A Photograph of me without me in it

A Photograph of me without me in it
A photograph of me without me in it

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Seventy is the New Fifty

Joanie took me to Silver Sneakers this morning, one of the highlights of my week. The class is designed for seniors, so everyone except Joanie and me is in their seventies and eighties.

(Sylvia, who volunteers as a mental health counselor during crises returned recently from floods in New Orleans, Alabama and Mississippi. She's energetic and told me, "Seventy is the new fifty.)

Joanie's allowed into the club because she's in her third round of chemo for breast cancer. I'm allowed--and even welcomed--because I struggle with balance and coordination like many of my elders do.

Everyone’s friendly to me. Naima and Helen and I check in each week. They’ve both missed some classes over the summer, Naima for travel and Helen for the pool. I miss them and worry about them when they’re not there.

Folks in the class come ready to laugh. Last week, a woman wore a shirt that said, "Blessed 2B Dressed."

Chad, who is muscled and maybe in his forties and blind, leads the class. He's got a great sense of humor.

One day last month, Chad had this exchange with Roberta, who is a vocal exercist:

Chad: Lift those legs!

Roberta: I cain't!

Chad: Work with what you've got.

Roberta: But you don't see what I'm workin' with.
Today during a repetitive exercise Chad shared an anecdote that he received on email:

"A woman decided to celebrate her seventieth birthday in the nicest bed she could find, so she stayed at a fancy downtown hotel. The next morning when the bill came, she was shocked to see a $250 charge, so she asked to see the manager.
"'Well ma'am,' he explained, 'There's an Olympic-sized pool that's free of charge for our guests to use.'
"'But I didn't use it,' she complained.
"'But it was available. You could have.'
"The managed tried again to explain: 'There's a deluxe breakfast free to guests.'
"'But I didn't eat it,' she complained.
"'But it was available. You could have.'
"The managed tried again: 'There's was free entertainment in the bar.'
"'But I didn't go to it,' she again complained.
"And he again: 'But it was available. You could have.'
To his surprise, she wrote a check and handed it to him.
"'Ma'am, this check's only for $50. Your charge is for $250.'
"'I've deducted the cost of $200 for a night of unsurpassed passion,' she said.
"'But we didn't have a night of unsurpassed passion,' he told her.
"And she, 'But it was available. You could have.'

Chad laughed with his whole muscled body and then said, "Squats, ten. Begin."

In Silver Sneakers, squats are standing up out of a chair and then sitting back down. I'm getting better.

It helps me to have a blind teacher. I'm such a teacher-pleaser that if Chad could see me, I know I'd be performing. This way, I focus on good form and a strong core.

The hardest exercises for me are coordination exercises. Sometimes, for example, we do different things with our feet and hands. Today, for example, we dragged a foot from front to back while a hand punched from back to front.

I can rub my belly in a circular motion with one hand while I pat my head with the other (I just tried it, so I tell you true), but getting my feet and arms to move in opposing directions is impossible for me so far. I'll get it eventually.

The music plays in the background as we exercise. The class is like a Jane Fonda workout in chairs.

Mostly, the music's just in the background providing a beat, but sometimes the group joins in. I love it when this happens.

A few weeks ago, the song, "Everyone Knows It's Windy," played and the group whistled along. I can't whistle anymore since part of my mouth is paralyzed, but I nodded my head to the beat.

Today, when "You Are My Sunshine" played, the group sang along. Voices were high since most people in the class are women and the men didn't sing: maybe singing isn't considered manly when they're exercising.

I can't sing either, so again I nodded my head and laughed.

The group is jolly, but sometimes one-on-one conversations betray the difficulties of this time of life.

Today after class, Grace told me that she saw me at our hospital, Group Health, yesterday. “Why were you there?” I asked.

“They’ve found a lump on my lung and they’re keeping an eye on it,” she told me.
Last month, I overheard conversation between Carrie and Roberta as they talked on the couches after class:
First they talked animatedly.
Then they got quiet, leaning their heads together. Roberta said something in a whisper.
Carrie said, loudly, "Oh, is it Herbert's birthday?"
More whispering and then in a normal voice, Carrie said, "He's dead?"
After a pause, she said as much to herself as to Carrie, "Herbert's dead. I can't believe Herbert's dead. Last time I saw him, he didn't look well."
There was more silence, and then Roberta went to catch her ride.
When I left, a few minutes later, Carrie was still sitting in the same chair with her back to me. I heard her say, "Ohhh." A quiet moan.

