{Irruption}: an invasion of birds in unusual places

Tag Archives: brain tumor

And isn’t that what literature requires, really, for the writer to feel like her life depends upon it?
–Helen Schulman*

I am not certain when I first realized I had a problem with language. Memories six months prior to my SBT (Stupid Brain Tumor) seem to come and go, and some memories are nonexistent. If not for stories from my friends and family, and the writings in my journal, some so strange they fail to make sense, it seems as if I ceased to exist in mind and spirit while my body lay in wait for embalming. I felt as I was a stranger in a new country, and the language barrier made me invisible.

Instead of displaying the gift of gab that my mother would accuse me off having when I was young, I began hesitating over each word, fearing some dreadful malapropism or simply using the wrong word (like dock) when I was actually describing the hoist. I had to walk on the dock to get to the hoist which held the boat, but for some reason, my brain now found ways to avoid the logical sequence of events or find the correct word. As the Beatles famously sang, “Say the word and you’ll be free.” Well, damn, I wanted to be free, and I felt as if my life depended on it. I began to retreat more and more into my home office, lie down on the couch, and watch television. I became hooked on NCIS and the character Ziva David.

Ziva David’s character, played by actress Cote de Pablo, is a former Israeli Mossad agent who becomes an NCIS Special Agent. Ziva’s malapropisms, called “Ziva-isms,” are well known to NCIS viewers. As Ziva adapts to American culture and its plethora of analogies, idioms, and slang, she also shows her fellow agents that she doesn’t take crap from anyone. As I became addicted to NCIS marathon days, watching five or six shows in a row, I felt as if someone was “jerking my brain” (chain) as Ziva said in one episode. The NCIS family became my family, and I gave up reading books and writing.

Time passed and my frustration grew with my inability to comprehend anything more complex than People magazine. One day, as I stood in my office, staring at hundreds of my books, I noticed Laura Kasischke’s book of poetry, Space, in Chains, sitting on a shelf, by itself, as if waiting. I began rereading her poetry, and when I finished each poem, I sat still and listened to the quiet. I decided I was in language rehab.

Eventually, I began reading novels again, slowly, as if I was learning to ride a bicycle. I wondered if I had finally adjusted to my anti-seizure medication or if the radiation from my Gamma-Knife surgery had opened up a sliver of thought in my clogged head. One day I opened my writing journal, and instead of recording my thoughts for the day, I attempted to write a poem. It was horrible, but I sent it to my friend Chris Giroux. Chris and I became friends when I taught at SVSU, and we had been exchanging our writing for many years, providing feedback, ripping what needed ripped, or praising each other’s work when we got something right. I began spending less time watching NCIS and more time writing. I felt the jerk, jerk, jerk of my brain as it tried to move past language rehab and into the real world.

As luck would have it, around the same time, a former student of mine, Alie Buckley, contacted me on Facebook. She had started a blog, http://ifcoffeecouldtalk.wordpress.com/. Alie asked me how I was, so I told her about SBT. She encouraged me to start a blog and share my story. Alie became my teacher, showed me how to start a blog, and offered to read my posts before publication and give feedback. Again, I felt the jerk, jerk, jerk of my brain, and started to write for a different purpose: I wanted to tell my story. Perhaps if I wrote it, I would understand it.

I published my first blog post on June 14, 2012, and the process has been cathartic, therapeutic, made me laugh as I write, and made me cry far more than I ever imagined it would. I realize I am writing now because my life depends on it.

I am still addicted to NCIS and spend the occasional afternoon on the couch watching reruns when my headaches or balance issues sideline me. I believe I am making progress in this battle against SBT, and I am hoping language rehab will soon be a thing of the past. But as I have learned, friends and family provide the constant source of strength I need in my life, whether or not I am in language rehab. So if you see me out somewhere, and we strike up a conversation, and I pause for a moment, wait. My words are forthcoming: They are on the slip of my tongue.

