Full Circle

If you’re reading this and want a laugh to kick off 2017, please know this:

I once created a Word document titled “Why I Suck Right Now.”

I kid you not. It was December 31, 2013, and I was home for Christmas break after a rocky first semester of college. Here’s the thing about first semesters of college: usually, they aren’t great, but everyone is trying to pretend like they didn’t just fumble thousands of dollars on a stressful, clunky semester of school. Either you lie about how college rocks so you can appear to be thriving or God loves you more than the rest of us and you met really great friends right away. Or your parents kept you on a four-foot leash your whole life and you partied so hard that you can’t remember if your first semester sucked or not.

I had too much momentum going after my senior year of high school and backpacking through Europe before leaving for college. I went from hiking through the Swiss Alps and drinking my first cappuccino in Italy and seeing the Pope in real life to failing my way through biology class and completely relying on my smarty-pants chemistry lab partners. I went from Italian wine, Münchner Weisse beer in Munich, and Parisian street gyros to Natty Light kegs and dining hall food. I had lost that momentum.

To give you a window into what lost momentum looks like, here are a just a few items from the “Why I Suck Right Now” list:

  • “I don’t have a job”
  • “I am a complete failure at biomedical science”
  • “Journalism might not get me any money”

Other items from my now-laughable downward spiral were less palatable, more absurd, and uncharacteristically negative. There is, however, a second page to this three-year-old document. The second page is titled “Why It’ll Get Better:”

  • “I’m ditching biomed science and switching to journalism”
  • “Which may be my dream”
  • “Especially if I can work for NBC” (ok lofty, I know, but lofty is good when you think you suck.)

And the bigger picture persisted:

  • “Nature changes but lives”
  • “I’m healthy”
  • “I can read and write”

 

I spent Friday morning at the healthcare office, waiting for an expert to treat my goopy cough, gunky throat, and sweaty, cold body. A delightful, older Indian doctor gently checked my symptoms and prescribed me medicine and–unbeknownst to him–inspiration. After asking about my schooling, I told him that my major was journalism. “Journalism!” He exclaimed, eyes lighting up. He then proceeded to tell me how smart journalists are, how they sometimes ask the best questions, and how integral (good, honest) journalists are to democracy.

He expressed a genuine awe at my major, something no one in the health field has ever voiced to me before. Certainly not my fellow peers back when I used to study biomedical sciences freshman year—in fact, their competitive nature and cutting remarks about all other majors in general played a huge factor in my despise for and switch from the biomedical realm.

Three years later, I have studied what I knew was my passion all along and graduated with a degree that gives marketable wings to my mission to write. I’m invigorated by the possibilities within reach as a writer–possibilities that naturally and eloquently align with and weave into my mission as a human, not just as a professional. It’s fun to shake hands with your gut instinct and invite her over for tea.

This doctor’s delight and praise and encouragement brought happy tears to my sallow eyes. Exactly three years ago I spit poison at myself–for supposedly “sucking,” for giving up the medical path. Little did I know, a much more enriching path awaited–a collection of unconnected dots that would create a much fuller circle. And wonderfully so, it would take a nasty case of sinusitis and an appreciative, praiseworthy doctor to clue me in.

 

PS. During my second semester of freshman year, some divine dots connected and I crossed paths with some of my soulmate friends–ten of whom I live with in a century-old house. They are some of the best people I have ever known and loved; if I knew back on December 31, 2013, that I would have met them, then this blog post and my dumb list would have never existed. (So if a lost, downtrodden freshman in college is reading this right now, keep the faith and once you get back to school, agree to go to McCormick Hall to meet your friend’s other crew of friends! It gets better!)

PPS. Shoutout to my good friend at Marquette, Jake, who shared this insight of connecting the dots with me: “You cannot connect your dots forwards, only backwards.” It has clearly stayed with me.

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Radiate*

My optometrist is one of my favorite humans on the planet. How many people can say that? A lot of people don’t even have an optometrist. To anyone who has ever helped with my eye health, from my radiation technologist to my neuro-ophthalmologist to the 20 different desk receptionists I’ve encountered: I’m either forming an acronym out of your names for my first born child or I’ll write a non-fiction fiction piece and my heroes will be based off of you all.

