Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Brain that Changes Itself

In which our Heroine—dum, da, dum—reads. 

Every so often I get really tired.  I don’t think its just the Keppra.  Yesterday was one of those days.  I can’t figure it out.  Why these periodic bouts of severe exhaustion?  And of course, every time I have one of those days, I consequently find myself forgetting how healthy I really am and feeling a bit sorry for myself.  I believe the exact word for how I feel is beleaguered—conjuring up a sense of overly heavy drama.
Fortunately, I picked up a book from the library entitled The Brain that Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. that has served to push back against my incredible ingratitude and put things in perspective.  Out of the 400 pages or so of “stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science” I have read exactly 4.  They document the story of a woman’s brain cancer, surgery, and then recovery.  Her story was eerily familiar to my own, except that her “miraculous” recovery is nothing compared to mine. 

Nicole was 33.  Her tumor was a glioma—the worst kind (as opposed to my much better type).  She was told she had 3-9 months to live.  It was pronounced inoperable and that her only hope of staying alive was to have the most intense doses of radiation, the most a human being can tolerate.  But forget the radiation, the steroids to prevent brain swelling were of such high dosage that she could have died from those alone.  Since her tumor was on the left side of her brain, she had severe speech problems.  Like me, she found herself paralyzed on one side of her body—though not the left, but the right (and yes, she is right-handed)—because of a side effect of the radiation.  When she speaks of not being able to turn or move in bed because of the partial paralysis, I remember how it feels.  But from there the story differs drastically from my own.  She lost her hair and gained not a meager ten pounds like me, but 65 from the inactivity and the steroids.  She became depressed.  (Yeah, no kidding). 
After about 3 years of this paralysis, Nicole was admitted into a specialized clinic.  For 2 weeks she was forced to do strange things, like wear an oven mitt on her left hand in an effort to force her to use the right.  She would be stationed in front of play dough and relearn how to use a fork.  She learned how to button her own shirts again.  Her brain changed.  It regrew itself, relearned how to do things on the right side.  Nicole regained confidence in her abilities and a positive attitude.  She got a job again (just in time to help cover 9/11 at CNN New York) and moved out of her parent’s house.  She is known for her wimpy hand-shake, but she gives it gladly anyway. 
Wow, my cancerous life is awesome compared to hers.  I have happily been able to stay home and use regular physical therapy to regain functions of my body that I lost for what—a whole 2-3 weeks, in comparison to her 3 years—such a time period I can’t even imagine living through in those cirumstances. 
I can’t quite recommend a book of which I’ve only read four pages, but as I flip through it and feel the gentle swoosh of the pages underneath my finger tips, I feel a sense of promise.  I’ll let you know.  I will say that it has already done some good, if only because it has reminded me to be positive and grateful on a tired day.

1 comment:

  1. Glad I recommended it. Let me know how it is. And if you learn how to change your brain to be more patient. Because that's what I was hoping you'd learn and tell me.