Every woman has a story to tell,
and no two stories are alike.
Meet the women who have persevered through
challenges and tribulations and come out the other side
stronger than ever. These unique individuals have seen
their fair share of adversity but continue to inspire
those around them with the lessons they have learned
and their love of life. Read on for four truly motivating
stories by the women who experienced them firsthand.
Photography by Emily Long / Photos taken on location at BODE
Scottie Summerlin, Signal Mountain (Above)
Up until a few years ago, my life was pretty normal. I was married, had twin boys, worked from home doing communications, and volunteered a lot. In May of 2016, my husband, Dan, broke his arm playing church softball. After going to the hospital, we found out he had stage four cancer. It was a total shock, and he passed away a year after his diagnosis.
Life for me and my sons, Jack and Jake, changed drastically. They were 13 – a really tough age to lose their dad. I worked part-time from home for over two years so I could be with them as much as possible. Our life was an emotional roller coaster, and while it seems to have settled down a little, we’re still adjusting to Dan being gone.
This year, I went back to work full-time, and the boys are busy with school and baseball. They just turned 16 and started driving. They are looking forward to finding their first job, and we’re starting to talk a lot about colleges. Right now, my most important job is to not let our sadness derail the boys’ future.
But I also have to think about my future. After the boys leave for college, my life will be my own for the first time in two decades. I can live and work anywhere I want.
I know for sure going from a family of four to a family of one in our home will be a huge transition. I can’t say I’m looking forward to it, but I’m working hard to embrace the change and look at the positives. My house will be clean when I get home. My nights and weekends will be my own to do whatever I want, and the boys are still going to come home so I can feed them and do their laundry.
I love to go new places, learn new things, and meet new people. By the end of 2020, the boys and I will have visited all 50 states. Our next goal is all seven continents, and I’m having a lot of fun doing racecations with my friends. There are many more adventures ahead. Who knows what the future holds? Life is what you make it. So get up, put on a smile, and rock what you got!
Iris Abelson, Signal Mountain
I was a typical child growing up in Chattanooga. I had friends, went away to summer camp, and was active in several organizations. I had a happy childhood. However, when I was 16, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and shortly after my 19th birthday, she died.
Later that year, I became extremely ill and was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. I missed most of the first semester of my sophomore year of college, and for much of my life, I have struggled with the effects of this gastrointestinal disorder.
By the time I turned 45, my colon was so severely scarred that it was no longer functional. In 1998, I had my colon removed, and I awoke with an ileostomy, which meant my bowels now emptied into a pouch on my abdomen. Before the surgery, I always knew this type of procedure was a possibility for me. I feared and dreaded it, but life with an ileostomy has been the same as life before. Actually, in many ways, it has been better. The pain and symptoms I constantly experienced from Crohn’s disease became remarkably better.
I was in remission from Crohn’s disease for over 20 years but have had a recent flare-up. That’s just how life is with this disease, but I am very grateful that there have been medical advances in treatment. When I was first diagnosed in the 1970s, the only treatment was high doses of steroids, which caused many side effects including weight gain. At one point, I weighed over 200 pounds. About 10 years ago, I made a commitment to my family and myself to try to get healthier. Through diet and exercise, I have lost and kept off over 60 pounds.
During this journey with Crohn’s disease, I have been a mom, a wife, and a practicing CPA. My family has been amazingly supportive, especially my husband Lee. Now that I’m retired, I am still very active. I work out, travel, ride bikes, and play lots of duplicate bridge. No one can tell that I have an ostomy.
I have the same outlook on life that I have always had. Life is what it is. All you can control is how you react to it. Despite the challenges I have faced, I have always considered myself extremely lucky. I wake up every day looking at life on the bright side and am excited for the day ahead.
Amy Waters, Hixson
An allergist appointment in the spring of 2012 changed my life. When the nurse told me to step on the scale, I politely declined. After a little back and forth, I stepped on the scale and was shocked and disgusted with the number I saw. I was already at an unhealthy weight and had not weighed myself in over four years. I went home after that appointment and immediately signed up for Weight Watchers. I knew I had to make a change. I started my journey the very next day.
It took some time, but I eventually cut sodas from my diet and learned not to waste my calories on empty carbs. My weight loss took off like gangbusters, but it didn’t take me long to determine that some weeks were not going to result in weight loss. Still, by the end of the first month, I was down 14 pounds, and by the end of the second month, I was down a total of 26 pounds. People were starting to notice, and my clothes fit differently.
After losing 65 pounds, I hit a plateau. I decided to add exercise, so I joined a gym for the first time in my life and started with a Zumba class. I tried a yoga class, which was A LOT harder than I expected, and the spin class was impossible. I finally found an exercise regimen that I could build upon, and it worked. Before I knew it, I had lost 100 pounds and was able to do all the exercise classes. I also took up running since it is easy to do when I have to travel for work. I especially like a HIIT class taught by Lisa Blevins at the Sportsbarn, and finding a workout I enjoy has been instrumental in my success.
Eighteen months after I started my journey, I was down 145 pounds and happier than ever. Maintaining this weight for the last six years has been challenging, but I’ve learned to closely monitor my weight and make adjustments to my diet as needed. I live my life in a new way, making the right choices when it comes to food and ensuring a consistent exercise routine. I am an avid runner and refer to myself as an exercise junky. This healthy lifestyle now comes second nature, and I am so thankful to that nurse who made me step on the scale that day!
Meredith Mochel, St. Elmo
Last year, I turned 41. From the outside, my life probably looked pretty dang great. I had been married for 12 years to a successful guy who had supported me when I started my own law firm, helped me buy the building that houses my office, and even renovated the space into a gorgeous office suite for me. An engineer and a lawyer, together we easily made a power couple. But years of growing our economic success did not bring us closer together on a personal level, and last year, we separated and divorced.
The change was enormously stressful, despite our separation being civil. As I write this, my ex and I are friends and communicate frequently about each other’s families, help each other with advice, and wish one another well. It’s something that I value greatly, but even though we came to cordial terms quickly, the changes were enormously stressful.
Not only did divorce bring major personal change, but I became faced with so many additional responsibilities. I had considered myself a strong, independent woman, all the while depending on someone being there to fix things that broke, worry about finances, and support me if my business ever hit a rut.
Suddenly, with our split, I was the sole owner of a 120-year-old building and sole source of support for myself. At first, I felt overwhelmed, but I kept my office building standing and stayed with dear friends while looking for a house.
In the fall, I bought myself my first solo house, and the day I moved into my house, I rescued a lab puppy who is now my running buddy, road trip companion, and co-worker. My business thrives with a renewed passion, and I can care for and invest in my cases like never before.
Divorce is hard, but my life is full. The lessons in life and love over the last year have not been easy, but I am looking forward to turning 42. I have great hopes for my personal life and my career, and I have plans to share my home and heart with many more dogs as I take my time to meet the right person with whom to share this great life.