*Schulman, Helen. “First In Her Class.” The Friend Who Got Away. Eds. Jenny Offill and Elissa Schappell. New York: Broadway, 2005. Digital Print.


I have never run in the Boston Marathon or any other marathon for that matter. I have run in countless road races over the years: four half-marathons, several ten-mile races, and so many 10ks and 5ks I can’t remember them all. My biggest concern for these road races centered on one thing: Will I finish the race? Only once did I fail to finish when I suffered a grand mal seizure around Mile 2 and later found out I had a brain tumor. That’s enough to screw up anyone’s day.

For thousands of runners in Boston, their race came to a halt because evil exists in our world, not because their bodies let them down. For thousands of well-wishers and family members, the end of the race brought death, catastrophic injuries, and broken hearts. I wonder if I will ever understand.

Although I have run only one road race since October 29, 2011, I have gone for solo runs and tried to get myself back into running shape. Unfortunately, my SBT (Stupid Brain Tumor) does not always allow me to train the way I want to. Years ago, when Jim and I trained for our first half-marathon, we would head out on the country roads and run ten or twelve miles at a time to prepare. Now I feel gratitude if I can run five miles, and I am often trying to literally find my balance. Tunes on my iPod sometimes help, but on other days, listening to the contradiction of birds singing against the thwack-thwack of my running shoes on the pavement is all I need. When I lived in Midland, Michigan, people in my neighborhood waved at me or clapped as I ran by their yards. One man offered to let me run through his sprinklers on a particularly muggy day. I loved the camaraderie.

Something spiritual happens to me when I run whether or not I am alone or in the company of others. It is as if I become one with the earth as my feet carry my body along to whatever destiny or mileage goal I have in mind. For the runners in the Boston Marathon, I can only imagine what it must be like for those who had finished, those who were crossing the finish line at the moment of tragedy, and those who were told to stop because bombs were exploding.

I remember watching the television footage that day. Various channels repeatedly showed an elderly man near the finish line, stumbling, and then falling as the first blast erupted. Immediately, people rushed to help him up, and I thought of him as if he were my own father, knocked down by something unknown, even though my father never ran a road race during his life. I could not understand why someone would want to harm this elderly man, still out there at his age, still running, his memories carrying him forward through 26.2 miles, and well wishers standing nearby to encourage him before their cheers were suddenly drowned in the abyss of grief.

We are never the same after unspeakable tragedy. We can only try and prepare ourselves for the next time, and so we run, walk, or move through our days, watching, remembering, and praying to cross the finish line, imagining the sounds of gratitude for our smallest accomplishments.


On Soul To Soul Stevie Ray Vaughan’s voice growls “You can’t change it / You can’t rearrange it” on a song aptly titled “Change It,” written by Doyle Bramhall. The song describes a relationship that has suffered through its share of mistakes, “painful memories,” and “back-door moves.” The song invokes the concept of forgiveness for past mistakes and the idea that if only one could rearrange history, or perhaps have an opportunity for redemption, there might be a chance for the relationship to survive. We all make choices every day of our lives, such as what we eat, where we go, what we do, but we also make choices that impact our friends and family. There are times I have made choices to protect myself, both physically and emotionally, and there are times I have made choices I thought would bring joy and happiness to someone and found the reverse to be true. If I could change or rearrange a moment in time when I made a friend of over thirty years so angry with me that we are no longer speaking, would I? No, and I will tell you why.

As a child and a teenager, I hurt people for my own selfish reasons. Equally, people hurt me along the way. We all seemed to survive, heartbreak withstanding, and we learned something valuable. At least I did. As I grew older, I tried to be more thoughtful, compassionate, and empathetic. However, there were times when I did none of these things well, and my inner-brat reared its ugly head; I was not kind to people who really needed my kindness. I could have been a better friend, daughter, granddaughter, cousin, neighbor, mother, and wife. I made mistakes, and I figure I will make lots of other mistakes before I die. When I screw up, typically on a daily, sometimes hourly basis, my joke is that I have made a mistake this year (yeah, it’s only March), so I should be done for another 365 days. Fat chance.

