A fighting Illini by birth and a Sooner by choice, Efterpi (Teppi) Hannon had the opportunity to return to school after a five-year break when she learned about the tuition reimbursement program offered by her employer, Tinker Federal Credit Union (TFCU). She had been working toward her administrative leadership degree with CLS for almost two years when she received an unfortunate medical diagnosis: Chiari I malformation.
“In February 2015, I experienced a headache that lasted two weeks and had a CAT scan. I was told to follow up with a neurologist because an arachnoid cyst was found. It took six months to get an appointment with a neurologist,” she said. “In July 2015, I had an MRI that found the Chiari I malformation. I had been to eye doctors, had my ears checked, been treated for vertigo, had surgery for the tingling in both hands and been tested for diabetes because of the tingling in my feet, and none of the doctors had put the pieces together that the symptoms were related until the two-week headache.”
Chiari I malformation is a rare condition in which brain tissue extends to the spinal canal. As the brain extends down, pressure is put on the brain and can lead to very serious symptoms. In Hannon’s case, the condition caused severe headaches, blurred vision, orbs in her vision, ringing and popping of the ears, vertigo, tingling in the hands and feet and severe pain in the back and shoulders.
“I suffer from headaches daily that most people would probably consider to be debilitating,” she explained. “I love to laugh, but that is the thing that causes me the most pain. Pressure is what brings on a headache and spending an evening laughing with my family and friends results in my suffering. It is not just a headache; the pain starts at the base of my neck and it feels as if hot lava is traveling down my spine. The saying is ‘laugh until you cry,’ but it means something completely different with Chiari.”
The severity of her symptoms often made it difficult for Hannon to complete her schoolwork, but she didn’t let that stop her. She continued on her journey toward degree completion while at the same time maintaining her full-time position as a professional development specialist training new employees at the TFCU. Above all, she wanted to maintain her commitment to her education and to her personal goals so she could set an example for her two sons, Jefferson and Johnathon.
“Instead of telling my sons an education is important, I am showing them by example.”
“I want them to understand how important it is to get an education and find your passion in life,” she said. “I have started to embrace my fears and push through them. I think many people are afraid they won’t be good parents, and I want to be certain I raise good men. So, instead of telling my sons an education is important, I am showing them by example. There are doubts, thoughts of failure and worry that completing my degree might take a long time, too long. I have to push past those thoughts and just keep working toward my goal because it sets a positive example for my kids, who see me sitting at the table as they head to bed.”
Not only has Hannon been dedicated to schoolwork but she has also been dedicated to doing it well—very well. Despite her obstacles, she has maintained a 4.0 since starting her CLS program in 2013.
“I am very proud of my 4.0 at CLS. Being a student with a family, working full time, being a football and band mom and having a new medical condition I had never heard of before is a balancing act. I am learning a tremendous amount from my classes and I know the administrative leadership degree will empower me. I am looking forward to finishing because this is something I have worked so diligently toward. I want my boys to know they can do anything. I have high expectations of my boys, and both of them have straight A’s in school. I must maintain straight A’s because I can’t expect one thing from them and do something different.”
Much like her first name, which means “pretty in face” in Greek, Hannon’s naturally upbeat outlook has helped her remain positive despite her circumstances. Taking full advantage of her experience as a CLS student, Hannon uses many of the concepts she learned in her degree program to help her teach and explain concepts to students in her own TFCU training courses, and she uses her own love of learning to inspire the same in others. Her choice of program has also been instrumental in helping her balance all of her obligations as an employee, mother, spouse and student.
“When I decided to return to school, I knew it was important to me to balance my family, work and school,” she said. “I wanted to be able to attend all of my kids’ school functions, not miss work and complete a degree. CLS’s 100 percent online degree allows me to pursue an education while still maintaining a connection to my family and earning a living. Now, I enjoy being able to apply the things I have learned to my classroom. Just recently, I used a QWERTY keyboard example I learned in my class this summer to explain to a teller why someone did something a certain way.”
Looking ahead, Hannon thinks that her condition will soon improve. She has an appointment scheduled with a neurosurgeon to discuss decompression surgery, a procedure in which part of the base of the skull is removed to relieve pressure from the brain. Although surgery is an intimidating next step, she hopes the procedure will soon relieve some of her symptoms.
“Brain surgery is a scary thing no matter how safe or prepared the doctor is for the procedure—no one says ‘it’s as easy as brain surgery’ to describe an activity! But I have continued to work full time and I do not use the pain or any of the symptoms as an excuse to slow me down. I pace myself because I know I have limitations, but I do not want to allow Chiari to control my life.”
Before her surgery, Hannon plans to have a brain-themed party to celebrate the potential positive results. She hopes this will help make the procedure less frightening for her children. She plans to persevere and continue striving toward her goals.
“After graduation, I hope to have advancement opportunities in the professional development department at the Tinker Federal Credit Union because teaching the new hires there is my passion,” she said. “I will strive to continue to provide the employees I have the pleasure of working with the quality training they deserve when they enter my classroom. Academically, I have not taken the path most people would say is traditional for achieving a degree, but I will graduate and achieve success despite my circumstances and the things that challenge me each day. I want to be capable of doing anything, and that is what I want my children to see.”
Update: This article was originally published in the Winter issue of Insight magazine. We have since learned that Hannon’s decompression surgery was successful without any complications. It will take time to determine the effectiveness of the procedure in alleviating the debilitating symptoms, but Hannon remains optimistic her future is as bright as ever.