It’s easy to envy Kristina Schnack Kotlus.
She’s got three kids, she runs the popular PwcMoms.com website, she’s an active volunteer and a freelance writer – and she makes it all look effortless. She’s got it together, with happy kids, successful marriage and budding career to prove it.
But not long ago, it all threatened to come crashing down.
On a trip to the beach in April 2012, Kotlus couldn’t lay on her stomach to read without it hurting her head and neck.
Then she started having debilitating headaches. She got checked out at Sentara Northern Virginia Medical Center, where doctors told her she was suffering migraines.
She tried to soldier through them.
“I had three kids with no drugs, I don’t believe in pain,” she said.
Then, in December, she passed out in the hallway of her Lake Ridge home.
She went to Manassas Neurology Associates, and doctors agreed she was probably experiencing migraines. But they did an MRI just in case.
“They called within an hour,” Kotlus said.
The headaches weren’t migraines. She had a malignant tumor wrapped around her brain stem. Kotlus was diagnosed with ependymoma, a type of tumor uncommon in adults.
On Feb. 5, 2013, she underwent 16 hours of brain surgery at Georgetown University Hospital, then seven weeks of radiation at Duke University in North Carolina followed by months of physical therapy and recovery time.
One year past her surgery, on the eve of her 30th birthday and fourth anniversary of her popular blog, Kotlus decided to celebrate her survival in a big way.
She’s calling it “Silver Sparkles Family Fun Day,” and it will be held Feb. 22 at the Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center in Manassas. She came up with the name by finding the “silver lining” in her ordeal. Ribbons for brain cancer research are gray, but Kotlus believes everything is better with glitter. All proceeds will be donated to the National Brain Tumor Society and Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure.
The event, from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., will feature informational displays, face painting, glitter tattoos, inflatables, a balloon artist, games, prizes, performers including a magician courtesy of NovaOutdoors.com, music and movement class, Princess Storytime with the Kingdom of Azuria and Confections Cupcakes.
Sponsors include Bristow Montessori School, Prince William Academy and Prince William County Parks and Recreation.
Tickets are $25 and are being sold as family packs. No matter how big your family, one ticket covers everyone.
Kotlus says she has a lot to celebrate. After her surgery a year ago, doctors told her family not to expect too much.
“They said ‘we don’t know what she’s going to be like, she’ll probably have to go to in-patient rehab,’” she said. “After surgery, I overheard them saying ’16 hours is a long time.’ I said, ‘What took you so long?’”
She left the hospital eight days after surgery. Now, after several grueling months of radiation and physical therapy, she’s thriving.
She’s back to homeschooling her three children -- 10-year-old Riley, 7-year-old Logan and Savannah, who turns 6 this month. (Her mom took over while she underwent treatment and recuperated.) She’s as active as ever in their sports and extracurricular activities and is back to volunteering and freelance writing.
Her website, which most notably offers a huge calendar of family-friendly local events, is as vibrant as ever.
And she’s excited to “celebrate the fact I’m here.”
In addition to Silver Sparkles, Kotlus asked her blog readers to help her come up with 30 acts of kindness to celebrate her 30th birthday, a milestone she wasn’t sure she’d ever reach.
Readers offered “assignments” Kotlus and her family could do for charity, and she’s already begun.
She and her kids recently served dinner to the homeless at Streetlight Ministries. She also plans to give flowers to school crossing guards on Valentine’s Day and help Northern Virginia Reptile Rescue with snakes to help raise awareness.
“I’m scared to death of snakes, so of course I have to do it.”
Want to go?
What: Silver Sparkles Family Fun Day
When: Feb. 22, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Freedom Aquatic and Fitness Center, 9100 Freedom Center Blvd., Manassas