Friendships as relationships seem to have their own special place in our history, our psyche; they serve as a mirror of the kind of person we wish to be. I am not suggesting we seek out people exactly like us, but rather that we seek people who share some rudimentary notion of life that we do and who still like us after we have done something completely idiotic.

Some friendships fade as geography, jobs, family, and life move us into different spaces. Sometimes a person’s actions break the bonds of kinship. Years ago, someone I really liked gave me used deodorant as a Christmas gift. She said it made her “pits break out,” and she thought I could use the deodorant. Seriously. If we had been children on opposite ends of a seesaw, I would have jumped off my end to hear her butt smack the ground and laugh when she screamed with pain. I threw the deodorant in the trash.

Some friendships intensify as fate deals out its cards and you find yourself at your lowest point. There’s an old Jimmy Cox song that Eric Clapton covered on his Unplugged album, and the narrator explains “then I began to fall so low / lost all my good friends / had nowhere to go… / nobody knows you when you’re down and out.” So true. I remember discovering this when my daughter Nicole died. People avoided me in public or said completely asinine things to me. One day at a grocery store, a couple my husband and I knew quite well, spotted us, and basically sprinted out of the store to avoid us. We never heard from them again. It was as if we had been given a Scarlet letter, perhaps a “G” for grief, something that many people cannot quite negotiate. On the day of my daughter’s funeral, a woman from the church leaned toward me and said tersely: “You should have prayed harder. I prayed for all three of my children.” I really would have liked to bounce her ass off of a seesaw, but the heavy weight of the “G” on my black dress prevented me from making any sudden moves.

This phenomenon of avoidance while someone is clearly “down and out” happened again when I learned I had a brain tumor. Having an SBT (stupid brain tumor) is not a subject many people can easily talk about. In fact, it can be a real conversation stopper. At first I didn’t want anyone to know I had one, and then I shifted into telling complete strangers as if by declaration I could own it and defeat it. Now, once again, I don’t like to tell anyone: I just want people to think I’m weird. It’s easy to flip the letter: M for Melissa to W for weird. Problem solved.

I thought I was figuring things out and learning how I would spend the rest of my life with SBT forever and ever stuck in my head. Negotiating what the medication and SBT were doing to my head and body, I seemed to be coming into a fairly good space. I had finally learned what I could and could not do physically. I started writing and reading again. I could remember stories I read. I could remember that my husband told me what was for dinner ten times in a three-hour period. I believed I was funny again. I started playing my guitar and singing the raunchy songs I knew and loved, most of them written by me or my band mates.

Then the sequence of events that slipped me into the “down and out” phase began: I pissed off one of my best friends; my seventeen-year-old dog died; my father died. I started wearing the letter “G” again as I stumbled through my days. My family put up with me, but drew the line at my sudden outbursts of songs I made up on the spot, typically involving their names in the chorus. My friends, but not the one I had pissed off, called me, showed up, texted me, emailed me, brought me chocolate chip cookies and beer, and hugged me until I couldn’t breathe. But let me backtrack for a moment.

I spent the months of April and May last year dealing with my father’s illness, his subsequent move to a nursing home, and the additional task of emptying out his apartment. My dog’s health also started to decline. Three of my dear friends decided to come to my house for a few days to cheer me up and go visit my father at his nursing home. We got the bright idea to visit another friend, the one I would deeply piss off. We had all known each other for years. Although my soon-to-be-ex-friend seemed out of sorts with me that day, I didn’t think too much about it. No one else seemed to notice anything. Several days later, I called her to invite her to dinner with some mutual friends. She gave me a verbal smack down I will never forget. If we had been on a seesaw, my ass would have hit the ground with a sonic boom. I started crying as she continued telling me everything that was wrong with me. I guess I prefer small doses of being berated and reminded of my faults. My husband, fully aware of whom I was speaking to, watched me carefully. The crickets in my head, a condition SBT is teaching me to live with, started chirping, and I could no longer hear what she was shouting at me. I said to her: “I can’t understand what you are saying, and I have to hang up.” I did. The next day, I received two emails from her itemizing everything I had done wrong within a three-day period. Several weeks after the initial emails, I received a very long email deconstructing my faults. I wondered why she hadn’t included the past thirty years, since I was fairly certain I had screwed up at least a gazillion times in the past.

