You'd probably never know this woman's had a debilitating disease since birth.

Cassandra Trimnell was diagnosed with sickle cell anemia in 1987 when she was just a baby.

She inherited the gene that causes this disease from both of her parents, meaning she has sickle cell type SS. This means she can experience the worst symptoms — including fatigue, extreme joint pain, anemia, and infections — at a higher rate.  

She's not the only one with sickle cell in her family either. Her younger sister Joanne was also born with it, and two of her other siblings have the trait, which means they don't have the disease but can pass it along to their children.


While she never had that shocking moment of hearing her diagnosis for the first time, she always knew she was different.

Cassandra as a child. Photo via Cassandra Trimnell.

When she started school, she had to constantly drink water and stay inside during recess when it was too hot or too cold to avoid pain episodes. Kids would occasionally ask her if she was contagious. It all made her feel incredibly isolated.

She was always a lot smaller and skinnier than the other kids at school, which meant that others often treated her like she was more fragile.

As a kid she also regularly felt sick and was in the hospital on a monthly basis. This often affected what she desperately wanted to do. For example, she was in a choir that was going on tour for which she had been planning and practicing for months. However, on the day they were supposed to leave, Trimnell was in the hospital.

Cassandra (left) with her sister Joanna. Photo via Cassandra Trimnell.

However, her mom was wonderful about helping her cope with the disease, and most importantly, she didn't treat her like she was going to break.

"You’re not like everybody else," Trimnell recalls her mom saying. "You need to look out for yourself. Look out for your health."

One aspect of sickle cell anemia that makes it such a difficult disease is that its symptoms aren't always visible to others.

"It’s like you’re fighting these invisible demons that nobody sees," Trimnell says. "Some of my earliest childhood memories are being hunched over in excruciating pain thinking I was going to die," she says.

This lack of visible "proof" that sickle cell disease is debilitating is one of the more frustrating aspects of living with it. You might see someone with sickle cell going through a pain crisis, but from the outside it just looks like they're playing a game on their phone. That's actually a coping method.

"We’re on our phones playing games because we’re distracting ourselves from the pain," Trimnell says.

Cassandra in the hospital with her husband. Photo via Cassandra Trimnell.

While it is the most common genetic condition around the world, it's rarer in the United States, which makes it even less visible.

And the current lack of understanding about symptoms and treatment among the general public can go from irritating to downright scary when someone with the disease goes to the hospital. Sometimes emergency room doctors don't believe sickle cell patients are in as much pain as they are because they seem to be handling it OK, which in turn affects their care.

"If doctors don’t think your pain is serious, then you won’t get treated seriously," Trimnell explains.

This is why Trimnell is now committed to raising sickle cell awareness.

Trimnell and members of Sickle Cell 101 at the 2017 Health and Resource Expo at Lincoln Elementary. Photo via Cassandra Trimnell.

She launched her nonprofit, Sickle Cell 101, in 2013. The idea came from a college biology course and an Instagram account.

When her biology class got around to talking about blood disorders like sickle cell, she was shocked by how unfamiliar her classmates were with it.

So she decided to get creative to give people a better understanding of the disease.

She began posting a number of facts on Instagram and received an overwhelming positive response.

#SickleCell red blood cells can squeeze through most blood vessels! #SickleCellEducation

A post shared by Sickle Cell 101 (@sicklecell101) on

Just like that, she was on the path to raising awareness full time. And today, her nonprofit specializes in educating the sickle cell community as well as the general public on various aspects of the disease.

The goal is to help people with the disease be treated with more mindfulness, especially if they're children, which is how Trimnell should've been treated when she was younger.

Trimnell knows she's not like everyone else, but now she realizes it's better to talk openly about her disease rather than hide it.

Cassandra (left) with her sister Joanne. Photo via Cassandra Trimnell.

When she was little, she didn't mention it to friends because she didn't want to be pitied or treated like a patient. Today, she's constantly sharing the challenges sickle cell patients face so that kids growing up with the disease remember they're not alone.

She sends the same message to parents who've recently found out their child has sickle cell anemia.

"People have sickle cell all over the world. You won’t lead a normal life, but it’s not a death sentence."

The best way to live with sickle cell disease is to stay healthy, positive, and turn to the support of groups like Sickle Cell 101 and Sickle Cell Warriors.

For those who don't have the disease, the best way to support those who do is to read up on it.  The more people who understand it, the less isolated those living with it will feel.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

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