After class, Joanie and I went to Trader Joe’s. Actually, Joanie went to Trader Joe’s. I napped in the car. (Joanie left the windows down just a bit so that I could breathe but I wouldn’t jump out of the car.) I was a good girl and got a dark chocolate truffle bar as my treat.

Next Thursday at Silver Sneakers will be festive. We’re having a potluck. Last time almost everyone brought dessert.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

No, Thank you.

Tonight my friend Chris took me to a reading at Elliot Bay bookstore: Seattle's independent treasure. I didn't want to go, but I didn't tell Chris that. Her friend Mary Bruno was reading from her new book An American River: part science, part memoir, part legal history, part environmental degradation. Part tragedy. Part comedy.

I attended because I like spending time with Chris and because a couple of years ago, the first time that I thought I had almost finished my memoir, I met with Mary and her partner Kate, and they were generous with their time and their ideas. It seemed like good Karma to go.

As so often happens when I attend something that I don't want to attend, I'm so glad I went.

Mary's an excellent reader and writer and something of a ham.

The book tells Mary's story of researching one of our country's worst superfund sites, a river in the town where she grew up in New Jersey.

The first anecdote that she read was of a childhood memory of a touch football game on a field by the river. The small town's bad boys and their leader the bully (every town has them), harassed a passing football player, tossing his shiny white helmet into the river's dark sludge.

That opening establishes the book's two main characters: Mary and the river. Mary is aware of the river's menace from this beginning, but in this telling, she is naive, a kid, unaware of the beauty that she lives so near. The river is at times the beauty and at other times, the beast. It is that dark place that we fear as children, a place that didn't have to be so dark--like Darth Vader, it might have had a different destiny, but it went awry. it was mistreated.

As Mary read, I thought, "I wonder if I will be able to write this way one day: seemingly a simple story simply told that is neither simple in its narrative nor its artistry."

Like attending this reading, I have done so many things in my life that I did not want to do, but turned out to offer great gifts:

I held Sister Jen's hand as we roller skated around the rink when I wanted to hang with the bigger kids, and the roller rink goddess awarded me with my first album: Chicago 9.

I watched The Sound of Music with my cousins because my Aunt Mary Ann forced me to (though the title sounded more like a lecture, or the longest and most boring thing I knew at the time: a sermon.); for a decade I couldn't wait to be sixteen like Liesl, because then I would be beautiful and dance and sing--and have a boyfriend (the fact that he ends up being a jerk, didn't disturb my young dream. Neither did the fact that I didn't really like boys other than for playing sports together. )

I had brain tumors even though I didn't want them, and from them I have new hobbies, new friends, new insights. (Though if given the choice, I'd still say no thank you to the tumors.) Because of these tumors, I'm writing this blog. And several books. And I’m meeting lots of new people with interesting stories. And I'm going to start a new career. And tough kids strolling down the street see my vulnerability and are kind to me.

I wonder what gift the next thing that I don't want to do will bring. I can hardly wait.


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Yoga Teachers Say The Darnedest Things

As our gentle yoga class warmed up on Monday, my teacher Dawn instructed us: "Breathe in through the souls of your feet and carry your breath to your knees. On the exhale, let the breath move from the knees back to your feet, and exhale out of the soles of your feet. [Pause, as we lie there pretending to have done this.] This time, breathe in through the souls of your feet and carry your breath to your hips...."

As I lay there, I continued to inhale through my mouth and exhale through my nose (as I must do because nose muscles that no longer work don't allow me to inhale through my right nostril.) So far as I can tell, my breath went down my throat into my lungs. It even continued to my diaphragm, a relatively new experience for me. I definitely didn't inhale through the soles of my feet. I couldn't even imagine that.

I assume that the instruction was not literal, but intended to give us an idea of moving the breath through our bodies. Something that I almost always realize in yoga: my imagination is limited.

Dawn's instructions reminded me of previous teachers:

My yoga therapist Anna said, "An arm is never just an arm." Yes, she really said that. She even wrote it down for me so that I would remember.

In one of the first classes I ever took, my first teacher, Denise, instructed us to "Soften the backs of your underarms." You try.

It's been twenty years, and I'm still trying to imagine how I might soften the backs of my underarms.

Much of the spirit of yoga, I am learning, is about surrendering to the unknown, relinquishing the idea that I am in control.