She needed her “space,” and she felt as if I had her “under surveillance” even though she lived miles and miles away from me, and I had been dealing with my father’s issues in a different town over eighty miles from my home. Apparently she thought I had one hell of pair of binoculars in my possession, or perhaps she thought I had a drone hovering over her house. She also accused me of not saying the right things, which I agree I am darn good at. Even before I discovered SBT, I had a habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. My mother would have called it “foot-in-mouth disease.” As my list of sins grew longer, I became more and more flummoxed. Flim-flammed. Flabbergasted.

In addition to my grief over the loss of my father even before he was dead, I knew it was only a matter of time before my dog would die. I admit I was a walking nightmare during these months with death knocking at my door. My SBT also decided to rear its ugly head and create balance issues for me. The only thing that kept me going forward and not climbing into the back of a hearse for my own ride to freedom was the mercy my family and friends showed me. Mercy. Oh, and a lesson I was about to learn.

In one of my ex-friend’s emails to me, she explained that she had certain friends she did certain things with. I did not find any categories in which I comfortably fit. The thought of category friends deeply interested me. I considered my running friends. We also travelled together, drank beer, shopped together, and helped each other out a moment’s notice. What about my teaching friends? We also travelled together, drank beer, shopped together, or helped each other out at a moment’s notice. What about high school friends? We travelled together, drank beer, shopped together, oh, you get the drift. It seemed tedious to me to think I had to categorize my friends, but what was more upsetting to me was to realize my ex-friend had excluded any categories in which I could fit unless I had some sort of extreme makeover. Why was I just now finding out I was no longer good enough for her or her friendship?

It’s awkward now. People who assume we are still friends ask about her. When I answer, I feel as if I am in high school, and I have to explain why my boyfriend broke up with me. “Well, you know, he liked someone better than me.” Typically, I just say my ex-friend is busy, and I haven’t seen her for a while. The lie slips easily off my tongue.

I wish I could ask my father for advice. He was more of the “to-hell-with-them” kind of guy if someone didn’t like what he had done. My mother’s response would have been more nuanced. She would have told me to “kill [my friend] with kindness.” Was she really suggesting mercy? How do I show my friend/ex-friend mercy? How do I show her kindness when all I can feel inside myself is a year filled with so much loss and grieving? I know now I could never be myself around her again, because I would always be afraid of screwing up the friendship. I would fall out of some imaginary category I fit into. I must have misunderstood the friendship all of these years.

On one beautiful spring day last year, I walked into her house with several other women intending to embrace friendship and accomplishment, when, instead, I ignited a slow-burning fire that must have been waiting to ignite with just the right amount of kindling. If there is regret on my part, I shall focus on not seeing the warning signs in the decline of our friendship. As for mercy, I do not ask for mercy from her; rather, I seek mercy to forgive myself. The poet Alexander Pope wrote “To err is human; to forgive, divine.” Sometimes we are so busy in life seeking forgiveness from others, that we forget to forgive ourselves for being human. I continue to be a work-in-progress, understanding that my next mistake is just around the corner where I might just find myself on the wrong end of the seesaw.


Ducktivity

Crickets

The crickets in my head chirp loudly today as if I can hear them through the snow. Late November days can be harsh in Northern Michigan, and the crickets have not been around for months. Still, I can hear them. Bird sounds offer a respite from the unrelenting crickets desperate to be heard in my head.

