By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News
There was a time that I hated myself. I despised God and loathed my body. Everything had failed me ? my heart, my faith and my self reliance.
I felt like this for a long time. Most of that time, however, I ignored it. I just put my head down and tried to move forward. I had even convinced myself once or twice that I had forgiven God, the Universe, whoever had put this burden on me. I had forgiven everyone except myself and my body.
When I was 17 I had open heart surgery. Through a hilariously random series of events I found out that I was born with a congenital heart defect. It amazed my doctors. They called me a miracle and medical journal articles were written about me. My body had found a way to take everything that was wrong and still function. It was a miracle.
But I didn?t feel like one. I had gone 17 years as a normal, average child. I played softball and street hockey, scaled trees and scraped my knees. Then, all of a sudden, I had an eight-inch zipper scar and for the first time in my life I felt sick. My entire life had been a lie. Up was now down and sick was now healthy.
Last year was the 10-year anniversary of my surgery. To celebrate I started showing my body a little love ? tough love. I bought a Fitbit, set a goal and started walking toward it ? quite literally. I discovered a lot about myself on that walk. I realized that I was more than my surgery, my body and my appearance. I am smart and capable, and if I do say so myself, funny.
I also came to terms with how my body had changed as a result of my surgery. I realized that not being comfortable in my body didn?t mean I didn?t love myself. Taking care of myself and trying to live a healthier, better life was showing myself love.
But the toughest lesson I learned on those evening walks was forgiveness. I forgave myself for being sick. I let go of all of the anger I had toward myself for feeling weak, struggling with depression and gaining weight. And I forgave myself for spending so much time just being angry.
These were all things swirling around in my head last week as my personal trainer challenged me to dig a little deeper. As I ran another set of sprints I could feel the oxygen burning in my lungs. In the quiet between sets, I could hear the swish-swish-swish of my blood being pumped throughout my body. My heart hadn?t done that properly before. I couldn?t run like this before.
The human body is extraordinary and confounding and sometimes tragically frustrating. The last five years I?ve noticed, little by little, the left side of my face begin to lose function. At first my smile was just a little crooked. My lip would twitch when I was stressed out. Then my eye. Before I knew it, my face felt completely different from when I was a child. It happened so slowly it was easy to ignore. And at that point in my life, I couldn?t bear something else to be wrong with me. I was still too hurt and angry.
As I began to forgive myself, to love myself, I also began to find a new strength. I made an appointment with a neurologist. And then another. I saw specialist after specialist until I had a diagnosis.
?I wish I wasn?t so rare,? I told the doctor when he asked how I was absorbing the information.
He informed me I have a Schwannoma, which is a benign tumor of the nerve. Typically, a Schwannoma occurs on the eighth cranial nerve or acoustic nerve. And you guessed it, it affects an individual?s hearing. According to the American Brain Tumor Association, these tumors make up 8 percent of all primary brain tumors. My Schwannoma is on my seventh facial nerve and impacts facial movements. There are no statistics listed for this type of Schwannoma.
Next week I?ll be at the University of Iowa Hospital and Clinics to have surgery. Due to the type of tumor, its location and fear of full facial paralysis, we won?t be removing the tumor. Instead, doctors will remove a small portion of my skull to allow room for the tumor to grow.
In the past four months, I have experienced a range of emotions, but not once have I regretted the path my life has taken. I?ve never cursed myself for not going to the doctor sooner. Although doctors may have been able to save my smile, I wasn?t ready. Today my heart is full ? full of love, life and forgiveness. And today I?m ready to face the next chapter.