A Whole New Normal for Marla

I remember the day that my friend, Marla, told me that she had been diagnosed with an acoustic neuroma.  It was at a monthly breakfast meeting of women that we both attend.  This group has been gathering once a month for the past 13 years.  typically sometime during the breakfast, we take time for anyone with an announcement about an upcoming performance (most of us work in the arts field), exhibit, or event in which we think the rest of the group might be interested. This time Marla revealed that she was going to have surgery to remove a 2.8 centimeter tumor–about the size of a walnut– that doctors had found.

It was a benign tumor, 2.8 millimeters in size, Marla explained.   As with any surgery, hers would involve some risks.  Those risks included complete hearing loss in the ear by which the tumor was located, possible loss of sight in one eye and possible partial facial paralysis.  We all kind of stared at her, perhaps a little shocked by the news.  Then the questions came.  When and how did she learn about it? When was the surgery to be?  Who was going to perform the procedure?  Had she checked for a second opinion?  And so forth.

In retrospect, I am sure all of our concerned, well-meaning questions seemed like a bombardment to Marla.  But she had done her research.  Once she received the diagnosis, she too had a flood of questions to which she sought many of the answers on-line.

After diagnosed with acoutic neuroma, Marla keep a journal of her experience which she now shares with others in her  book: "A Whole New Normal".
After diagnosed with acoustic neuroma, Marla keep a journal of her experience which she now shares with others in her book: “A Whole New Normal”.

She had weighed the consequences and the treatment options and decided, based on her specialist’s opinion and her own, to have the surgery.  For Marla, coming to this conclusion was no small matter, as I’m sure it must be for others in the same position.  Besides her job as the development and membership person for Bellingham’s independent film theatre, the Pickford Film Center, Marla is a theatre director and actress who appears in many local productions.  Facial paralysis or even a loss of hearing could impact that avocation, one that she loves, greatly. Not to mention her daily life.

She had given her tumor a name, “Norman,” perhaps because it was easier to live with it that way.  She had interviewed several surgeons and settled on one with whom she felt both comfortable and confident.  The research, in her case, paid off. She did experience hearing loss in the one ear, but no permanent paralysis or loss of sight.  And the incision site wouldn’t be visible.  Perhaps best of all, she learned afterwards that she would not need radiation treatments either.

Naturally, she was relieved and thankful, as were her family and friends.  She has resumed her ‘normal’ activities and life without Norman.

Just last month, Marla made another announcement to our breakfast group.  She was publishing a book about her experience.  She had told no one, up to this point, except for the editor and designer with whom she was working and her immediate family.    As Marla explains on her book’s website:

Marla's book about her acoustic neuroma can be purchased on-line or through Bellingham's bookstore: Village Books.
Marla’s book about her acoustic neuroma can be purchased on-line or through Bellingham’s bookstore: Village Books.

“I kept a journal, which I have now turned into a book! Not because I am so incredibly full of myself (ahem!) but because when I was on my journey, I needed to hear a story with a happy ending while I was living my own. Thankfully, on the way, I met a few people with their own happy endings, but mostly I heard from and about people with complications and post-surgical, ongoing issues.  I wanted to share a story of hope, to balance out all of the stories otherwise available on the internet.”

I was honored  to photograph her for the book:  “A Whole New Normal–An Acoustic Neuroma Journey”.  She wanted to stage the photo session at Boulevard Park where she had spent most of the time writing the journal.  That’s exactly what we did.  I chose a spot down on the beach where we could work undisturbed and undistracted.  I tried to create an image for her that captured the Marla I know, with a warm, friendly, genuine smile that says “I care.”Marla’s hopes her book will encourage people who have been diagnosed with the same condition to seek out the best care, to struggle through the hard decisions and to face the challenge knowing that happy outcomes do exist.  All profits from the book are being donated to the Acoustic Neuroma Associations of US and Canada.

To help spread the word about her own experience and the book, she’ll be in Los Angeles, where she grew up, attending the Acoustic Neuroma Symposium August 9-11.  She’ll have free copies available to newly diagnosed attendees.

