Me – “I am grateful for my health. Your turn, Cassidy.”
Cassidy – “I am grateful for my eyes, so I can see. Not like some people, who are blindfolded.”
Innocent days – me, about age 7
Growing up, I was aware of diversity only as an outsider looking in. I was a white girl, albeit one who fortunately lived in a community that embraced various races, religions, and, to some extent, disabilities. To me, we were all the same inside.
That idealistic view of the world changed when I went to Northwestern. Many of my fellow classmates had never met a Jewish person. Some had graduated with only other white people. I remember being both confused and shocked. But this was the way of our world. Tolerance and familiarity were two very different things.
Then, at the age of 30, I learned how isolating it can be when one is a part of a minority. My last year of medical school, I had become sick with a chronic disease called Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy. For seven years, my health declined with a disease that everyone could see. At first, my arm was in a sling with bandages to hide my ulcers. Then, I had to use a cane to support my weakening legs. Eventually, I became wheelchair-bound.
On the streets, people would look away from me when I smiled at them. The pain on my face would cause discomfort for others, who would turn their backs. Rarely did anyone make eye contact with me.
It was isolating. Emotionally, it was devastating.
Now, my disease is silent. In 2007, when at my worst, I was induced into a coma in Mexico as part of an experimental treatment to “reboot” my brain… and it worked. I have largely been in remission ever since. I have had another tumor removed, and I still have another that we monitor closely… but people who pass me on the street can no longer see my disease.
I am aware that any injury could bring it all back – the pain, the ulcers, the wheelchair. At any moment, that tumor could change from benign to malignant. For the rest of my life, I will be different.
And I embrace that difference.
I now recognize that this disease, which crippled me for years, is a bridge. It has given me the gift of understanding and empathy for those who are disabled, whether by accidents, birth defects, or chronic disease. As a writer, this bridge inspires me to reach out to children who suffer from this double-whammy… they are different because they are disabled or ill, and they are isolated because they are different.
These are the kids I want to reach through my writing. I want them to know that they are special. I want them to know that there are people out there who understand. I want them to know that they are not alone.
And I want to make them smile. Laugh. Forget that they are different.
For 32 pages, I want them to feel like someone understands.
Because I do.