Living a Joyful Life is a Choice: Denisse Oller Exclusive

Denisse Oller

by Denisse Oller

Only a month ago I had the thrill of a lifetime. Here I was lurching on my Vespa through the streets of Rome, swaying from side to side as I made my way through crowded avenues and narrow cobblestone covered alleys.   The cars around me swerved, switching lanes, blasting their horns. I felt exhilarated! Here I was living in the moment, laughing and celebrating life, carefree and free!

I was headed to Trastevere for lunch with my dear Catalan friend and colleague Dolors Massot.  Trastevere which means “across the river” refers to its location on the west bank of the Tiber or “Tevere” in Italian, is a young, bohemian area that clings to its centuries-old, working-class roots. It reminded me a bit of what Greenwich Village, New York was in the 70’s and early 80’s when I lived there. But, the ancient history and European flair of Trastevere is uniquely its own.

In the late afternoon, Dolors and I happened into a tiny trattoria full of locals, eating, drinking and enjoying lively conversations. We spoke about our past lives and our plans for the future as we soaked up the feelings of nostalgia that come with the sights and smells of Trastevere.

Suddenly, Dolors took note of my stiff neck. I responded that the lack of full movement in my neck was the result of a car accident which had occurred many moons ago, and which over the years had damaged my vertebrae. A life-saving surgery in 2009 had given me a second chance to live a “normal” life. “Madre mia! It has been ten years since your surgery and look at you, racing a Vespa through the streets of Rome! That calls for a toast.”

Between sips of Prosecco, Dolors asked about the accident. In 1997, as I was driving to work, a vehicle rear-ended me in the Lincoln Tunnel, New York, totaling my Honda Civic. I was unconscious for a while, the whiplash severely impacted my neck and I spent five weeks in intensive care.

However, I was young and strong and life kept going.

Following my hospital stay I returned to work as national television news correspondent for Univision. The effects from the damage to my vertebrae caused me to be in constant excruciating pain. Not long after my hospitalization, I was transferred from New York to Los Angeles. I was thrilled at the opportunity that this brought me, in spite of my condition.

Chronic neck pain became a part of my life and years went by. However by 2009, the rigidity and agony in my body reached the point of no return. Also, I was in the midst of a painful divorce, my personal life was shattered. I was broken physically and spiritually.

The surgery that saved me took place that year, followed by month after month of grueling therapy. I had to relearn to use my arms. Thank God for friends and loved ones who stood by me as I slowly healed and slowly regained my mobility.

It has been 10 years since those dark days. Stiffness in my upper back remains and I wrestle with intermittent discomfort. Have I let it stop me? I dance tango. I pounded the streets of London and Paris on vacation this last summer. I look forward to visiting Thailand next year. Every day I feel lucky to live and work in New York City- to me, the most vibrant place on earth!

There have been painful chapters in my life: betrayals, unimaginable losses, the terror of being paralyzed. But, at the same time I have had an extravagant life. I have known love, uncompromising love, a love that sustains me at all times; I have learned to fight through my pain, to be fierce, to defeat sadness, and to find much to celebrate and laugh about.

On the way back to my hotel on the Via Veneto, on my galloping Vespa, the magnificence of Rome flooded me with a sensation of deep gratitude for this day that I did not want to end!

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