During the daytime, ducks take charge of the lake. Common loons serenade from a distance as they search deep water for perch or bass. Mallards, mergansers, and buffleheads paddle nearby on the water, content as they dip their heads while searching for minnows. Mallards shuttle between the shoreline and the lawn beneath our bird feeders, their path clearly seen through the snow. By late afternoon, chickadees sing as they help themselves to seeds from the feeders, while a pair of mallards watches from below, the male craning his head upward as if willing a chickadee to drop a seed just for him. If I venture outside, the male quacks loudly at me, scolding me for intruding upon his territory, and waddles off towards the water’s edge. I don’t remember exactly when the crickets appeared. Was it during the summer of 2011 when I began suffering from excruciating headaches? Was it after I found out I had a brain tumor? Or did the crickets begin to chirp as edema began surrounding the tumor, its edges slightly altered after the radiation began to work its way in?

One morning I walked through the snow towards the lake, and shot pictures of ducks as they swam away from me. I wished that I could swim away from this constant noise in my head, and the balance issues that prevent me from running now or walking a straight line in the hallways of my house. I know this edema will pass eventually, and the crickets will disappear.

I imagine myself next summer swimming stealthily out towards deep water and diving down, searching for treasures only water can disguise. When I return to shore and step lightly onto the hot sand, I will feel a warm summer breeze stretching across my body as it silences the crickets. I will look upwards towards the brilliant sky, thankful and smiling.


I Wanna Be Sedated

Despite ear plugs and headphones blasting music the MRI folks provided, I wasn’t really prepared for the pounding and jack hammer noises for forty-five minutes. I don’t remember my first-ever MRI in October 2011, after I had a seizure while running in the Zombie road race. Yes, the drugs were that good. When I had a second MRI the morning of my Gamma Knife surgery several weeks afterwards, I did have a little happy medicine in me, but not too much since I had to be coherent for my surgery. The cage attached to my head by four screws was my biggest concern, and I figured nothing could beat that squeezing sensation. For my third MRI on November 14, 2012, I decided I would undergo the procedure without medication. As the MRI folks slipped me into the Open-MRI machine, I settled in, imagined floating on water, and soon heard Taylor Swift singing “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” through the headphones. Wait! The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated” screamed from somewhere in my brain.

Mr. MRI sings boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom-boom, and I pretend to hear “Ba-ba-bam-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-bam-ba, I wanna be sedated.” But Taylor Swift keeps interrupting: “Ooh-eee-ooh, we are never ever getting back together.” I think: Wait…this is my time…my happy place…Ramones…“I can’t control my fingers; I can’t control my brain…I wanna be sedated.” I consider pushing the call button, but it feels like a fat minnow in my hand. The mad music machine continued playing songs I had never heard of while the MRI beat out its own form of torture. Was this hell?

Some forty minutes later, I heard the unmistakable sound of Toby Keith’s voice singing “Every Dog Has His Day.” “It’s about time,” I muttered to no one. Even though I had never ever heard the song before, I thought it was a sign from the music gods. After all, I had just written about a dog in a pre-MRI post on my blog. In my shaken, but not stirred brain, I believed Keith’s song meant my latest MRI would show a much smaller tumor.

After several days of waiting, I finally received an email with my results: “[The tumor] may be slightly smaller.”  Further into the report I read: “There is now note of fairly extensive…edema involving left temporal white matter.” I knew from previous conversations with the Gamma Knife folks that edema around a tumor after radiation surgery is fairly common and could be responsible for my balance issues and headaches. Well, funky cold edema!