I used to think I was in control: all I had to do was to try my best. Sometimes I was successful and sometime I wasn't, but I was always trying and I was always exhausted. This was not the way that I wanted to live my life, but I didn't know a better way.

In this lesson of surrender, perhaps brain surgery and my disabilities have been my best teachers. They're a bit rough on discipline. (So you think you can walk in a straight line, do you? Watch this.... ) I have at last learned that I will not be able to balance walking down steps without a handrail even if I want to and even if I try really hard.

Perhaps I am learning to surrender, in my walking and in my living, to the greater force of what I call grace in my life.

I have just finished reading Claire Dederer's excellent memoir on the topic of surrender: Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses. The memoir is about learning how to grow out of being a child, and out of trying to be the perfect mom or the perfect wife. The memoir is amusing and sometimes irreverent, as most anything that's wise is.

I wonder if Dederer knows how to inhale through the soles of her feet. Or how to soften the backs of her underarms. I doubt it. She's not such a goody-goody as that, but she does teach me about yoga's soul which is perhaps surrender.

I'll bet she knows about the peace that passeth understanding, and about namaste, translated best, I think, as "I bow to the sacred in you."

Peace. Namaste.


Friday, September 21, 2012

My peeps will read my book.

My friend Tim, a colleague from the beginning of the century, called today, and it was great to hear from him. He’s had some rough physical times like I have.

One day, his knee was hurting. Then it hurt a lot. Then he couldn’t walk, so he went to the doctor, who gave him a shot to help him walk. The next day, the doctor called to say, “How soon can you get to the hospital? You have a virus in your knee that will kill you if it goes untreated, and I need to see you right away.”

He spent time in a wheelchair, time with a walker, and time learning to walk again, like I did.

It was great to connect with Tim in this new way.

Wednesday, in my yoga class, a young man who walked with a cane and his mom talked with me a little about their story. The young man, a nineteen year-old named Harry, was a straight-A student (his mom told me that part) and a dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet company when, at the age of fifteen, he contracted a virus that changed his life. The virus still has him sleeping 20 hours a day. He can stand for seven minutes, but then he’ll have to sit down or he’ll faint. He says that before the virus, he was a brat. He certainly doesn’t seem like one now. He seems like an old soul in a young body that doesn’t work as well as many young bodies do.

Harry’s life has changed and his mom’s life has changed, too. She’s his full-time care-giver. Her other son was born with brain trauma and then was one of the Jack in the Box children who had E-Coli.

After leaving yoga, I met with my neighbor Joanie who has stage four metastatic breast cancer and is going through chemo for the third time. My friend Kathy also has breast cancer and is going through chemo.

The list of people I know with life-changing health conditions keeps growing.

The year I started radiation for a second brain tumor, an uncle underwent  surgery for prostate cancer, a long-time family friend underwent radiation and chemotherapy for lung cancer, a friend was treated for a  tumor in her eye, and two friends shared debilitating mental health struggles.

 Though I am only in my forties, I am learning that health struggles are a normal part of life.

 I am also grateful to learn how many of us are grateful for each moment in our lives. Each person with whom I’ve talked sees the gifts of new perspective and new experiences with their condition.

I’m not sure that I would call us disabled. Gifted maybe. Wiser maybe. People of grace, for sure.

 Two years ago, when I first started talking with publishers about my memoir that included my experiences with brain tumors, a publisher’s representative told me that she thought my memoir would have a very small audience of others who have had brain tumors.

 I don’t think so. This summer, I finally brought that book, called Adventures in Recalculating: Finding New Routes at Life’s Detours, to a close. (I suspect that I could work on it for the rest of my life, but it’s time to move on.)

 I have other books in play. I have a lot to say.

 In October, I’ll start looking for an agent who understands that many of us will face life-changing health conditions. Heck, aging is a life-changing health condition. I’m looking for a big audience because I believe that I have a big story to tell.

 My title, Adventures in Recalculating: Finding New Routes at Life’s Detours, introduces the memoir’s theme, derived from my experience riding Access, Seattle’s public transportation vans for people with disabilities. The drivers sometimes ignore the direction-finder’s pleas to turn. As the van driver repeatedly ignores directions, the direction-finder seems to sigh, “Recalculating.” Access riders must surrender to a lack of control as our driver takes unexpected turns. As a person recovering from two brain tumors and learning to live with disabilities, I now recalculate my life’s journey, seeking to live fully in this now changed life.

