Strong Women: May we know them, may we raise them, may we be them.
"When I reflect on the women I most admire, my fourteen-year-old daughter is at the very top of the list. This young woman is navigating life as a teenager, doing well in school and at her other activities, and helping out at home, much as other teenagers do. The difference between her and other young people is that everything she is doing, she is doing with a brain tumour."
Read the full article and see the beautiful photo spread at Parentguide.ca, in their Parent Teens issue.
When I reflect on the women I most admire, my fourteen-year-old daughter is at the very top of the list. This young woman is navigating life as a teenager, doing well in school and at her other activities, and helping out at home, much as other teenagers do. The difference between her and other young people is that everything she is doing, she is doing with a brain tumour.
In late 2017, at age 13, she was complaining of headaches and pain shooting into her limbs, followed by double vision. A trip to the emergency room at SCH later, she was diagnosed with intracranial hypertension, which is in essence a very high volume of spinal fluid pressing on her brain and optic nerves. She was admitted, two spinal taps were performed, and much investigation into her highly unusual condition ensued. The MRIs and CT scans uncovered something which remained unnamed by the hospital. It could be a tumour, or it could be nothing, they told us. She was stable within a couple of weeks, and was prescribed medication to keep the spinal fluid pressure from rising too high again.
A follow-up MRI a year later confirmed that the unnamed thing was indeed a tumour. Having lost two siblings to Cancer in childhood, I could have easily fallen into an emotional tailspin, were it not for my strong and brave daughter, who herself barely shed a tear. To cry and panic would be self-indulgent, and of no comfort to her, certainly the most aggrieved person in the situation. I had to follow her example, provide comfort, and pretty well do the opposite of what I was inclined to do.
To this day, she’s told only her two best friends, and wishes to remain anonymous. She goes to school on most days, even when she has a headache and a very good excuse to stay at home. She always, always does her homework, and doesn’t want me to tell her teachers about her condition, so that she gets the same treatment as everyone else.
When I ask her if she’s afraid, she tells me that she is actively choosing not to worry. At the age of fourteen, she’s already learned to focus her energy in productive ways. I could almost call this adversity a gift, if I weren’t her mother.
Her personal strength has allowed me to focus on alternative treatment options for her as she awaits scheduled surgery to remove the tumour. She’s on a very strict 4:1 ketogenic diet, which I really believe most kids her age would decline to follow. I don’t mean to say that she doesn’t occasionally lash out about the diet, the supplements, and her bad luck, because she does, and it’s frankly intimidating sometimes.
Her condition has given me the ability to look at her occasional outbursts as a positive thing. They’re her breaks from the much-underrated reserve and discipline she arms herself with out in the world. They reassure me that she has all the fight she’ll need to face this, and other challenges big and small, today, and hopefully for many long years after I’ve left this earth.
People my daughter’s age are too-easy targets for unkind assumptions and criticisms. No matter the situation, they’re all facing a difficult climb, and doing so with all the grace that their young years can muster. Here’s to raising a generation of fighters that we can all admire.
Sarah LeMay is the humbled mother of Miss T: harpist, pianist, big sister to three little brothers, and straight-A student. She looks forward to getting back to judo and softball when her health returns to normal.