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Friday, January 13, 2012

Brief Candle

Some things have been weighing heavily on me lately. I haven’t written because (for once) I don’t know quite how to address this topic. But it is growing inside me, taking me over, so in the spirit of my blog I must write it down.

Ever since my diagnosis, I have approached healing as a kind of extended improvisation, a lone player on a stage stringing phrases together as new challenges crop up. I have never met or spoken to another adult patient like me because we are so rare, a few hundred cases per year. Every once in a while I search the web for craniopharyngiomas, but mostly I am led to dry medical studies, not actual patients.

A few weeks ago, this changed. I joined a support group.

In the privacy of a closed group I can read about and communicate with others who have my same condition. As a “one-of-a-kind” patient before, I felt the freedom to make fun of myself as a way of coping. This allowed me to dive back into normal life. But when the tables are turned—when I read about someone else with the same condition—my heart crushes.

A thornier issue is that my support group gives me further insight into our bumpy lives ahead. I can peer into my future. I’ve been getting used to everything for just two years, but now I can talk with people who have lived with it much longer, saying things like, “Oh, I’m on my seventh brain surgery,” as if amassing surgeries were the same as collecting baseball cards. After a while, I suppose it gets to that point. You grow a tough outer shell. You get used to hospital stays every few years, all the needles and beeping machines. You make another notch on your belt and then wait for the next one. I’m not ready to go there with my thoughts yet, but now I see it around the corner.

When I saw the tributes for the children in my group who had “earned their wings” in the past month, I lost it. As I scrolled through the pictures—images I would never show MJ or anyone else—my first reaction was to want to trade places with them. I would, in that instant, have given my life so one of the other patients could have lived. But when I really think it through, I have to wonder if trading one patient for another makes much difference, or any sense. It’s apples for apples, and we all live through the same things, going at it our own ways, finding our own highs and lows along the timeline. I guess what I felt was a primal drive for brotherhood or sisterhood. I wanted to show compassion and solidarity. Then I wanted to feel it right back.

I know how serious things are with me, but I also know my condition is anything but hopeless. If anything, I’m the lucky one in my group wrestling with survivor’s guilt when so many others are saddled with obesity, blindness, heart conditions or adrenal crises. So far I have kept these side effects at bay while I improvise my part upon the healing stage, strutting and fretting with all my sound and fury, surely signifying something.

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