Anne Lamott, in her reflections on her progressive faith, and David Sedaris, in his witty and kind portrayals of his Southern family, might have co-authored this book, a serious book with a sense of humor.

Who will read this book? My peeps will read this book. (And I have a lot of peeps.): Readers who appreciate a witty, smart voice; Progressive faith types; Gay people (all of them); People who did not follow their parents’ plans; Parents, teachers, yogis, heath-care providers, patients, ministers, Southerners and Seattle-ites. Goldilocks will love it: at 71,000 words it’s not too long, and it’s not too short.

Mean people will not like it.

Where can you find this book? In the memoir and the health sections of a book store. On your kindle. On audio, told in a deep, Southern female drawl. At the Lesbian Resource Center. At the hospital. In medical schools and teaching schools. Anywhere in the South. At the Home for Recovering Southerners.

Who will help this book come to life? I don’t know yet, but I believe that someone will. If you know that person, please connect us.





Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Rare and Peculiar

When I saw my naturopath about fatigue last week, I shared with her a new symptom: When I am moving—walking, riding in a car, flying in a plane—and then I stop, my body still thinks that it is moving, so my mind thinks that the world is moving and my balance is especially difficult.

To manage this sensation when I’m walking, I stop and pound my cane on the ground a few times before stepping off a curb. In this pause, I clear my senses and step onto a still street, instead of onto a moving sidewalk (like the ones at the airport).

My naturopath, Dr. Stretch, said, “Hmmm. I’ve never heard of that before. Let me see if I can find it in my naturopathic guide.” She pulled a tome as thick as my toaster oven out of her cabinet, its pages yellowed and slips of yellow paper jutting out from its pages, markers for important pages, I assumed.

Dr. Stretch looked at something three-quarters of the way into the book. She tracked the lines with her index finger as she read them, raised her eyebrows at one point, then lowered them and shook her head. She turned to the tome’s beginning, the Table of Contents I assumed, and scanned for –what, I’m not sure—flipped to a page and read it with her finger until she shook her head and returned to the Table of Contents to try again.

After a few minutes, she shook her head and looked up. “This is what we call ‘Rare and Peculiar’,” she told me. Rare and peculiar symptoms are almost always important. I will have to do more research.”

I was delighted. Rare and peculiar! I’ve always wanted to be rare and peculiar! I understand that my symptom, not necessarily my self, is rare and peculiar, but I want to think of myself that way anyway.

For a long time, I thought of myself as normal. How dull. I preferred to be odd. When I read Emily Dickinson’s poem “Are you a nobody?” in high school, I feared that I was a somebody. Emily wrote:

I'm nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there's a pair of us — don't tell!
They'd banish us, you know.

How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!

I wanted to be nobody, a pair with Emily. I did not want to be dreary, but feared that perhaps I was the worst kind of somebody, a failure at even that: a wanna-be. I felt I was like a frog whose bog is not admiring.

But now I’m rare and peculiar. I’ll bet Emily would like to be rare and peculiar, too. In fact, I’ll bet she was.

As my friend Chris drove me home from class last week, she told me, “One of the things I like about you is that you’re attracted to odd people.”

I never thought about it that way, but it’s true. I am.

Perhaps we’re all odd, when you get to know us. I like people who let their freak flag show (to borrow a line from Laura Love) and those who cover their freak flags in a veil of normalcy, especially when I get a glimpse of their freak flag.

A friend today said about his colleague: “He’s very ordinary.” He did not mean that as a compliment.

Extra ordinary’s what I want to be. A nobody. Rare and peculiar. Odd.

My brain tumors have taught me that I'm rare and peculiar, and I love the discovery. I’m cultivating my oddness. Join me. There’ll be a pair of us.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

My Goddess, My Little College, and Jeannie

Shakespeare grants he “never saw a goddess go.” Shakespeare did not have professor Cynthia Lewis.

As a student at Davidson College, I worshipped Professor Lewis, my professor of Shakespeare. She was a goddess: smart and beautiful, and I was her minion. She thought I was smart and beautiful. She believed in me before I believed in myself.

That was (gulp) 26 years ago.  When Professor Lewis emailed this spring to say that one of her students would be graduating from our little college, my alma mater, and moving to Seattle, I was eager to meet this acolyte from the younger generation.

