This I Believe

Laura - Tempe, Arizona
Entered on April 28, 2007

When Life Gives You Lemons, Run

The summer after my freshman year of college, I had brain surgery. A week before exams, my vision became obscured, as if I was twisting kaleidoscopes filled with gray stones in front of my eyes. My brain felt weighed down, like a brick was balanced on top of it, and my forehead was numb.

At home, my symptoms worsened. My emotions went haywire: I would cry and dry up for no reason. I was dizzy. I remember opening my eyes each morning, hoping the symptoms had disappeared overnight. I’d lie in bed, testing my vision against the sky outside my bedroom window. The first moments of the day felt clean and crisp, but by breakfast the sensations had returned.

My mom took me to our family doctor, who referred me to a neurologist, who in turn referred me to a neurosurgeon, who ordered an MRI. A dark spot the size and shape of a lemon showed up on the scan. Without opening my skull, it was impossible to tell if the growth was a cyst or a tumor. In either case, the surgeon said I would “die instantly” or develop “severe neurological damage” if it was left alone. If it was a cyst, the surgeon would install a shunt to keep the cyst from re-forming, and, after recovering from surgery, I’d live virtually symptom-free. If the growth was a tumor, however, the left side of my body would be paralyzed in the procedure necessary to remove it. Needless to say, I hoped it was a cyst. Both the surgeon and I went into the operating room not knowing what he would find.

The night before surgery, I took a bath. I moved the washcloth over my limbs: my right leg, then my left leg—my left leg—and my left arm. I pictured myself running, my two legs working together, one foot in front of the other, my arms pumping in sync, an impossible miracle of motion. In a swirl of fear and soapsuds, I thought about running, not knowing if I’d ever run again.

On June 5, 1995, I woke briefly in the recovery room. The room spun in sheets of fluorescent lights and white walls. I knew that if the dark lemon was a cyst, rather than a tumor, I’d have a bandage on my abdomen from the placement of the shunt. I moved my hand there, and felt tape and cloth. “It was a cyst?” I said to a blurry nurse who appeared over my bed. “Yes,” she said, “it was a cyst,” and a wave of relief sunk me under again.

Every summer, for twelve years now, on June fifth—no matter where I am—I run. I’ve run on soccer fields, on neighborhood streets, up a hill in India, and on a flat stretch of highway in New Mexico. I run because I can. I run to celebrate, and to mark a time in my life when I was scared, and lucky, when my mom didn’t leave the hospital room for fourteen days, and the surgeon was patient and persistent. This is one of the most significant events in my life, and I believe in remembering that. On June 5th, my legs move—both of them.