Sunday, November 05, 2006

Brain Tumor Savant

I remember waaaaaaaaaaaaay back in the 70's, seeing a television commercial about a fragrance (Enjoli, in fact - which goes to show you the power of music to help you remember a product's name.) In the commercial, a woman struts around, singing:

I can bring home the bacon;
Fry it up in the pan;
And never never never let you forget you're a man!
'Cause I'm a woman...ENJOLI!

The music was effective in helping me remember the commercial and the product three decades later, but it was never effective in persuading me to buy the product. (I guess when I was nine years old I didn't care about bringing home bacon to my man, and after I grew up and did bring home the bacon to my man, I was wearing Chanel No. 5. And now I just don't like the word "bacon" because it reminds me of carcinogenic foods.)

ANYWAY...that little tune went through my head as I started to think about all the cool things I can do, even though I have brain cancer:

I can sing in Messiah;
I can run my own biz;
I can write a book, be a mom, and clog dance like a whiz!
'Cause I'm a brain tu--mor SAVANT!

My husband and I caught part of a documentary a while ago about savants: people with extraordinary mental abilities despite profound disability. I remembered learning about them in college (back then, they were called "idiot savants"). It's kind of funny. I'm not exactly Rain Man, so don't drop matches and expect me to tell you how many are in the pile, and don't ask me what day of the week was July 25, 1967 (...although that's an easy one -- it was a Tuesday). But maybe between the tumor and the treatment, something is tickling what's left of my brain. After all, I can sightread music BETTER than I did before brain surgery. I can even draw better (something I've never done well). There are times when I work better, write better, and think better. And thanks to monthly neuro tests, I can now count backward from 100 by sevens pretty darn fast - a lot faster than my family and friends with brains intact.

I remember going into surgery last December, not knowing what would be left of me afterward. Would I still be me? Would I still be able to do what I need to do and what I like to do? The retention of my capabilities has been astounding, and to find that I can do all that and more is a great blessing.

Granted, I still have my short-term memory flaws ("Dang - I was just carrying my shoes. Where are they?") and I get really tired and sore at times, to slow me down after a day of pushing myself. But as I consider what I have done and what I still can do, I often remark to myself that this is not the face of brain cancer that I had imagined.

When I lectured about dental lab quality system requirements at a college of dentistry a couple of months ago...when I chaired an FDA/medical device industry coalition meeting...when I met with my publisher...when I directed the children's Primary program at church...when I was invited to sing Messiah again at Christmastime...when I sang two concerts in Utah (mostly from memory)...when I did a board meeting presentation the day after my last chemo infusion...when I helped a client get a new product approved by the FDA...when I remembered something from a child psychology class that helped me work with my son...when I picked up the clarinet and played like it had only been a couple of years instead of a couple of decades...and so on...there is always a little voice that says, "This is the real face of brain cancer - it's not so bad, is it?"

Okay, well, maybe it is so bad. It's pretty darn awful to think about. But I don't have to think about it so much when I have been blessed with as normal a life as one can have under these circumstances.

I remember reading that Einstein only used something like ten percent of his brain. At first I thought, hey - if this is true, then what is the big deal about brain cancer? Can I really lose ninety percent of my grey matter and still have genius potential? Who knows? I guess we don't use the full capacity of our minds, and there are a lot of redundant functions in the brain. However, I guess if that critical ten percent is gone, it doesn't matter how much is left. So far it seems like I've got enough of those good cells going strong for now.


Heidi Holguin said...

Whew- you haven't posted in several days and I was getting worried. Hope the new chemo is going as well as it can! Hugs!

Anonymous said...

Hi Krista,

Long time, no talk!!! We miss the Oakes family and our place in Texas. We love it here in AZ but miss many things about Plano. It was great to read your blog and see how you are doing. We pray for you everyday and hope that you are feeling good. Please tell your kids that we love them and tell Jared that we said "hello". Stay Strong Songbird!!

Love you,

Melanie and Tim Fuhriman