Over the holidays I had several seizures, which led to me being diagnosed with a brain tumor. Itâ€™s a low-grade glioma, which is the good news. Itâ€™s smack-dab in the middle of the language center of my brain, which is the bad news.
I tell you this in part to let you know why I might not be around for the next few months. Iâ€™ll be having brain surgery in February, and I expect at least six weeks of recovery, time in which Iâ€™ll be exhausted and may not be up for blogging. I hope to bring in some fabulous guest bloggers for those weeks.
The other reason Iâ€™m sharing this, though, is because having a brain tumor in the language center of my brain has raised a lot of hard questions for me, questions that relate to the theme of this column. Iâ€™m an academic, a scholar who writes books and teaches classes. Iâ€™m the mother of a young child who is doing great but who needs more help, intervention, and encouragement than a typical child. My Ph.D. is in English. I have been a ravenous reader and passionate writer since I was a little, little kid. Potential damage to the language center of my brain feels like something that threatens the heart of who I am. Who will I be if I donâ€™t have the fluency or facility with language that I have right now? Iâ€™ve been poking around in the academic world of disability studies for the last several months, but this diagnosis brings disability even more intimately into my life. Itâ€™s not only someone I love whoâ€™s experiencing life with a disability (my daughter); it may well be me.
Indeed, no matter what the long-term effects are (and the prognosis actually looks quite good), I certainly will be living with disabilities for the weeks and months immediately following the surgery, as Iâ€™ll have brain swelling that will lead to some language difficulties and motor function challenges. Iâ€™ll have a kind of insiderâ€™s perspective on disability.
Who will I be? Itâ€™s an academic question as well as a deeply personal one. I can go around and around in my mind, wondering–imagining what it would be like not to be able to talk off the cuff about feminism with the same ease that I do now, or to hear a sentence and not to be able to understand it immediately.Â These aren’t effects that the neurosurgeons have promised; in fact, one of the frustrations has been that they can’t tell me much.Â We’re very much in a wait and see mode.Â One friend pointed out that this may be a great opportunity for me to learn that who I am is not the same as what I do, but she was quick to add that this life lesson is no justification for a brain tumor.
Itâ€™s really weird for me to think about so many characteristics of my lifeâ€”characteristics which in some way feel transcendent or inherentâ€”as being tied to a physical organ. It gives body language a whole different meaning.