You can check out her story for yourself on her new website and blog at: http://www.awholenewnormal.com/  or on her book’s Facebook page at:  https://www.facebook.com/AWholeNewNormal.

You can also order a copy for yourself or someone you may know who has an acoustic neuroma on-line by clicking on this link:  http://www.villagebooks.com/book/9780615852133.

Although “Norman” is no longer a part of Marla, it has become forever a part of her life.

The World of Nicolas Flamel

I was driving home the other day when I heard author and librarian Nancy Pearl on a KUOW-FM program.  Pearl was, until August 2004, the Executive Director of the Washington Center for the Book at Seattle Public Library.  She’s frequently heard on NPR’s Morning Edition sharing her love and knowledge of books.  During the KUOW program, Pearl took questions from callers who asked, as they often do,  her for reading recommendations.  One caller, in particular, sought ideas for his 14-year-old daughter.  His daughter, he explained, liked science fantasy and was especially fond of a series of books–the title of which I didn’t catch–that was set in present day and in places that she could actually visit.

Pearl was stymied for a moment, “there are just so many”  young adult science fantasy choices, she explained.  After mentioning a few titles, she suggested the caller check with his local librarian for other titles.

Seattle librarian and NPR commentator Nancy Pearl appears Nov. 16 in Bellingham at the 10th Annual Literacy Breakfast.

Had I been able to phone in, I would have  to her and the caller, a series of books by author Michael Scott:  The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel.   Scott is a distinguished Irish author who’s also a scholar of Celtic mythology and folklore.

The six books in his series are steeped in history and mythology as the reader follows the adventures of 15-year-old twins, Sophie and Josh Newman.  The two become engaged in a series of adventures when Josh’s employer, a bookseller, reveals to them that he is really Nicholas Flamel, the legendary 14th century French alchemist.  He discloses to them that he is also immortal and needs to recover an ancient book, known as the Codex,or else he and his wife, Pernelle,  will die within a month.  That unleashes one obstacle after another that takes them  crisscrossing the globe featuring to well-known places and sites, including San Francisco, London, the Eiffel TowerStonehenge and the Golden Gate Bridge.

As Scott says:  “Nicholas and Perenelle Flamel were real people.  So was Dr. John Dee.  Indeed, all the characters in The Alchemyst, with the exception of the twins, are based on real historical characters or mythological beings.

“When I originally conceived the idea for The Alchemyst, I thought the hero would be Dr. John Dee,” Scott explains.  “John Dee has always fascinated me. In the Elizabethan Age, the age of the extraordinary, he was exceptional.  He was one of the most brilliant men of his time, and all the details about his life in The Alchemyst are true: he was an alchemist, a mathematician, a geographer, an astronomer and an astrologer.”

The sixth and final volume in Scott’s series–The Secrets of the Immortal Nicolas Flamel–is available on-line and in bookstores now. The covers of each of these books are among the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.

Scott decided  a six book series with these three as main characters would allow him to introduce many figures from history and mythology.  In the six books, readers are introduced to characters from Greco-RomanEgyptianNorse and Celtic mythologies and historical characters from the ElizabethanRenaissance, Egyptian andGilded era.

Each of the first four titles of Scott’s series were featured in the top ten of the New York Times Best Seller Children’s Books.  The final and sixth book of the series was just published last spring.  Any of the books would be a great holiday gift for your younger readers.

By the way, Seattle’ celebrate librarian, Nancy Pearl will be the guest speaker at the 10th Annual Literacy Breakfast on November 16.  All funds raised at the breakfast will  go to the Whatcom Literacy Council which helps hundreds of adults in Whatcom County build their literacy skills and move forward in their lives.  Seating is limited, so please call 647-3264 or email Rachel@whattcomliteracy.org to reserve your spot.  A $50/plate donation is requested.  Plan to go and ask Pearl yourself for her recommendations.  You can find more information about this event here:  http://www.villagebooks.com/village-books-10th-annual-literacy-breakfast-nancy-pearl-11/16/12