has no known cause, and affects about one in 15,000 people, according to The Face Pain Association, which provides support for those who experience the stabbing and shock-like pain stemming from the trigeminal nerve on the side of the face.
“Even when the wind blows, you can see the fear in my face,” Walker said. “And it just shouldn’t be like that.”
Sarah’s family and friends helped organize a fundraiser Wednesday to help pay for surgery, which could alleviate the pain.
She will travel July 8 to Denver for the procedure.
Sarah, who owns All About You Salon with Crystal, said she is optimistic about the $8,000 surgery.
Anything, she said, to stop hurting.
“It’s so intense,” Sarah said. “Because it’s in your head, they called it the ‘suicide disease,’ because people just kill themselves.”
Sarah is a petite woman with a bubbly laugh and eyes that give away her emotions, but when the pain is bad, she is unable to smile or talk.
Early Wednesday afternoon, she was feeling better than usual, and was given an extra reason to smile.
Her sister and brother-in-law, Stella and Moe Bruner, had traveled 1,300 miles from Indiana to surprise her on the day of her fundraiser.
Sarah wiped tears of joy from her eyes at the sight of her family, smiling with relief, even if it was just momentary.
The pain first began about four years ago after Sarah returned from a camping trip. She thought she had a tick in her ear, or perhaps a toothache.
“I went to dentists, I went to general practitioners, I went to emergency rooms, the chiropractor,” she said. “I had all these tests. All they do is knock you out and give you a big bill.”
After her first few doctor’s visits, Sarah was unable to secure health insurance because she had a preexisting condition.
“The first two years, I could barely eat, sleep, drink,” she said. “I found myself feeling weak, and I’m a strong person usually.”
But Sarah pushes through, and has adjusted almost every aspect of her life to avoid the pain.
She sleeps on the couch every night so she can lean on her left side.
Her hair and nail clients have been understanding, she said, when she steps back from the chair to grab her head in pain.
Tammie Hanel, Sarah’s friend of seven years, said Sarah’s strength, along with her family and friends, helped her persevere.
“She’s got a good heart, and she’s always upbeat, as much as she can be,” Hanel said.
Hanel helped organize Wednesday’s taco dinner fundraiser, which will help Sarah make a down payment on her upcoming procedure.
The fundraiser brought in $2,365.
“It was way past any any expectation we ever had,” said Hanel. “We really thank the community and everybody who helped and bought, and who came to eat. It was just amazing.”
The treatment, called Cyberknife, is a 45-minute procedure that will expose the area around the nerve to radiation. The resulting scar tissue can prevent the trigeminal nerve and nearby blood vessel from rubbing together.
“Then I can joke and laugh with people and go to concerts with my kids,” she said.
Moe, who has known Sarah for almost 40 years, called his sister-in-law an “angel,” and was happy to be able to see her before surgery.
“We love her and we had a lot of love to bring her,” he said.
That comment made Sarah tear up once again.
“I’ve got a whole community,” she said. “When it comes to needing people, they were there for me.
“Twenty dollars here, twenty dollars there, a prayer here, a prayer there. It all matters to me.”