Dennis from Gamma Knife phoned me the next day after he conferred with the neurosurgeon. My MRI report was “as expected.” As for the edema, it would eventually go away, perhaps in two months or two years. I had three choices as for taking care of the edema: deal with it, take steroids for three weeks, or have brain surgery and remove the tumor. They highly recommended I did not have brain surgery. That works for me: I never ever want someone to cut into my head if it isn’t absolutely necessary. Bring it on, funky cold edema! Dizziness? Barometric-pressure-fueled headaches? I grew up in Dodge City, Kansas, SBT, and I’m not afraid of you.

Next November, I will have another MRI, and I hope my SBT, will have gotten a little smaller. I know I have some challenges in front of me, but that’s the way it goes in life. I am thankful for my family and friends putting up with me during this really crappy year. I could focus on the grief I have felt during the death of my father and dog this year. I could focus on the way having a meningioma has affected my life. Instead I have discovered that I need to focus on the joy music brings me. I realize that even if I could return to the life I had before I got smacked in the head, I would never ever wish for the old me. I have learned a lot about myself this year and what I should be focusing on. My family and friends are what get me through my days of uncertainty, and music, sweet, sweet music is all the sedative I need. Well, and maybe a nice cold beer at the end of the day.


Brain Tumor

SBT

Move it on Over

I will admit it: I’m obsessed with my brain. Here is a snapshot of my brain on November 16, 2011. Pretend you are facing me. There is a golf ball on the left side of my head. It does not belong there. I was not on a golf course when someone accidentally hooked a tee shot, watched it take a Happy Gilmore bounce, split my head open, and lodge in my left temporal area. The meningioma has been growing inside my head, rather taking up residency without my approval or a background check. I should charge it rent, but if I do, it requires a name and a checking account. Actually cold hard cash will do.

My SBT (Stupid Brain Tumor), though it resembles a golf ball, is more like a bad dog that follows me everywhere, pissing on my new shoes, biting my ankles, and growling at the neighbors. My SBT reminds me of several songs in which a dog is the antagonist in the “story”: Iggy Pop and the Stooges’ “I Wanna Be Your Dog;” Johnny Cash singing about a “Dirty Old Egg-Suckin’ Dog; or Earl Flatt and Lester Scruggs singing “Salty Dog Blues.” Perhaps the most relevant song to my situation is by Hank Williams when he sings “Move It on Over”:

Yeah, listen to me, dog, before you start to whine.

That side’s yours and this side’s mine.

So move it on over, rock it on over.

Move over little dog, a big old dog is movin’ in.

On November 16, 2011, I had Gamma Knife surgery; 54-minutes of radiation was aimed at my head to slice and dice the SBT. In a few days, I will have an MRI to determine if little dog is moving out.

Regardless of the outcome of Thursday’s MRI and the subsequent report, I will never be the way I was before. I see that as a good thing. For one thing, my dreams are better, more vivid, but it could be from the anti-seizure medication I am on. When I wake up in the morning, I think about my friends and family and how lucky I am. Then I move it (my body) on over to the edge of the bed, put my feet down on the floor, get up slowly, breathe in the day’s possibilities, and growl as I make my way towards the promise of a hot cup of tea. On Thursday, I will follow my morning routine as I take my moment in the MRI spotlight; and await the presence of big old dog as she rocks little dog right on out of the picture.


When did you last show empathy towards another human being? Is being empathetic something you practice on a daily basis? Are you sensitive to the suffering of others? Sounds simple, right? I always thought so. However, I have begun to realize that the conscious desire to be an empathetic person is not something everyone has. Or, perhaps, some people just lack their empathy bone.

I guess most people know where their funny bone is located. The long bone of the upper arm is known as the humerus, and when one pronounces the word, it sounds just like humorous. Hence, the funny bone. So if most people know where their funny bone is located, I wonder if people know where their empathy bone is located. Probably not. As far as I know, we don’t actually have an empathy “bone” since it is a cerebral entity, but we should not have to bang our heads or elbows in desperation to discover that we might actually be sensitive to another person’s pain and suffering. Should we? When is the last time you felt empathy for someone? What was it like? When is the last time you dealt with someone who clearly had no empathy bone? Did you crack that person over the head with your funny bone? Well, if the person I am writing about had been sitting in the same room with me, I would have smacked her with my humerus, and it would not have been humorous.

