Life is beautiful when you embrace yourself

Elena Canty was born with a brittle bone disease and suffers scoliosis, but hasn’t let it hold her back, writes CHRIS DUNNE
Life is beautiful when you embrace yourself

Elena Canty at home in Ballyvolane

THE wonderful life of Elena Canty, 30, began at the age of five when her Cork parents from Ballyvolane adopted her from Belarus.

“They scouted me out!” says Elena.

“My godmother was involved with my adoption to Ireland. We are very close.”

Since then, loved and cherished by family, friends and work colleagues, Elena has lived a charmed life, despite the fact she was born with a brittle bone disease and suffers from scoliosis.

Being unable to walk, Elena hasn’t let her condition affect her life.

“Why would I want to fit in when I was born to stand out?” says Elena, who was also born and blessed with a sunny disposition.

“Being unique is definitely the way to go. I realised that in my 20s,” says Elena, who has not one, but three degrees to her name.

“I love my job at Event Plan in Cork,” adds Elena, who also loves her style and is partial to the occasional cocktail.

“I was still a student when I landed the job! I had a month to go and I was submitting my final paper in CIT. I only finished last September.”

It was a good gig to get.

“Margaret and I were immediately drawn to each other,” says Elena.

“She’s awesome and she’s really likeable.”

Elena is part of a great work team.

“Margaret and Jenny, whom I work with, are really lovely people and we all get on very well together.”

Elena wasn’t very well when she was born.

“I was born with type three osteogenesis imperfecta, which in layman’s terms is a bone disease of which there are 18 types,” explains Elena.

Her determination to survive and to thrive was obvious from the start.

“As soon as I was born, I instantly began fighting for my life,” she says.

“The type of osteogenesis imperfecta I have is quite severe. It’s a disorder of the collagen in your body that affects the connective tissues, ligaments, and areas of your body that are concerned with collagen.”

The collagen issue doesn’t affect Elena’s glowing skin. She laughs.

“That’s true! People tell me that I have very good skin,” says Elena smiling.

“The skin is the largest organ in the body; I have a good diet, eating healthily and looking after myself.

“Being aware of your wellbeing makes you stronger in body and mind.”

Elena Canty at home in Ballyvolane
Elena Canty at home in Ballyvolane

Being out in the great outdoors helps keep her complexion rosy.

“Maybe my good skin condition is because I love being out in the garden at home where I live with my parents. It is a beautiful spot with lovely flowers growing there and birds coming to visit the garden.”

Elena doesn’t dwell on her condition. She does dwell on being the best that she can be and always looking on the bright side of life. Her disability doesn’t define her or hold her back in any way.

“My condition can also affect organs so my lungs wouldn’t be the best. That’s one of my extra complications.”

She has an uncomplicated description of herself.

“I’m 30, flirty and thriving!”

But she’s not your typical 30-year-old.

“The condition I have varies between patients really,” says Elena.

“So no two people with OI would have it the same but it is basically a brittle bone disease. I would fracture much easier than the average person. I could sneeze or cough and crack a rib. When I was younger I was in out of hospital a lot with chest infections; it was like Grey’s Anatomy! I always seemed to be recovering from something, whether it was a fracture or a chest infection, so I missed out a lot.”

There is never a dull moment in Elena’s life. Oozing positivity, she doesn’t miss out on making the most of life, ensuring her disability doesn’t define her.

“It is a very interesting disease,” says Elena. “You definitely don’t have a dull moment!

“I have scoliosis as well, which is another complication, and I don’t walk at all. My legs wouldn’t be able for it.”

The plucky lady is well able for lots of things though. She holds a masters from CIT in PR, a bachelors in Business Administration, as well as studying marketing in Cork College of Commerce.

She forged precious friendships throughout her student life.

“I love going out and hanging out with my friends and I love going shopping too!”

The ‘flirty’, thriving 30-year-old doesn’t hang about.

“I love socialising.”

Elena does things in style.

“Dining in style and going for cocktails is what I love to do!”

She loves life.

“I have a lust for life!”

She has a healthy appetite for living life.

