By Amy Rucki
As a high school sophomore, Amy Rucki was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Here, she reflects on how she learned the power of facing her fears.
In the spring of 2009, I began feeling sick for seemingly no reason. My blood pressure was higher than normal, my heart would occasionally palpitate and every now and again, I'd have strong flu symptoms. It was confusing and it slowed me down, but for the most part, I was just another high school sophomore, finishing up the school year and awaiting what would be one the biggest nights of my teenage years: my first prom.
After months of anticipation, the night finally arrived. I wore a strapless deep purple gown, and on my wrist, a blooming corsage to match. A photo from that day shows me and my date posing in front of my house, both of us smiling ear to ear. We spent the night dancing with friends, not a worry in the world. Then, just seven days later, everything in my life changed.
I woke up that morning with an excruciating headache. I tried lying flat on the couch in a dark room for hours, but the pain refused to go away. The next day, with my head still pounding, I saw my pediatrician, who sent me to the local emergency room. After a few tests, I heard the words: "We are calling an ambulance and transferring you to Children's Hospital Boston." The gravity of that sentence frightened me. What was happening to my body?
An examination at Children's revealed the cause of my problems: There was a mass growing inside my brain. My mom wanted to know what exactly the mass was, but the doctor said they wouldn't know until after a biopsy. Having an unknown mass lurking inside my brain was terrifying. What was this thing that was causing me so much pain? Instead of waiting to be told what it was, I took matters into my own hands—I named it "Fred." I know it sounds crazy, but naming the mass growing in my brain made it less intimidating and easier to talk about. Instead of being this scary, unnamed, intimidating mass, it was just Fred.
But just because I was able to talk about Fred didn't mean I wanted him to stay long—Fred had to go. A week later I was back in the hospital for an eight-hour neurosurgery to take him out. Thanks to neurosurgeon Ed Smith's steady hands, the procedure was a success and Fred was out of my life for good.
It always raises a few eyebrows when I tell people I had brain tumor called Fred, but naming my fear made it easier to conquer. When you're a patient at a hospital, so many aspects of your life are out of your control. Your condition, when you're seen by doctors, the tests they have to perform to help you get better. It's easy to feel overwhelmed by everything that's happening to you. By giving my tumor a name, I exercised just a little bit of control over the situation. I was empowered.
It's now been a year since my surgery and I'm still undergoing physical and occupational therapy for partial paralysis I suffered because of Fred. At times, I get frustrated that I'm wearing a brace or that I don't have full function in my arm, but then I remember how far I've come. Not long ago I couldn't feed myself, roll over in bed or even smile; now I can do all that and lots more.
The best advice I can give to anyone dealing with chronic illness or hardship is to be prepared to meet it head on and to never stop smiling. This probably sounds clichéd, but laughing really is the best medicine. Children's staff referred to my room as the "party room" because it was always filled with laughter and love. My friends and family played a huge part in helping me beat Fred, and I know their support is the real reason my recovery went so well. Fred may have tried to ruin the party, but thanks to my family, friends and great staff at Children's, he couldn't ruin a thing.