ANITA CLEMONS SWANAGAN is a remarkably independent and resilient woman. Despite a series of medical setbacks and chronic conditions that hinder her mobility, she is determined not to live the rest of her life in an easy chair. I talked with her via a Zoom call.

ANITA: I had a stroke, and when I went to the hospital they did an MRI and found a brain tumor. They did all kinds of tests and discovered that I have acromegaly, which is what Andre the Giant had. He went through it in puberty, so it made him grow tall. I went through it later in life so it made my joints expand, my jaw expand. It caused my high blood pressure, it caused my diabetes, it just wrecked havoc with my system, and I could never quite figure out what was going on with me.

ANITA: While I was in the hospital getting this benign tumor out, I got COVID. Ever since then I have struggled with mobility issues, with my walking, sometimes with my talking. I want to say something and I know the word but it’s hard to get it out.

I’ve just struggled with my independence. I’ve always camped out. I’ve always been a nomad. I’ve lived in nine states, so I’m used to picking up and going somewhere, traveling, and I thought I would never be able to do it again because of my medical issues.

But I have struggled and now, fast forward, I just bought me a Dodge Nitro SUV. I have taken three trips in it. On one I went down to some farmland I own and I stayed a few days just to see how it would go for me before I went out the other places.

CRVL: I’m impressed that despite the medical conditions you want to have this other life, you didn’t want to just stay home, play it safe, be with your  support system and all that. Tell me more about that decision.

ANITA: The decision was made when I sat down with my endocrinologist. He told me with the kind of stroke I had, and because of the acromegaly, that in the next five years I could actually have another stroke. This disease can progress. Now, it’s not a disease that will kill me but it will severely decrease my mobility. And so I said, “Now or never.” I can either play it safe, sit in the recliner, and wait for something to happen or, worst case scenario, they find me in the desert somewhere. But at least I’m gonna get out and do as much as I can for is long as I can.

I just believe life is one day at a time, and it’s what you make it. My mother is my inspiration. She had four types of cancers. Her first cancer was at 41. She passed away in 81. They had given her all these grim prognoses but she didn’t sit at home. She was doing things up until the last. She was doing things because she didn’t believe in their prognoses, and she did good. If she had said, “Well I’m just gonna die”, then all those years would have been wasted. All we have is today. There are no tomorrows guaranteed, but we do have today, and if you make the best of it and live your life to the fullest, you won’t have any regrets.

ANITA: I worked in healthcare for over 30 years on. My patients that were near death never said, “I wish I had married so and so, I wish had a different job.” They’d always say, “You know, I wish I had taken that trip. I wish I had taken that course.” They always had a wish what they would have done. So my goal is leave this world with the least amount of wish I woulds as possible.

I was proud of my mother because my stepfather didn’t want to go anywhere and do anything. And then when she got sick, she’s like, forget this. She used to go on annual cruises with her brothers and sisters and her father when he was alive, and she would just go places on our own. I looked back on it and I’m glad she did that because look at what her life is been. Yes, she went through all the cancer treatment, all the pain, all the suffering, but she had something good to remember.

CRVL: I wish more people were like that. I meet people that have never been anywhere and have no interest in going anywhere. And I can only think, well, if you’re happy here…

ANITA: Exactly. If you’re happy. That’s like my brother Rick. He does not understand whatsoever. He’s one of those who says, “I have to know where I’m gonna sleep. I have to have all the conveniences of home.” He can’t understand going anywhere, besides to work and home. As a matter of fact, I’m starting a YouTube channel and it’s gonna be called Rick’s Gypsy because he calls me his gypsy sister.

I don’t know if you can include this in an article, but a big shout out to the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago. All my doctors, all the specialists there. That’s why I’m here today, because my tumor was actually in such a way that it was pressing on my optical nerve and it was causing me to lose my eyesight. Yeah, so a shout out to them. It’s been two years now. So I am just amazed.

CRVL: I wish you the best in your health and in following your dreams. Because that’s a great thing.

ANITA: Life is too short to sit around and mope about what you can’t do. I mean, if I have to get me a scooter and put it on the back of my truck, that’s what I’m gonna do. I’m still gonna be out there.