NEW YORK – Rachel Uchitel was thrust into the spotlight as one of the women entangled in the Tiger Woods 2009 cheating scandal. Now, six years later, the single mom and store owner of New York City's Wyatt Lilly Boutique has a new challenge ahead – brain surgery. The former reality star spoke to FOX411 about her recent diagnosis, dealing with chronic pain, and how she has lived her life following one of the biggest scandals to hit the sports world.
FOX411: When is your surgery?
Rachel Uchitel: My surgery is scheduled September 22nd. The procedure is five hours and I’ll be in the hospital for 3-5 days depending on my recovery.
FOX411: How common is your disease, Chiari?
Uchitel: One in 1,000 people have it. It’s rare that it’s diagnosed but it’s quite common. People think they have headaches or backaches. You need to get an MRI for it and the doctor knows about it. It’s a birth defect.
FOX411: How were you diagnosed?
Uchitel: It’s been really bad. I suffered from what I thought was migraines. I played high school in tennis. I was in boarding school and was hospitalized for my back. I grew up knowing I had back problems. In the last two years, I’ve been getting epidurals in my back and they weren’t working so my doctor told me to think about surgery. So, I saw a surgeon at Cornell who did four MRI’s on my spine and he completely randomly said the problem is in mine brain not my back. Two or three months ago I was diagnosed. So, people living with this are living with this crazy pain, taking pain medicine, getting back surgery and don’t know they have this.
FOX411: There have been several photos of you lifting a bench. The media has put headlines questioning why on the heels of brain surgery you would be lifting a bench. Your reaction?
Uchitel: So, I haven’t even seen that. I have a bench in front of my store. They’re not huge heavy benches. The benches are there so husbands can sit outside of my store and they don’t get irritated when their wives are shopping.
FOX411: How old is your daughter, Wyatt? Who will help take care of her during your recovery?
Uchitel: I have some friends that I trust helping me with my store. I’m trying to get back to the stores but I’m hoping only two weeks. The doctor is afraid I’ll over exert myself so technically I should be out three weeks to a month.
FOX411: How has your disease impacted your daily life?
Uchitel: I’m a single parent of a three-year-old daughter. I run my store every day. I have a boutique on the Upper East Side and it’s hard to maintain a life, go to the gym and raise a child every day with this pain. I try to maintain a normal life, but sometimes I can hardly stand up. It feels like I was in a car accident. A lot of the medicines they put me on to get rid of the headaches and back pain gave me side effects that were almost early onset Alzheimer’s. I would say things like, “I have to put on wine,” when I meant lotion. So, I would talk like I was a crazy person. I would flip words but not know I was doing it. It was so scary. I wouldn’t know if I calculated something at work or if I took a pill. I didn’t want to tell anyone. It was really freaking me out. I started dating a new guy. For me to sit him down and tell him, “By the way, I’m getting brain surgery,” was really hard. We’re still dating. He’s the guy bringing me to surgery.
FOX411: How has life been since you stepped away from the spotlight?
Uchitel: I’m completely focused on my store and my daughter. I realize I opened myself up to the public since 9/11, when I lost my then fiancé in the Trade Tower attacks, so I try to make myself available. I hope that people can understand that I’m a person. I’m just a mom trying to work hard and hope they have compassion.
FOX411: Do you still deal with negativity tied to the Woods’ scandal?
Uchitel: I’ve moved on from that.