Jeannie joined Ann and me for dinner Saturday night. She is charming, smart, and self-assured. She talked about the effects of segregation in the college’s social structures, her study in India, and her desire to give back to a world that has given so much to her.

In many ways, Jeannie reminded me of my younger self. I have often said that, though I was raised a southerner, I never really belonged in the South. Jeannie said this, too. When she left little Davidson, she aimed for a big city. Little Davidson made me a big city girl, too. Jeannie wants to experience new people and a new culture after her small town Southern college experience, so she moved west, away from family and friends that she loved. I did, too.
Jeannie's volunteering as a paralegal with the Public Defenders' Office instead of heading straight into graduate school. For her, this is a year of service. Like Jeannie, I wanted to serve in the working world before continuing my education: I went into high school teaching. Throughout the night, whenever I mentioned a book, she wrote it down: she’s reveling in reading again since she doesn’t need to plow through great literature in order to participate in a discussion or write a paper like she did as an English major. Like Jeannie, I have been reveling in the luxury of reading since gaining my English major’s diploma-- so long ago.

Our similarities struck me, as did our differences. She seemed so young, and I felt old—a new feeling for me. Mostly, though, our different experiences in college made me realize how much the school has changed, and I felt proud of the school for its growth.

Jeannie talked about the problem of social segregation at the college due partly to sororities and fraternities that encourage Black students to join and discourage white students. I marveled that my college has enough black students to have separate sororities and fraternities. There weren’t so many students of any color other than white when I was there.

Jeannie also talked about her semester in India. When I was in college, we went to Great Britain, France, Spain and Germany. A few outliers might have gone to India, but they were latter-day hippies.  (I didn’t yet know that I was a hippie, too.)

Before meeting with Jeannie, I heard hints that suggested that Davidson was becoming more justice-oriented: it was the first college or university to promise that students would graduate without debt. Because the issue of student debt is a significant current social justice issue, and because the school was the first to institute such a commitment to its students, I saluted the school’s progressive stand.

Also, there is now support for gay students and alumnae, and the school’s president wrote a letter to alumnae following North Carolina’s disheartening vote to define marriage as between a man and a woman (and therefore not between gay people). The letter avowed the school’s commitment to justice for GLBTQ people. (When I was in college, I remember an reading an unsigned letter in the school paper claiming that there were lots of gay people on campus. My friends and I looked around wherever we went, we checked out the crowd and asked, "Do you think he's gay?" I also didn't know I was gay yet.)

Though often I am frustrated by all that seems wrong in this world, young Jeannie reminded me of how much hope there is in the world: in the South, no less, where my little college is growing into a more just place and graduates like Jeannie are committing to a life of learning and service. 

And my goddess professor is still there, steadily committed to inspiring each new generation. I thank God for my goddess professor, my little college, and Jeannie who helped me see the college as a place that has changed over the last decades.
They all give me hope.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Dreaded Hamster

I dedicate this blog entry to my yoga teachers. My first teacher, Denise, whose voice of encouragement and giggle I still hear, and my current teachers, Anna, Dawn, and Victoria, who support me in practicing yoga in my changed body.

My friend Kathy asked me how I keep the dreaded hamsters still.

Kathy is struggling with chemo and breast (or beast) cancer and sometimes her mind races like a hamster running in its wheel as she imagines all that might go wrong in her body and in her life. "How do you do still that hamster?" she asked me.

I felt like the poet Walt Whitman when a child asked him, "What is the grass?"

How could I answer my friend?. . . .I do not know how I stay calm any more than she.

It's true, though. I am calm in the midst of these tumors, their resultant disabilities, unemployment, and so forth. I don't know why I'm calm. After all, so much is hard and so much could get worse. Why is my dreaded hamster not at the wheel?

I'm guessing that lots of things contribute to my equanimity (a hard word to say and to spell): my partner Ann's an amazing support; my family and friends ground me; my faith cradles me; my church holds me dear; my doctors care for me; I take an anti-depressant that is also an anti-anxiety med.

I really am okay, though I'm different than I was, and I know that the tumors could come back. But then, I could get hit by a bus. (This comforts me.) For this moment, I am okay.

The best answer that I can pass on is that I practice yoga.

Each month at my current studio, Samarya Center (my name's even in its name: destiny), we study a niyama. This month, we're focusing on Ishvara Pranidhana, which is the dedication, devotion, and surrender of the fruits of one’s practice to a higher power.


