Cynthia Andress: mother, model, author, dancer, triathlete, graduate student… migraineur.
Cynthia Andress is a woman blessed with an abundance of energy: physical, emotional and intellectual. On any given day, a morning spent teaching hip-hop at the local YMCA may be followed by a day of graduate classes in public health policy and then an evening of conversation with her 3 sons involving topics that range from emerging viral infections to the fine points of long-stick lacrosse. This eclectic woman has migraine, but it doesn’t seem to slow her down.
Cynthia confesses to being something of an exercise addict, and it’s consequently not surprising that her first experience with migraine occurred over 20 years ago while she was jogging on a hot summer day and developed a typical visual aura.
Since then Cynthia has experienced her share of recurrent migraine aura, headache or both, but her migraine rarely requires that she stop or significantly alter her usual activities. She attributes this in no small part to her having learned much about the disorder, including its biologic origin, diverse clinical features and clinical management.
For two years she combined her experience as a teacher with her acting skills to serve as a member of a "headache mini-fellowship" team that traveled to over 50 U.S. locations -from Manhattan to Honolulu - educating medical providers on the topic of headache diagnosis and management. Along with two New Yorkbased actors, she served as a faux patient in interactive mock headache clinics intended to reinforce for the mini-fellowship attendees what they learned from the conference’s formal lectures.
“From listening to the lectures and playing multiple roles as migraine patients whose histories were so different, I came to better understand my own migraine," Cynthia explains. "For one thing, I learned to identify my migraine ‘triggers’ and to recognize that it often takes multiple triggers occurring together to bring on one of my headache attacks. For example, much of the time I can drink wine without any problem, but the combination of menses and a glass of red wine almost always triggers a migraine. And when I lived in the mountains and dry climate of western Nevada, wine always triggered a headache."
Now Cynthia keeps an eye on the calendar when considering a glass of wine and tends to avoid alcohol during menses. Like many migraineurs, she has learned that aspirin or acetaminophen taken with caffeine early in a migraine attack is more effective than much more powerful medication taken late. In her case, a mile swim in the YMCA pool or 6-mile run down a local trail may terminate an attack. She can’t recall the last time she took a prescription medication for treatment of acute migraine headache.
"You just can’t allow migraine to rule your life," she says. "You need to find what makes your migraine worse, learn what helps, and use that information to get back on track."
Cynthia Andress is a woman determined to enjoy her life despite migraine. She seems to be succeeding.