Norfolk, Va. (WTKR) - Connie Lucas is a survivor and she’s taking action to let others know life goes on, even in the face of tragedy.
“Have patience with yourself. When you're in a crisis, don't give up, but have patience with yourself,” Lucas said.
It is advice she took earlier this year.
After thirteen years of physical therapy and emotional rebuilding from a murder-suicide car crash that killed her father and husband, she was ready for a new chapter in life.
“When random things happen in your life, whether it's an illness or an act of violence - those things are beyond your control,” Lucas said.
She was ready to take control and check something off her bucket list – earning her college degree at Old Dominion University and refusing to let tragedy define her.
“It comes to everyone. It's unavoidable,” Lucas stated. “The unexpected things in life that you cannot plan for, you cannot foresee.”
There was something she couldn’t see though that was coming shortly after NewsChannel 3’s Todd Corillo profiled her in February 2013.
The crash left her as a polytraumatic brain injury survivor. The lingering effects, including sudden seizures, migraines and dizzy spells, means the only way she can navigate life is with a service dog.
That’s where Balboa came in. He was rescued from dog-fighting and rehabilitated as a pilot of sorts for Lucas.
What no one knew was what was lurking within Balboa when he was featured in NewsChannel 3’s story in February.
“The cancer was silently there all long - all along,” Lucas said.
Balboa, the dog that gave her freedom, was dying.
“There's part of you that keeps wanting to hold on to that maybe this isn't the right diagnosis. Maybe this isn't really happening,” Lucas said.
As Balboa got sicker and could no longer fulfill his service duties, Lucas was sent into a tailspin at a time she needed him the most.
“Okay, I'm going blind. This is getting worse,” she said.
However –after going through both denial and then the grieving process following Balboa’s death, Lucas picked herself up and picked up someone new.
“Her name is Tubby Checkers,” Lucas said, proudly showing off her new service dog.
Rescued from a Virginia Beach shelter, where her athletics earned her a spot diving with the Tidewater Dock Dogs, Tubby Checkers is being cross-trained as both a guide dog and seeing-eye dog.
For Lucas knows someday soon she won’t be able to see the Old Dominion campus she loves so dearly, but she’s not letting it bother her.
“I’m not defined by this deficit. I have skills here to navigate with it,” Lucas said.
She’s refusing to let any disability overshadow ability, while sharing a whole lot of wisdom.
“Lean into change. You don't have to dive in, but lean in and go forward,” Lucas shared.