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My Friend The Tumor
Iris SanGiovanni

When Iris SanGiovanni was entering high school, she wondered why her body wasn't maturing as as fast as the other girls in her class. Her family thought that maybe she was just a late bloomer. But doctors discovered an an intruder, a benign tumor near her brain that crowds the space between her optic nerves, and interferes with the function of her pituitary gland. Its presence is something that Iris has to live with. Iris shares her thoughts as part of an on-going series of essays produced in partnership with the Telling Room in Portland, a non-profit writing center dedicated to the idea that children and young adults are natural storytellers.

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Friendships in high school are tough. Everyone has friends who take more than they give. Prolactinoma is mine. Given a choice between medicine and surgery, I chose medicine, the alternative would have meant brain surgeons passing instruments through my nasal passage up to my brain to try to take the tumor out. My nose is small and brain surgery is scary. Now I have to endure ongoing tests to see if my tumor has shrunk to a manageable size. Luckily it has. Luckily, too, my fear of needles and blood has nearly diminished with all the blood work. But still, it’s not easy. With every MRI my entire body goes into a confined tube and I must remain completely still for nearly an hour while a sound like a jackhammer pounds in my ear.

On days when I have an eye exam, I wear sunglasses to school because my pupils are dilated. People probably assume I do drugs, and it’s just easier to let them think what they want. And when I have blood work, I show up with surgical tape and a cotton ball on my arm. I try to conceal the bandage with longer sleeved shirts, but when friends catch a glimpse, they’re curious. “Yeah, I do heroin,” I sometimes reply.

By the time I received medical attention, my younger sister, by only a couple years, had far surpassed me in height and bust. We once were considered twins, but now I’m called her “little” sister. It’d be great if my age and my appearance matched up. But then I’d miss out on all the “twelve and under” discounts that have been dished my way. I’m in my fourth year of taking a weekly, forty-dollar pill, and I guess I have started looking more mature.

It is an awkward friendship that I have had to develop with my tumor. It is going to be with me as long as I live, long past high school. Turns out you don’t always get to choose your friends.

-- Iris SanGiovanni


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