V Teamers Cori Schlimmer and Joan Lerner share their stories this Disability Pride Month.
July is Disability Pride Month. The theme of this month’s celebration is Nothing Without Us, meaning that people with disabilities should be included in all decisions made on behalf of people with disabilities — because who better, right?
The host employee resource group (ERG) of this important month is Verizon ADVANCE (Advocates for Disability, Accessibility, Neurodiversity, and Caregiver Empowerment). This ERG offers support, resources, allyship, friendship, education, and so much more, and has been a constant source of comfort for thousands of V Teamers.
This month, we’re highlighting V Teamers and ADVANCE members Cori Schlimmer and Joan Lerner who both shared their stories.
Bringing visibility to people’s invisibilities.
One Sunday in July 2019, Cori Schlimmer’s eye started twitching while she was applying makeup. Eventually, the entire left side of her face went into a spasm as she watched in the mirror. “My left eye was pulled closed, my lips and nose pulled sideways toward my left ear, and even my neck was pulled into this spasm,” she shared. “I ran from the bathroom screaming for my husband to call 911 because I was terrified that I was having a stroke.”
Later while in the emergency room, her face relaxed back to normal and she was diagnosed with Hemifacial spasms. Fast-forward to late August 2019, one day while sitting at her work desk the doctor called, presumably to schedule her first Botox treatment for the spasms.
Instead, she was told, “Mrs. Schlimmer, we just got your MRI results. It looks like you have a tumor located in the posterior fossa near the brainstem, called an Acoustic Neuroma. Here is the number to a Neurosurgeon and you’ll want to call them for an appointment.” She sat at her work desk and stared at her phone, feeling like the air was sucked out of the room.
A strong support system.
In November of that year, Cori underwent translab craniotomy surgery, which consisted of opening her skull behind my left ear. “To remove the tumor, the vestibular (used for balance) and acoustic (used for hearing) nerves had to be removed. The nerves do not grow back, and today’s medicine does not have a procedure to replace or reattach them,” Cori said. “When I woke from surgery I had to learn to walk again, drive again and shower, all on my own.”
“I have an invisible disability. Although my tumor was removed I am forever changed. Life is harder than it was. I like to explain it like losing your dominant arm — you can still do all of the things you once did with your other arm, like brush your teeth or sign your name, but it is hard. In the beginning, it was nearly impossible and terribly frustrating, and exhausting.”
Although she is still healing a year and a half later, Cori has come so far. She is especially glad to be surrounded by family and friends that love, encourage and support her. Every day, she seeks to strengthen herself mentally and physically by continuously challenging herself to try new things that come her way, like her recent promotion on the account services team.
“Even here at Verizon, I had leadership that stretched me beyond my comfort zone, refusing to allow me to get too comfortable, and challenged me to keep raising the bar. When I failed I never felt judged. We just reset and I tried again,” Cori said. “My peers never seemed to tire of helping me when I needed it either. The compassion shown to me will never be forgotten.”
A surprise diagnosis in adulthood.
Joan Lerner works in a Verizon store in Montana. She loves her job, her coworkers, her customers, her leaders, and her company. Joan has a lot of great days and a few bad ones too, and they have a way of sneaking up on her when she least expects — and wants — them to. Joan has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and in honor of Disability Pride Month, Joan volunteered to share her experiences related to living as a person with autism.
Since childhood, Joan’s family knew she required special attention, as she didn’t start speaking until she was four, and was unable to engage in a conversation until she was nine. But, it wasn’t until five years ago that she was diagnosed with what once was referred to as Asperger’s. The medical community no longer uses that term as a type of autism.
Today, Joan understands what she needs to do to stay healthy, focused, and grounded so that she doesn’t feel “flooded.” For her, it’s important to put self-care at the forefront and take a mental break when needed to perform well during stressful situations.
How Joan ADVANCE’d.
We all need and appreciate the support of colleagues. Joan found comfort, friendship and allyship by joining our Verizon ADVANCE ERG. Since the pandemic, Joan has been more active with ADVANCE to bring greater understanding about those with visible or invisible disabilities.
Thank you to Cori and Joan for opening up to us about your experiences. Sharing stories like theirs help to strengthen our culture and supports our commitment to provide an equitable and inclusive workplace for all V Teamers as we work to move the world forward for all.