As my yoga teacher Victoria says, not the kind of surrender with a white flag that acknowledges defeat. I think it's the kind of surrender that's like floating on the gentle waves of a warm Costa Rican sea.

The kind of surrender where I see myself as part of a larger whole, and where my primary purpose is to breathe...and allow others to breathe.

The kind of surrender in Reinhold Niebuhr's oft quoted Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

--Reinhold Niebuhr

Yoga teaches me to live in my body in this moment and to be at peace in this body and this moment. I thank my teachers for introducing me to this peace and this breath.

 Om. (Said with the mouth as an "o" and a slight smirk, uncomfortable that I may sound like I think I'm wise. I know I'm not, but perhaps I am growing wiser.)  

Monday, September 10, 2012

Look at the log in your own eye, Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times editorial board wants to talk about education this month. I applaud their focus, but they really should talk to their photo editors, especially their sports editor, before talking to the rest of us.

I've been following photographs of men vs. photographs of women in The Times for the past couple of weeks. I started tracking gender in the paper one day in late August when I noticed that there were more photos of women in the obituary section than in the rest of the paper combined.

The Times consistently prints about four times as many photos of men than of women, if you exclude the obituaries. The Sports section exacerbates the paper's ratio. Many days, there is not even one photograph of a woman in the sports section.

In today's sports section, for example, there are ten photographs of men playing football (four of them quite large; most of them action shots). There's one rather large picture of a coach looking at a football player with some measure of disgust, and there's another headhshot of a football coach doing nothing, as far as the picture shows. 

Add to the football photos two pictures of male baseball players and one photo of a male cyclist.

That's thirteen photos of men in today's Sports section.

Today, there are two female photos, both of Serena Williams who just won the US Open. Both are small and, though she's a phenomenal athlete, both are photos of her celebrating her win with a little cheer instead of photos of her playing her sport.

Okay, maybe I've made my point, but what does this have to do with education?

This summer my twelve year-old nephew, who lives in Connecticut and delights in his New York Yankees, mocked my dedication to the Seattle Storm: "Yeah, well you cheer for a team no one's ever heard of."

My nephew has already learned that men's sports are more important than women's sports because men are more celebrated in the media. Though his sister at nine years old is a strong athlete, the media, even in what it calls the news, has been an advertiser for men's sports, convincing him that women's sports are not as significant.

It's time The Times studied its own role in education.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sept is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month

September is Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, a time when other kids are going to school, and it's a good time to think about kids with cancer, too.

I  was probably a kid with cancer, but I didn't know it.

My neurosurgeon says that I was probably born with my brain tumor, an ependymoma. Perhaps he said that because ependymomas are more common in children than in adults, and perhaps it was because this slow growing tumor was plum-sized by the time it was diagnosed, so it must have had plenty of time to grow.

By the time of diagnosis, I had lived 43 years relatively normally. I had traveled and hiked and biked where ever I wanted to. It was a good life, and I'm glad I got to live it.

Five and a half years ago, I had neurosurgery to remove my first tumor and two years later, I had radiation to remove a second tumor from the same location.

Difficulties with balance, vision, and fatigue mean that I don't travel the back roads anymore; I hike on paved paths with help; I ride a trike on flat trails instead of riding my bicycle up and down Seattle's hills. I left my career in education. My life has changed.

It's still a good life, and I'm still glad I get to live it.

I thank the doctors and other health care workers who helped me to live and recover. I thank the researchers who learned how to remove a plum from the brain and brain stem and allow the person to live. I think that's amazing.

I feel fortunate that my first tumor was not discovered earlier. Twenty years prior to my diagnosis, I had a CAT scan of my brain to see if the doctor could determine why I fainted in front of my Southern Baptist congregation, but the scan did not reveal my tumor, so I graduated from college, taught and coached high school students, moved across the country where I hiked and biked, traveled to rural areas in Mexico, Central and South America, rafted down the Grand Canyon, safaried in Tanzania and toured Ethiopia.

Kids whose tumors are discovered earlier, perhaps because their tumors are more aggressive than mine were, don't get to live a part of their lives somewhat normally. They--and I--need more research on these tumors to discover what causes them and how to treat and even cure them.

The Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network (CERN) focuses on this tumor. If you'd like to learn more about the tumors and CERN's work, go to www.cern-foundation.org/ You can donate to the cause, too, a good way to celebrate these kids who are getting a different kind of education than those preparing their backpacks and lunch boxes.