Name: Mary Shaner.
Family: Husband, Marc Shaner, married 48 years; two children; four grandchildren.
Back surgery: Shaner, a retired bookkeeper with an affable personality and a beautiful smile, underwent back surgery in 2003 and has learned much about how to stay active and healthy.
"I did have a knee replacement in 2008 and a hip replacement in 2010, both on the right side," she says. "But I feel very healthy now. I rarely even get a cold. My back has been fine since my surgery."
Needed a neurosurgeon: Shaner, who was not involved in athletics in high school, became highly active in her late 30s and eventually grew to love day hikes with the Seattle/Everett Mountaineers after her children grew into their teen years.
Then she developed acute low-back pain in her mid 50s.
"It was constant for about three years. I tried physical therapy and I went to a chiropractor. I was getting really discouraged," she says. "Even walking was very uncomfortable and I was losing sleep. It was putting a big damper on things I loved to do. I thought the pain would go away, but it didn't.
"So I got an MRI. It turned out I had developed a bulging disc between my L/4 and L/5 vertebrae. But my surgeon told me, 'I can help you with an 85 percent chance that your pain will go away.'"
Grateful patient: Shaner, whose only previous surgery had been arthroscopic knee surgery in 1996, recalls that she wasn't scared, thanks to her surgeon.
"He removed bulging disc material in a partial laminectomy," she says. "It was pretty much night-and-day right away. I felt so much better."
Back to the beginning: Shaner fell on some steps while holding (and then successfully protecting) her son Erik when he was a baby in her arms.
"I swear I think that's what triggered the back problems I experienced years later," she says. "I bounced on my rear end down the stairs! I was only 22. My back hurt for a couple of weeks. But I didn't go to a doctor, and my pain went away."
Active after surgery: Shaner was quickly able to return to aerobics, walking and golfing after her back surgery, but decided she would not return to the ski slopes.
"I had started doing a lot of cross-country skiing in my late 30s," she says. "I enjoyed it, but I did take a lot of falls. Those might have led to my knee and hip problems. I decided skiing would not be a good idea after my back surgery. I'm also careful not to lift anything too heavy."
Coping with sciatica: So far, Shaner's back-related problems have been limited to occasional sciatic nerve problems.
"I do still periodically get these sciatic nerve attacks, but I've learned to cope with them," she says. "They come and go. They last a few days. I just deal with it. If I had sciatic pain for more than a month, though, I would certainly have it checked out."
Loves to exercise: Shaner always looks forward to her workouts at Bellingham Athletic Club, where she loves how the employees make her feel at home.
"I do two water aerobics each week, and one step-aerobic class," she says. "I've been there since we moved from Mukilteo to Bellingham in 2003."
Don't ignore pain: Shaner says she would "definitely recommend" that anyone with pain get it checked out, especially if the pain becomes acute.
"My right knee was more painful than my back had been," she says. "I had developed osteoarthritis. It was just years and years of wear and tear on the cartilage. It runs in my family."
More than exercise: Shaner volunteers Monday mornings at Hope House and Wednesdays at her teacher daughter's first-grade class in Blaine.
"Hope House is part of Catholic Community Services for people who need the help," she says. "We moved up here to be closer to my daughter, Rebecca Grasher, and I especially love getting the chance to volunteer in her classroom. I love how the first-graders call me 'Grandma Mary.'"
Another volunteer opportunity: "Marc underwent a triple bypass last April," she says. "We have joined a nationwide organization known as Mended Hearts. We will be visiting hospital patients who have been treated for heart problems. We're looking forward to helping."
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.