An inspirational woman took to travelling the world in a medical helmet in an effort to take back control of her life after losing the back of her skull to brain surgery.
26-year-old Kashmir Neumann, from Wisconsin, learned she would have to undergo surgery after she started having bad migraines and noticed disturbances to her vision.
At the time, Kashmir was teaching English in Vietnam and she put her symptoms down to pollution and noise. She moved back home with her boyfriend Bradley in June 2018, and underwent an MRI scan when her headaches persisted.
Kashmir was diagnosed with a life-threatening brain arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a rare condition affecting blood vessels in the brain. It cost the young woman part of her eyesight, and if she did not undergo surgery she would have been at further risk of aneurysm and stroke.
The 26-year-old ended up having three surgeries after an infection caused her head to ‘rip open’. Doctors removed plates from the back portion of her skull, meaning Kashmir had to wear a medical helmet until she got a plate to replace the missing section.
Speaking about the cumbersome headgear, Kashmir explained:
The whole back of my head was missing its skull… I had to wear the helmet in case someone knocked me in the back of the head or did anything. I haven’t been able to lie on my back since August 2018 after all this.
There was no pain. I would just worry a lot. If we went to a restaurant, I could take my helmet off but I would always say, ‘hey, we have to sit against a wall or where there are no people’.
So for me to feel normal, I didn’t even care that I didn’t have a skull. I was just acting as normal as possible. There wasn’t any pain.
Showering was weird. Lying down was weird. I had to make sure no one was going to hit me on the head. There were little worries like that.
Kashmir was determined not to let the helmet control her life though, and decided to go travelling to make her ‘feel like [she] had control’.
Throughout all of this, I felt like so much had been taken from me… The only thing I could control was this ability to travel.
It made me feel empowered being able to do those things. Travelling was a distraction. There was nothing else I could do. I had a part-time social media job but it was six hours a week.
Kashmir took herself off to the UK, visiting London, Brighton, Newquay, Stonehenge, and Bath. She also explored Las Vegas, Washington DC and Lake Havasu in Arizona, as well as locations in Florida and Mexico.
Though the avid traveller enjoyed seeing the sights, her protective helmet attracted a lot of attention from strangers. Kashmir was asked if she was riding a bike, and had people sarcastically comment ‘safety first?’.
A lot of people would hit my helmet and say, ‘knock knock’ and really stupid things. Do they have any respect? It’s so rude to do that.
At the beginning of all this people would ask me about it and I would just cry because I hated it.
At first, Kashmir hit back at the inconsiderate strangers, but she eventually just started telling people she’d had surgery and required a medical helmet.
Kashmir initially only expected to wear the helmet for three to six months while she awaited surgery to replace the plate removed from her skull, but a series of delays meant her fourth and final surgery only took place last month, on February 5, one year since she first started to wear the headgear.
With the plate now safely in place, Kashmir is free to live life without the helmet – a feeling she says is ‘unreal’.
I can get in the car and I don’t have to put a helmet on. I cried with happiness about how amazing that was.
It’s crazy having to wear a helmet everywhere you go. It is the best feeling to not wear it, I can’t even describe it.
Just knowing I’m on this road to being able to do these kinds of things, lie on my back, work out, wear hats again soon. Feeling normal. All these little things are so important.
I honestly didn’t think it was going to come. I had all these fears. I thought ‘oh my god, am I going to die? Is this surgery ever going to happen?’.
The surgery kept being pushed off so I just couldn’t see it happening. Getting a plate in my head was all I cared about.
Kashmir has offered advice to anyone who has to wear their own medical helmets, encouraging them to not ‘let it define you’.
It’s really hard not to, but that helmet should not define me. I am my own person. It is just an accessory. People can think what they want.
Kashmir plans to continue travelling in the future and has a ‘big’ list of places she wants to tick off her list, including Greece.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.