“Getting dressed up and going to eat at a nice restaurant in town with my friends is really enjoyable.”

She thinks big.

“I like to live large when we can, at the moment we can’t.”

Noirin Canty and Elena Canty from Ballyvolane at a Cork Ladies Shine for Autism event
Noirin Canty and Elena Canty from Ballyvolane at a Cork Ladies Shine for Autism event

Reflecting on her school years, Elena said: “My local primary school was great. It was only down the road from us and I loved the teachers there.

“I found progressing to secondary school a lot harder and a major stepping stone for me. I think my disability added to the pressure, even though I had a fantastic PA who was like my proxy mum. She became my friend and she helped me complete the six years at secondary school.”

The world was beckoning, with lots of opportunities.

“Even though I didn’t get the career guidance advice I needed, I think the Universe had other plans for me,” says Elena.

Those plans included embracing life and discovering life is beautiful.

“I learned that life is beautiful when you stand out and embrace yourself,” says Elena.

As a keen pupil, she learned a lot about business and marketing at Cork College of Commerce and about PR and New media when she achieved a masters degree in CIT, all of which would serve her well in her future career.

“I loved college life, I really did,” says Elena.

She was treated like royalty.

“I was born for luxury!” she jokes.

“I didn’t use the bus. For the first two and half years my mum brought me to college. Then I got a taxi there for four years.”

Elena took to academia like a duck to water.

“The dynamic was different from school and I enjoyed the camaraderie with the other students,” she says.

“They were all my peers. We were all like-minded adults who had a lot in common. Networking and socialising with people was brilliant.”

College life agreed with her.

“When we got the chance, we went out in town for nice meals and cocktails,” says Elena.

“I like a trip to the cinema and nature walks.”

Elena is a people-person.

“Hanging out with family and friends, with good people, is good for the soul and for the heart!”

How does she stay so upbeat, given the uncertain climate in the world at the moment?

“I don’t like dwelling on negativity. You know there is always something good to see in every day; something to be grateful for. All good things come in small packages!

“Just this morning, I saw a beautiful bird flying around my bedroom window. It’s the little things that matter.”

The big things matter too.

“I am blessed with my mum and dad,” says Elena.

Is she a daddy’s girl?

Elena laughs.

“I have to say that I am!” she says.

“My mother is my friend as well as my mum. We get on really well.

“I don’t linger or dwell on my health. My heart fills with joy about positive things. Nature helps me a lot.”

Like everybody else, Elena has her bad days.

“Yes, we can all get a bit down in the current climate.

“Life is not always a bed of roses. But there’s always something good to see in every day.”

Elena has days like everybody else.

“I have bad hair days too!”

She has a good perspective on life.

“My condition would get me down in some ways, but I think it gives me a different perspective in life,” says Elena.

“I don’t see the general problems some people might moan about. I think how far I have come in life.”

She doesn’t moan about some of the restrictions she faces as a wheelchair user.

“You get to know there are certain places that you can and can’t go,” says Elena.

“When Cork was European Capital in 2005, the city was done up to a certain degree and accessibility improved a good deal. But we’re not there yet.

“There are still some buildings with no ramps, only flights of stairs. You don’t fight with the world every day, you’d only get frustrated. I tend to go to places with accessible entrances and exits.”

She was in a good place for her 30th birthday in February.

“I was haunted, as the saying goes!” says Elena, laughing.

“I was 30 before Covid hit and we all had a great old knees up at the party!”

Elena, a people person and an extrovert, would like romance in her life at some point.

“He’d have to be a good cook!” she says. “And he’d have to be kind and funny too.

“I might meet him some day. Right now, I don’t know where he is.”

What advice would Elena give to other 30- year-olds?

“Be yourself,” she says.

“Take one day at a time. Life is a journey, it’s not a race.

“We’ll all get there if we cheer each other on,” she adds.

“The gift of life is great. Take that on board every day and learn each day.

She has wise words for everybody.

“Be your authentic self. Don’t pretend. If you have to alter the way you act you are with the wrong group of people.

“I can be myself, even at work. Being unique is what it’s all about.”

Sage advice indeed from someone who was born to stand out.

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