I am 39.

Health activist and patient, Dawn S. Smith, celebrates her birthday by reflecting at what she accomplished living while brain tumor.

Health activist and patient, Dawn S. Smith, celebrates her birthday by reflecting at what she accomplished while living with a brain tumor.

I am 39.

I am surviving two brain tumors.

I am fighting for my life and yours.

I am most wonderful.

Off The Sidelines

"I"m Still Here" witten into sand in beach.

Dawn Smith writes “I am still here” into sand on the beach after radiation treatment for her brain tumor.

They say the sidelines are where gladiators go to rest.
Some of us can race back on the field.
The rest of us warriors must ride the pine.

Rest. It is a marathon, not a sprint, they tell us.

Beware of gladiators prowling on the sidelines.
While the world eyes the battle on the field,
we soldiers find energy in our rest

Yes. Solders on the sidelines hunger for ground.

As the world whizzes pass, we gain life inch by inch.
Our movement is steady against the wind,
Our cause, sure. The field is ours today.

This field is ours today.

Off the Sidelines: 3 Survivors Move the World (EP 1)

In this first episode of It Could Happen to Anyone (ItCouldHappenToAnyone.com), Dawn and Dionne refuse to let anything get in the way of an interview with brain tumor survivor, Lori Paul — not even their symptoms, lack of a cameraperson or a mountain of bloopers.

Message to My Mountain, My Brain Tumor

Message to My Mountain, My Brain Tumor

I wanted to kiss you good riddance, Mountain, but I could not find the strength nor words.

I guess that makes you feel powerful.

What you don’t know is every time you knock me down or wear me out, I get back up again…and again, whether I believe in myself (or my health) or not.

So throw your pain at me.
Strip me of my health, career and friends.
I will soar phoenix-like or claw my back before you rejoice in your handiwork.

If you want the truth, Mountain, I feel a dose of helpless serenity knowing that you are neither friend nor foe. You are just “is.”

You are a matter of life and death sitting, shocking and kneading the life out of me for no damn reason. I cling to you, Mountain, to calm my heart from cruel philosophers who say your presence is written in Heavens or the stars. You, Mountain, are in God’s hands.

As long as you are what you are, Mountain, I have to be what I am…strong.

Knock me down, Mountain, my brain tumor, if that makes you feel powerful. Tomorrow, I’ll just get back up again…and again.

Love Heals. Are Your Friends Doing It?

I braved my symptoms today to pose a simple question: If love heals, are your friends doing it? It is no coincidence that the ABC News study discussing the healing power of friendship came out so close to the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday. Everyday acts of kindness — no matter how small — have a healing effect on those facing health care battles.  Life becomes more enriching when you focus on healthy friendships, instead of people who take up space and energy.

Please pardon the appearance of my friend, SavannahWhite, who is always worth my energy.

Something More Beautiful: A Brain Tumor Prompts a Search for a Writer’s Better Self

I sensed that bad news was coming by the way the doctor and nurse entered the room. My heart still raced from the twenty-minute dash from my office. Now, the exam room’s white walls cave in on me as I wait on someone, anyone, to deliver my results. My doctor, speaking in an unusually measured tone, finally says, “There is an abnormality on your MRI.” I forget how to speak. I forget how to breathe. My silence permits the doctor to elaborate on the possibilities of a brain tumor, aneurysm, infection or multiple sclerosis. I must be crying because the nurse hands me a wad of tissues. My doctor begs me to remain calm knowing that his request is in vain. How could I? There was something foreign on my brain and I could not get it off my mind… literally.

I call my mother, hours away in Kentucky, and relay my doctors’ instructions to have someone look after me. She, being a perfect mother, announces that she will drive down tomorrow. Being an okay daughter, I hustle to the grocery store as I always do when she visits. I walk down the aisles and my full-figured frame seems dwarfed by the freezers. The entire world becomes so large and it engulfs me in its folds.

No sooner than my mom’s arrival, my doctors admit me to the hospital. We pass the time reading the newspaper. My mother had long considered moving back to Atlanta. The situation makes her choice an easy one. In between what seems like a million needle pricks and MRIs, she combs through the classifieds for a job. A listing catches her eye. My employer is looking for a bright, driven professional to do my job. I want to kick and scream, but the EKG wires constrain me. It is a good thing. If I do have an aneurysm, too much stress is deadly.

I return home and start the agonizing process of telling friends and family. Some freak out. Others pepper me with questions for which I do not have an answer.

No, I do not know what “it” is.

Yes, I prayed about it.

No, I do not know if I am going to die.

The silence that follows is worse. My phone rings less and less. Friends that would race to accompany me to exclusive parties or film premiers mysteriously go missing. If they do call, the topic of my health does not enter the conversation. To them, I am merely on vacation – a Dawn on sabbatical set to return another day. I know better. I am stuck in a one-bedroom apartment with my mother with no job, no visible friends and something on my mind that is wrecking havoc on my body.

I want to receive an awakening that makes life’s nectar sweeter. Instead, the solitude forces me to say good-bye to myself. The social butterfly juggling a million projects had to go. Left in her place is a shell ready for filling. Faith, already in abundance, increases. Dreams surpass the desire to just get by. Where there was bitterness, forgiveness prevails. My ability to create things from nothing becomes the metaphor for my life. Stripped down to nothing, I have the awesome responsibility of rebuilding myself into something better.

Writing becomes a mighty weapon. The duo of pen and paper effortlessly cuts through the comments, questions and the loneliness. I suddenly realize that this malady is one of the best things to happen to me. Somewhere in the midst of the pain and symptoms, is a catalyst pushing me to live better.

I write vigorously. With each sentence, I gain a better understanding of myself. My choreoplay debuts in Los Angeles. When my heart sinks because I am not well enough to see it, I write. When film projects fall through due to my lack of strength, I write. Throughout the misdiagnosis and false starts to treatment, I write. Even when I discover that this spot on my brain is a rare and incurable tumor, I write.

The oddity of it all is that I have been fighting to keep “me” in tact. I mourn the Dawn that was, so ignorant of the Dawn that can be. My perceived value diminishes every time I use a wheelchair or walker. In moments like these, I look at my mother’s houseplants. I study the care she takes in cutting off the dead stems. Something, more beautiful, blooms in their place. I cannot help but to wonder, if the same could go for me. So, I say “good-bye” to myself and “hello” to a stronger me. It might be a wounded me, but it’s a better me.

When Was The Last Time You Roared?

“An Injured Lion Still Wants to Roar”

–       Dr. Randy Pausch

A brain tumor, like any illness, is hell on the body. Fighting insurance companies can test spirits with the strongest faith and constitution. The financial calamity and social isolation that ensue can be downright maddening.

Like so many of you, I know the health care that we seek—the health care I pay to receive—is not a privilege, but a right. My mother and I cling to this belief every time we appeal to CIGNA for testing and treatment. It keeps us going in the face of their callous denials.

This belief makes me want to roar.

No matter which side of health care reform debate you sit, people of good will avow that there are too many health care horror stories. These are not stories of people asking for handouts. Some of you are self-employed like me and working to keep your business and health insurance afloat. You might be one of the millions doing right by your employer and hoping your health care provider does right by you. Then, one diagnosis requires the support of the health insurance companies we work so hard to pay. In return for years of payment, denial letters, price increases and drop notices show up in our mailboxes.

It is time for us to become change agents. You can change my future and those of others who receive the same denial letters. The broken health care system forces us out of our careers, into medical bankruptcy and for the least fortunate of us…death.

It is time for us to roar.