By Ed Roth
Cazoshay Marie is a familiar face in the brain health community. As a brain injury survivor, she actively participates in survivor groups, caregiver conferences, and empowerment events in Arizona.
As a result of her advocacy and speaking, many in the community know the story of that horrific day in 2017 when a car hit Cazoshay as she moved through a pedestrian crosswalk in downtown Phoenix. The car threw her 15 feet in the air and 100 feet ahead. She landed, unable to move, on the hard concrete road. The driver stopped, surveyed the situation, but never got out of his car. The driver still remains unidentified.
Six months before the accident, Cazoshay moved from Anchorage, Alaska for a new start. Within seconds, the professional speaker and wellness lifestyle blogger’s life changed. Behind the physical injuries to her fibula, jaw, and nerves, she sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI) with even more afflictions hidden. To this day, she battles chronic pain, frequent migraines, issues with her neck, nerve damage, impaired vision, and loss of short-term memory.
But while she recovers, another person travels a parallel journey every step of the way – her son, Nate.
Only 11 at the time, Nate wasn’t with his mother when the accident occurred. But the second he heard about it, he became alarmed. “I was terrified,” says Nate. “In that moment, my world collapsed around me. I was filled with dread and terror.
“I honestly thought she would die, and I’ll never have a mother.”
Over the next three weeks, he saw she would survive, even though it would take some time to recover from her physical wounds. As the kind of kid who always wants to help, Nate jumped right in. “I did more chores without being asked, including helping with cooking and cleaning.”
Cazoshay experienced mixed feelings when she saw the effort her son made. She recalls, “As his mom, I felt bad that he felt as though he needed to grow up quicker in order to help me. As a single parent, I used to do everything myself and suddenly, it wasn’t that easy.”
The toll the TBI and nerve damage took on Cazoshay made things exceedingly difficult. Nate recognized her recovery meant more than what met the eye.
“I would tell her something and she wouldn’t remember what I had just said. When this happened over and over, I thought maybe there’s something going on inside her. I saw how hard it was for her to process our conversations and there was nothing I could do about it.”
In retrospect, Nate says his friends really did not know how to support him, a common occurrence to the family members of survivors of any age. He could talk to his uncle and grandmother, who were present during his mom’s initial recovery, but he couldn’t confide in his peers. “I tried talking to friends, but instantly regretted it. They hadn’t experienced brain injury and didn’t understand. They would say things like, ‘Can’t she just have surgery and get better?’
“I really resented that they tried to make light of the situation.” In response to their insensitivity, he tried to lift his sagging spirits by drawing, listening to music, and playing on devices. Then Nate and his mother both went into therapy.
“Our counselor got us to discuss the accident and express our feelings about things. I was angry at the person who hit her. He never even got out of his car. I mean, I believe in forgiveness, but I don’t know if I can ever really forgive him for his actions,” claims Nate.
Cazoshay feels similarly. “I do express anger sometimes. He was the only driver who didn’t stop in the crosswalk. He just left me there, bleeding in the street, and didn’t even get out of his vehicle.
“I was very concerned about Nate, how he would come out of all this. He’s okay, but sometimes I can see that it still affects him.” Her biggest regret? Missing five years of watching her son play basketball, flag football, and lacrosse.
As both recover from the accident, several things become apparent. The first is the need for support. Cazoshay became passionately involved in several of the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona’s programs, including the Unmasking event that uses art to help survivors express themselves. Among other activities, she also spoke at the annual Rays of Hope survivor conference and participated in various support groups. Cazoshay and her son travel with the Brain Injury Alliance CEO to talk with graduating occupational therapy students at major universities, aiming to instill in them the human aspect of healing from the invisible disability.
“There are amazing resources out there that can help you connect with others with brain injury. It’s a fantastic outlet to share your story, educate others, and heal, no matter how severe your injury or prolonged your recovery.”
Carrie Collins-Fadell, CEO of the Brain Injury Alliance, noted that healing — both spiritually and physically — is often a family affair. Collins-Fadell says, “Cazoshay is a bright light, illuminating the way for so many others. Like many survivors, her life changed in a moment. The way she and her son Nate share their story so openly, they continue to give back even when they themselves are still healing.”
Second, they encourage patience. Now 15, Nate explains, “I just wanted her to get better right away. I learned that’s not how it works. That’s what my friends didn’t understand and, really, neither did I. Just because the disability is invisible doesn’t make it any easier. In fact, it’s harder. Everybody’s recovery is at their own pace.”
Cazoshay agrees. “You have to remember progress can take years, not days. Eventually, you see results.”
Third, go easy on yourself. Nate recalls those first months after the accident. “I used to think, why did this happen to me at this time of my life? Out of all the millions of things, why me and my mom? I was surprised by how intense my feelings were.It was like being hit by an emotional car.”
Cazoshay cautions, “Don’t try to take on everything, even if the parent can’t do as much. Kids should talk about how they feel. Nate held it in. Don’t push until your child is ready; it’s a process. I would always ask him how he felt and let him know it hurt me to see him hold it in. It’s ok to feel anger.”
Nate remembers, “At first, I tricked myself into feeling fine. I was very hopeful about her being better, getting into a more normal state. It just takes time.”
Finally, never give up hope. “It doesn’t help to judge yourself against who you were or want to be,” says Cazoshay. “I may experience migraines, memory loss, blurred vision, and dizziness, but we still have a life. I still speak, share on social media, create art, and blog as I am able. And Nathaniel is a wonderful son.”
Today, Nate participates in fencing while getting good grades in high school. “I help whenever I can, but I also know that I need down time and watch out for my own well-being.”
Nate sees the new version of his mom and beams, “I’m so proud of her.”