For me, the end of the year always brings on reflective thoughts. I suppose the idea of setting New Year’s resolutions is a natural time for introspection. But before I begin goal-setting for 2012, I’m lingering on 2011. This was a momentous year for me, not in terms of achievement, rather in the form of transitioning.
5 years from now, I suspect I will look back on 2011 and think, “That’s the year I went from being a patient back to a person.”
It’s not that I’ve forgotten April 2007 and brain surgery. 2011′s transition is more of a feeling than a physical change. I still carry most all of my surgical deficits with me, but I’ve grown so accustomed to them that I feel “normal” with them.
Full stop. I just wrote a whole paragraph of mamby pamby drivel. Before I go full-on Socrates, there’s something that needs to be said:
Dust. Wind. Dude.
Now that I drove that joke into the ground, I’ll take writer’s liberty and move the plot forward…
In October of this year, I launched a brain tumor awareness campaign called Hawktober. If you followed a link to this story, you may not have realized you’re on Hawktober’s site. Take a look around and let me know what you think.
Going back to my new normal – I talk funny. I walk funny. Coordination and athletic fluidity are no longer in my vocabulary. I get it. I’m at peace with it.
The difficult part is that my injury is internal. People don’t see a bandage around my head, or a common nonverbal cue like a cast or wheelchair. In fact, a lot of folks don’t even realize that I’m affected until I open my mouth to speak. Then they start noticing all the subtle cues they missed – the shuffling gait; the stiffness throughout my left side; any of the visible scars leftover from seven surgeries in four years.
This whole disconnect that arises when I start talking is usually followed by 60 seconds of someone trying not to stare but losing their internal battle and stealing glances at my paralyzed face muscles when they think I won’t notice.
Then October happened, or more specifically Hawktober happened. I sat in a barber chair and let a professional take a straight razor to my scalp.
In one hour I went from mostly masked surgical deficits to, “holy shit, look at that guy’s haircut!”
Hawktober is, first and foremost, an awareness campaign. But along the way, it delivered a huge, yet unintended, benefit. My mohawk turned out to be the nonverbal cue that had been missing for four years. Instead of an awkward minute that followed the surprise of my condition, folks were already staring. An attention-grabbing haircut drew folks in and they in turn noticed all those subtle cues they had been missing.
Permission Granted – A mohawk provided an excuse for people to gawk and in doing so, it made everything easier.
(Gratuitous Understatement Alert!) October was an important month. It was a baby-step for a fledgling organization and a gateway for me.
Overflowing with confidence from a month of progress, I used Hawktober as a springboard. In November, I traveled to San Antonio, and ran a half-marathon.
For those who haven’t seen me in a few years, there is very little on me that functions as intended, and the things that do work do so much slower than they should. My neurosurgeon pulled the tumor off my brainstem and it left me with the gift that keeps on giving – a neurological trainwreck.
Again, my physical condition belies the severity of the patchwork nervous system that has grown over the last four years. In other words, I dress myself and go up and down stairs, but doing everyday tasks requires effort and thought.
Essentially, I’m a duck. Everything looks calm and collected as I float on top of the water. What folks are missing is that beneath the surface, I’m paddling like hell……and I quack funny.
Aaaanyways, back to San Antonio. 13.1 miles. That happened.
I won’t lie and say it was easy. In fact, as I crossed the finish line and they handed me the finisher’s medal, a race volunteer observed, “uhhhh….he doesn’t look so good.”
She was right. I looked like I felt, mentally and physically exhausted. Done & Done.
Once I got over the sting of marathoners finishing their run before I ran half their course, I started to rebound mentally. Now that it’s been almost two months, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Not from the exhilaration of athletic competition, it’s much more of an introspective, “I did that.”
On the left is me re-learning to walk using a fancy-shmancy harness & treadmill in June 2007. On the right is a photo taken just after finishing our half-marathon.
Every racer is competing against their own goal. My goal is different than it would have been four years ago, but that’s cool with me.
I didn’t run against the clock, and I sure didn’t run for my waist line. I ran for myself. I don’t indulge in total selfishness very often, but that day I did.
Hell of a year, that. Tonight I’ll be popping champagne corks and making plans with my wife for 2012. It’s going to be a good year – a fun year. Hawktober is ready for the next step and there are more half-marathons to run.