I have what’s called an optic nerve sheath meningioma (not to be confused with some sort of flower species), which means I have a benign (non-cancerous!) tumor wrapped around my right optic nerve. My optometrist is the one who noticed the abnormality about two years ago and I’ve had it monitored with MRI scans and vision tests, and thus far it hasn’t really changed. About a month ago in early June I went in for another routine neuro-ophthalmologist visit and vision field test. Shelly, who always administers my vision field test, greeted me and we chatted about the weather as usual (“Last time I saw you it was snowing!”). The test has always been a bit of a struggle for my right eye, but this time I could hardly see any of the light flashes. Shelly, God bless her, was trying to root me on but I could’ve been looking at a Clydesdale horse or the Taj Mahal for all I knew. So then I met with my neuro-ophthalmologist, who administered more tests and looked at my results and told me that my vision was deteriorating in my right eye, and eventually I’d go blind in that eye. A week later I had another MRI, which was fun because I got to go to this swanky hospital in Indy and visit the radiation technologist, Eddie, who wears a Crucifix necklace and talks to you like you’re the most important person in the world. The MRI rocks because they put a cage on my face and stick me with contrast dye IV fluid, so I feel like a cross between a NASA prototype experiment and a football player. I asked Eddie if the dye made my blood a different color, but alas it only turns up colored on the scan. I also told Eddie to feel free to tell me a few jokes in the microphone while I was getting my MRI (they talk to you via microphone to make sure you’re not freaking out or anything), but he said he didn’t have any good ones. It’s okay though, because otherwise Eddie is the perfect radiation technologist. I went back to the neuro-ophth after my scans and received good news that the meningioma looked the same as past scans; however, the tumor seemed to be squeezing my optic nerve, resulting in the vision loss.

For those of you whose eyes glazed over while reading all that jargon, I’ll give you a comprehensive analogy: imagine a pig in a blanket, with the mini hot dog as my optic nerve and the delicious buttery crescent roll as the tumor. Now picture the crescent roll squeezing the hot dog. That’s what’s happening in my noggin, except for the fact that tumors aren’t buttery and delicious.

Now if I sit here and twiddle my thumbs I’d probably completely lose sight in that eye. BUT thanks to modern medicine and geniuses and probably Ben Franklin, I have the option of radiation therapy. BoOyAh! The next step from here is to undergo proton beam radiation treatment which is a little freaky because isn’t that Spiderman stuff?? Anyhoo it’s five treatments a week for about five weeks, so superpowers must come at a cost. The thing about proton radiation therapy is that I won’t regain any vision in my eye, but it will hopefully smack the tumor in the face and stun it for a while. This way I’ll preserve what vision I do have in that eye for a bit. Another thing about having my eye radiated is that there’s a slight chance that I might lose my eyebrows and eyelashes, so if you see me out and about with half my face shaved, DON’T PANIC. I haven’t been playing with flamethrowers! (But if it ends up looking trendy then by all means follow suit.) Since the therapy is so extensive, I have to miss the first two weeks of school this coming semester, so Marquette better not do anything too cool without me. My friend Rose told me that she’ll “break in sophomore year and have it all ready to go” for me and my friend Maggie said when the day comes she’s buying me a bleeping monocle, just in case you were also wondering how awesome my friends at ‘quette are.

Some really great things have come from these eyeball adventures. First, like I said before, every health professional that I’ve encountered has been amazing to the point where eye appointments are my favorite. Second, I was sitting in the oncology waiting room the other day and felt immensely grateful for my health since I was probably the healthiest one in the room. We have some control over our well being but tumors and other diseases can have a mind of their own and freak out and go ape crazy. Third, I’ve been bouncing from appointment to appointment and it makes me think of all the parents of children with severe sicknesses and health complications and how that’s how most of their days are spent, with these wee ones that should be playing outside and not in waiting rooms. I also can’t help but think that those parents must have carpal tunnel from filling out all the paperwork.

I should also mention how great my fam has been in all this. My parents chauffeur me around to appointments and act as insurance translators/should I sign this? confirmation. My siblings make the occasional blind joke and throw things at me to test my eye-hand coordination. It’s great.

Since my appointments have been all over the place, I’ve gotten to learn how to navigate downtown better, and by that I mean shouting, “CRAP THAT’S A ONE WAY!” as my mom and I try to find Natural Born Juicers on Mass Ave. (Quick note about that place: Go to there.)

The day I visited the neuro-ophthalmologist in early June was the same day that The Fault in Our Stars movie came out. It was also the same day that this Humans of New York picture was posted. Coincidences are fun, aren’t they?

The body is so dang cool. I’m not gonna tell you how you should take care of your own, but if I’ve learned anything it’s that I’m not invincible. There are days when I feel strong and days when I’m like “I better not do anything to piss off the tumor in my eye.” I’ve also learned so much about the eye that I feel like I should earn an honorary degree in optometry by now.

And the best part about all of this? God gave me two eyes.

*radiate

 

 

 

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