There has been a word in our family that has made itself known again and again. That word is hope. My parents always taught my sister and me to have hope. No matter how tough things seemed, my parents showed us a growing opportunity in the making. When I went off to college my parents warned me that I better keep HOPE; the scholarship that made myUniversityofGeorgiaeducation possible. Ironically enough the road where I received my first, and only, speeding ticket was calledHope Avenue(surprise, Mom!); but maybe that’s a stretch. No matter which way you slice it, hope has always been around.
In April 2005, my family was reminded just how much we needed hope. I was seventeen, facing a full load of finals and eagerly awaiting graduation. I had already been accepted to UGA and could practically hear the stadium shouting, “Go Dawgs!” However, in that cramped, cold neurosurgeon’s office the only thing I was facing was an MRI scan, and the only thing I could hear was, “You have five brain tumors.”
I wish I had a more exciting story of how I found myself in the neurosurgeon’s office. Unfortunately, or fortunately, the only thing I did was go to the eye doctor for my annual check-up. My optometrist thought he “saw something” and sent me to a retina specialist who agreed that there was “something.” Soon enough I was in an MRI machine to solve the mystery of the elusive something. According to the neurosurgeon, that something was Neurofibromatosis Type 2. I hadn’t been experiencing any “symptoms” that I found unordinary. I was having headaches, but so was everyone around me. We were seniors experiencing the stress of taking finals, finding a prom date, and preparing for graduation; who wasn’t having a headache? In hindsight I recognize that mine may have been a smidge worse than my peers. Mine were undoubtedly being caused by two tumors blocking my ventricles, causing hydrocephalus.
A short week after discovering I would forever have to check the “yes” box next to “Do you have any current medical conditions?” on patient information packets, I was being wheeled in for my first brain surgery at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. The two tumors blocking my ventricles were successfully removed. I crossed the stage at my high school graduation two short weeks later. I ventured off to UGA and had a memorable first year. The following summer of 2006 we learned the tumor on my right acoustic nerve had grown. We rolled the dice and travelled to the best of the best inLos Angelesat the House Ear Institute. With half my head shaved, the wonderful neurosurgeons there successfully removed my tumor, but were forced to sever my hearing nerve and balance nerve in order to do so. I rocked an interesting hairstyle for several months, but returned to UGA and remained on the Dean’s List nonetheless. My remaining two tumors would be impossible to remove surgically without significant repercussions. So we watch and we wait, and like always, we keep hope alive.
I am blessed that these tumors have not stopped me from living a full life. I may not be able to hear out of my right ear, or hold a yoga pose, but I have accomplished plenty without those skills. I have graduated from the Universityof Georgiatwice, with a Bachelor’s and Master’s of Education. I have taught 5th grade for two years at a beautiful elementary school inAthens. I’ve parasailed, snorkeled with sharks, and completed a half marathon, all with tumors. I am beyond grateful for every opportunity that I have been granted, and above all, I have hope that there are plenty more opportunities to come.