Wednesday, May 12, 2010
One moment I was standing in my kitchen trying to get my five-year-old son to eat his breakfast while dodging the cereal my one-year-old daughter was throwing from her highchair tray, and the next moment I answered the phone call from my neurologist. Calling on a Saturday. He told me I had a brain tumor and that it was pressing on the third facial nerve. And then I sat down.
Even though I don't mind talking about this at all, I try not to bring it up. The problem is that it's impossible to mention casually; it stops every conversation dead in its tracks. And how would the topic come up, anyway? When people are talking about back pain, neck pain, am I supposed to mention my brain tumor? Who wants to be this big of an expert in anything?
Here's the deal: when you say you've had a brain tumor, even cancer patients feel sorry for you.
But this is what I realized right after my diagnosis: nothing had really changed. Yes, I had this really scary diagnosis, but not a bad prognosis: the tumor was benign and operable and would be removed in June. So the question was, what was my life supposed to look like between now and then? Was I supposed to moan and wail and be tragically afflicted every day of that two months? Or should I just live my life?
Since Momalom's Five for Ten writing topic for today is "Happiness" I thought I'd write about something inexplicable: I was happy anyway.
For the first time in my life, a life of secrets and privacy, of hugging pain and shame and medical problems close to me, I let people know what was wrong and, by doing so, an amazing thing happened to me. I let people care. Me, the person who had suffered through miscarriages in silence, not even telling my sisters or mother. At forty-one I finally understood that I had to allow myself to be both weak and strong, to be both sick and well, in order to be human.
Yes, there was quite the curiosity factor when I showed up at work again, everyone wondering why I was there when I had a brain tumor, but after the initial shock of seeing me look fine, seeing me laugh, seeing me work, seeing me okay - and sometimes seeing me not quite okay - things got back to normal. They could ask me when the surgery was, how long I'd be off, was I nervous? What could they do to help me and my family?
There was so much to be happy about, after all. I'd finally broken down the wall between me and the world and let people come in. And after the surgery and the, yes, grueling recovery, I went back to work and resumed my life with one addition: I started taking writing classes. Still alive.
Do you isolate or accept help and care? Have you ever suffered through something in silence, afraid to reach out? Have you ever been able to see that the situation is temporary but the happiness is permanent?