During an online discussion about creative writing, a friend of mine wrote about a student breaking down in class. Then, FBG (Facebook Gal) suggested that in creative writing classes (and I am guessing elsewhere in life), “adults have bigger demons, less innocence, and bigger panties,” and thus should be able to deal with criticism and not cry in class or anywhere else for that matter. I, along with others, pointed out that perhaps the student was just going through a tough time or having a bad day, and the age of a person should not dictate how many demons one has or how much innocence (or lack thereof) one has.

FBG then informed folks participating in the tremulous thread of conversation that she worked in a hospital, and she attempted to suggest her previous comments were about someone in high school and not a “full grown woman.” Following that, FBG tried to clarify who had the right to cry in public: “Having cancer is having a bad day, and [she] hardly ever see[s] them cry about it.” These are the following two posts:

Me: “Yes, FBG, having cancer sucks. I happen to have a brain tumor, and I can tell you about having a bad day. If you don’t see me crying, it doesn’t mean I don’t cry in private. I am a full-grown woman (whatever that means) if that makes any difference.”

FBG: “I’m not going to argue with a woman with a brain tumor, but I am curious as to why my comments are received [sic] color coated like skittles by all the other commentators. Hey I used a simile!” She followed her last comment with a smiley face.

Well, shiver me empathetic timbers! I told my husband that if I am ever in a hospital where this woman works to make sure she stays far away from me. I wouldn’t care if she showed up with fifty smiley faces, and she was writing similes by the dozen.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on one’s point of view, my friend who posed the original question, decided to delete the post and all comments. Luckily I had printed off the post and the comments, because I wanted to reread the comments at my own leisure and try to make sense of how the conversation had taken such a weird turn. I should have remembered something my mother taught me years ago: “Don’t get into a pissing match with a skunk, because the skunk always wins, and you will come out stinky.” My idea for an updated version of this analogy would be this: “Don’t get into a pissing match with a complete stranger on Facebook, because that person always wins, because you stop responding in disgust.” But in all actuality, that person doesn’t really win the argument when he or she decides to deride the conversation by demonstrating a clear lack of an empathy bone.

Now perhaps FBG is really a nice person, and she just had a bad day on FB. Perhaps she does have an empathy bone. She does, after all, work at a hospital. I wish I knew which hospital it is, since it is a hospital where cancer patients don’t cry in front of her. I would have welcomed this scenario when I spent so many years in numerous hospitals and nursing homes when my parents were dying or when my daughter lay dying in the hospital.

Perhaps my empathy bone is overdeveloped. After all, I am a “full grown woman,” and “I’ve got bigger demons and less innocence.” It certainly is true that I have “big girl panties.” But I think my empathy bone started gaining strength after years of sitting in my office at work, and either reading student journals or listening to students who have suffered abuse at home; or young women who have been raped; or young men who have been beaten by their fathers for years; or students whose parents are going through a divorce and it is just killing them; or students whose parents or brothers or sisters are dying of cancer. And, yes, a great many of these students cried, and I cried along with them. Why are we so afraid of tears? Aren’t tears the lubricant for one’s empathy bone?

I want to thank FBG for making me think about ways in which I can be more empathetic to others. I am working on ways to be kinder to others every day—and am working on the notion that someone might be having a bad day if he or she tries to run over me when I am out running. Sometimes I can feel my middle finger start to rise in protest, and I want to shout the word “asshole,” but I am working on those nasty past behaviors of mine.

FBG also taught me a lesson: Not everyone is going to cut me any slack just because I have a brain tumor. In other words, I need to keep my big girl panties on at all times and deal with my demons. If someone wants to make a simile out of my misfortune, well, that is his or her right. A smiley face is optional.