Mind Over Meningioma

Perspectives on a Brain Tumor

Liz Holzemer is an author, writer, speaker and survivor of a baseball-size brain tumor know as a meningioma.Given the scary diagnosis by her doctor when she was 32 years old, Liz called on her already-quirky sense of humor to brave the journey back to recovery and write her award-winning book, “Curveball: When Life Throws You A Brain Tumor.” Liz shares what she learned from the illness she considers a “bizarre gift on numerous levels.”

Every day I have an opportunity to alleviate the fears and feelings of hopelessness that a newly diagnosed patient experiences when told, “You have a meningioma.” It’s my way of paying forward what I wished I’d had in the eight days I was stumbling around dazed and confused prior to my surgeries.

I’ve always had a quirky sense of humor, and I must say that my neurosurgeons sure did a number tightening up the bolts during surgery. Too bad they couldn’t have done a little lifting and tucking while they were at it! Brain tumors and brain surgery are heavy, heavy stuff. I’ve found that a healthy dose of brain tumor humor is a great equalizer and coping tool. Upon first hearing I’m a brain tumor survivor, a typical reaction is one of seriousness and unease. As soon as I crack the first joke, the guard is instantly let down, and that’s when the real dialogue begins. Humor is not only an icebreaker, but a reminder that sometimes you have no choice but to laugh. Facing brain surgery—or any devastating illness for that matter—is no easy task, but if you can laugh at yourself, it certainly lightens up the recovery load.

I’m generally an upbeat person. I am a Leo after all! It’s a cliché, but I don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m alive, and every day I have a reason to make an impact. I truly believe this is my purpose for being granted a second chance at life. I do go through phases where my tank is completely empty, and I’ve learned the hard way to not to push my limits and to embrace naps when I hit that proverbial wall. It was a painful process, but I eventually accepted that I can’t change the fact I had a meningioma, so I continue to focus on what am I going to do with it in a positive way. I’ve thrown my pity parties. Next!

For a period of time, I went through the stage I believe most of us do after a major life-altering event—the “why me?” What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do with this? It took years of healing before I truly grasped my new-found calling.

My best life lesson, in general, is I only had to wait 32 years to learn how to break out of my genre and comfort zone. No one asks for a brain tumor but, for me, it’s been a bizarre gift on numerous levels. I take greater risks. I figure if I can survive having my head carved into twice, I can share my story with large audiences; approach any editor, even if I get the door slammed in my face; maybe finally learn how to dive or drive a stick shift!

It’s also allowed me to use my writing to be a voice and convey the message that we are our own best advocates. This is especially true for women who put everyone and everything else in their lives at the top of their “TO DO” lists. We need to change our thinking and give ourselves permission to put ourselves first. That’s not being selfish; it’s ensuring we take care of ourselves. Otherwise, we are useless to everyone else. You have to be your own advocate because no will else will go to bat for you. We have to trust that inner voice each of us possesses. It’s a lesson anyone can grasp and apply to his or her life, regardless of the situation.