This, being the third of 3 Mini-Essay winners from FRCC’s Comp I courses that I teach. A fascinating book review / personal memoir by Susan Teabeault of the 9:30am section. I hope you enjoyed these works by my dynamic and engaging students. More from them to come later when they create their video grammar lessons. Stay tuned! ~Jenn
Probed Mind On A Mission
by Susan Teabeault
I have a neurosurgeon. I’ve also been diagnosed with a brain tumor – a meningioma to be more specific. These are two things I have in common with Liz Holzemer, the author of Curveball: When Life Throws You A Brain Tumor. Curveball follows Holzemer’s journey from misdiagnosis to shocking diagnosis and beyond. It is an honest and informative personal account of what it’s like to have a craniotomy and the subsequent recovery process. The lasting impression after reading this book is one of survival, hope and a need for further action. Liz Holzemer has made it her mission to bring attention to and raise funding for meningiomas through her Denver based non-profit, Meningioma Mommas. Because of their benign classification there is scant funding and attention given to this type of tumor. Holzemer argues in Curveball that a “benign” meningioma brain tumor is frequently a life threatening condition and more needs to be done to support those affected and to raise awareness and funds for this cause.
“If you were going to have a brain tumor…. a meningioma is the best kind to have” (Holzemer Ch 1). Wait, what? If the “best” kind of tumor can take you to the verge of slipping into a coma and dying this spells trouble. It’s a sentence that gave me chills. According to Merriam-Webster, benign can be defined as “not causing death or serious injury; without cancer, not cancerous; not causing harm or damage” (“Benign”). As focus tends to be directed primarily to malignant tumors of the brain, the medical community largely ignores the seriousness of a meningioma diagnosis. Curveball opens with Liz Holzemer, then only 32 years old, facing a meningioma diagnosis yet receiving reassurance from her neurosurgeon that she has the “best kind of tumor” (Holzemer Ch 1). Meningiomas are the most common type of primary brain tumor, originating in the brain rather than being a metastasis from somewhere else in the body. 90% of meningiomas are classified as benign. They also have a 15% to 20% recurrence rate so survivors must receive lifelong monitoring for regrowth (“About Us”). In her work, Holzemer painfully depicts her experience with her deadly benign tumor and provides a crucial examination of the impact and dangers that result from the medical community’s mistaken labeling of meningioma brain tumors.
After enduring two craniotomies, Holzemer writes of her experience at a Brain Tumor Conference. At a luncheon, she is directed to the benign table as if her tumor was not worthy of validation by giving it a name, unlike the sufferers of astrocytomas and oligodendrogiomas. The emotion of the moment is palpable as Holzemer described how she feels less important, “I felt snubbed because it seemed I didn’t have the right type of tumor” (Holzemer Ch 12). The pattern of being overlooked is addressed throughout the book and ultimately motivates Holzemer to take action. “It was akin to being the most popular kid at school yet being the wallflower at the school dance – neglected and passed over. We needed a dance of our own” (Holzemer Ch 13).
Curveball effectively draws attention to the gravity of a meningioma diagnosis. Some could dispute that it does not to address the seriousness of other types of brain tumors, nor does it draw a comparison. Arguably, Beau Biden and Brittany Maynard (and their families) would have traded their malignant tumors for a benign variety and the hope that it could be found and treated before it became fatal. Hope! With the diagnosis of benign comes an infusion of hope. This fact is not to be diminished. Not cancerous will always be better than the alternative.
Curveball should be prescribed reading for anybody affected by a meningioma, both patients and those caring for them. It should also be a reference for members of the medical community that have to say the four words that nobody ever wants to hear, “you have a brain tumor.” Liz Holzemer was lucky to survive her brain tumor, go on to conceive two healthy children and give birth to the idea for her non-profit, her “brain child.” The book serves as a jumping off point to dive deeper into the message behind Meningioma Mommas. It is a message that has kept me going since my own devastating diagnosis and surgery. It is a message of support, survival and hope. Hope that meningiomas will not continue to be dismissed. Hope that people will no longer die from this type of tumor. And hope for a cure.
Holzemer, Liz. Curveball: When Life Throws You A Brain Tumor.
Denver, Colo: Ghost Road Press, 2007. Kindle file.
“Benign.” Merriam-Webster, 2011. Merriam-Webster.com.
Web. 06 Sept. 2015.
“About Us.” Meningioma Mommas. Meningioma Mommas, n.d.
Web. 06 Sept. 2015.