Skip to main content


Destination: New York City

Travel Year: 2024

My Story

My name is Crystal. I am a 44-year-old elementary teacher, currently in my 22nd year of teaching. I have Von-Hippel-Lindau (or VHL). It is a rare genetic disease and I lack a tumor suppressor gene that most people have. This leads me to have lesions in many areas of my body. For me it has been my brain, spinal cord, eyes, kidneys, pancreas, and lungs. Usually VHL is inherited, but there are some spontaneous cases. I personally inherited VHL from my mother, who inherited it from her father.

I had my first VHL related surgery at age 20- which ruined my plans for a semester abroad in Costa Rica. It turned my undergrad degree into a 5-year endeavor. It has made me cancel flights and many travel plans. It has interfered with my time with my students quite a few times. As of today, I have had 10 brain surgeries, 1 kidney cancer surgery, 2 spinal cord surgeries, and 1 eye surgery. I have to take pancreatic enzymes in order to digest my food properly, and most recently I have become an insulin dependent diabetic. VHL also took my mother from me. She was only 67.

“Despite all these trials, I still find myself valuing humor and positivity. Having issues like these makes things harder, but I try to make the choice every day to smile and have a good day. What is happening to me isn’t my choice, but what kind of person I am IS my choice.”

Being Positioned is sending me to NYC this summer and I am so excited! My health concerns have not disappeared, but beginning to plan this adventure has been wonderful. I have spent most of my life not allowing myself to dream of much because my plans are usually ruined. However, aspiring for activities that I never allowed myself to even think of before has been amazing! I am so looking forward to staying in a nice hotel, Broadway plays, museum visits, and so much more! They have made every day a bit more exciting, as this trip is always on my mind!

My Health

Daily Challenges

  • Anxiety
  • Frequent scans + appointments while working full time
  • Fatigue from medication
  • Speech articulation

Ongoing Health Issues

  • Require pancreatic enzymes to digest food properly
  • Difficulty regulating blood sugar
  • Balance problems
  • Nerve pain and/or numbness in certain areas from multiple surgeries

Major Procedures

  • 10 brain surgeries
  • Kidney cancer
  • 2 spinal cord surgeries
  • Eye surgery
  • Currently on the 1st ever FDA approved targeted therapy for VHL

    Total Surgeries: 14

    Each person diagnosed with VHL experiences different symptoms throughout their lifetime. Some cases are considered relatively minor, while others are more severe. Despite the variation among cases – every story is hard and full of loss.

    To learn more about Rare Genetic Disorders, click below.

    Help someone go on a life-changing journey.

    You can bring joy to people living with rare genetic disorders by helping us send them on a Being Positioned journey.