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September 22, 2010 - Image 9

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2010-09-22

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8 The Statement // Wednesday, September 22, 2010 -


'm sorry, we found cancer."
Those were the first words
I heard while waking up
from a five-hour anesthesia-induced
coma. For all you medical students,
please make sure your patient is in a
coherent state of mind before telling
her that life as she knows it is over.
At least, that's what I thought.
In August, I was diagnosed with a
brain tumor. The only reason doctors
caught it was because I woke up one
morning in May without a voice. For
almost two weeks I couldn't utter a
sound. This conveniently occurred at
the beginning of my summer intern-
ship at USA Today, so I spent my first
two weeks in Washington D.C. run-
ning from doctor to doctor trying to
figure out why I couldn't talk.
Eventually my voice came back,
but barely. I could only speak slightly
above a whisper. The D.C. doctors
diagnosed me with vocal cord pare-
sis - a condition where the vocal
cord stops vibrating, making it next to
impossible to talk. The doctors assured
me these things just happen, that my
voice would come back in a few weeks,
worst-case scenario a couple months.
It was difficult, but I continued
my internship and tried to make the
From Page 5
- including weekly discussion, small
group meetings and journals - the
outcome differs based on the students
within the class.
"We were there to be laying out our
ideas and our opinions and our ques-
tions and we couldn't look to Buzz for
all of the answers and we had to look to
tach other. And that's what I think life
is like, you don't have someone stand-
ing in front of you all the time telling
you, 'This is what it is and here is the
answer.'You have to learn to utilize the
people that are sharing experiences
that you have. And I think that's what
he taught us was to work together, to
try and answer some of our questions
and to continue to converse with each
other even after the class had ended,"
Friedman said of Buzz's facilitative

best out of the situation. Interviewing
sources over the phone was a night-
mare, as half the time the interviewee
couldn't hear my questions, and my
opportunity to hold an in-person inter-
view with Sally Ride - the first Ameri-
can woman in space - was dampened
by the fact that I had to abstain from
small talk in order to conserve my voice
for questions. There went my chance to
find out how astronauts pee in space.
While it's difficult for anyone deal-
ing with losing his or her voice - it's
impossible to do simple things typi-
cally taken for granted, like order food
in a loud restaurant or chat with people
at parties - not being able to speak is
particularly difficult for a journalist.
One USA Today reporter told me that if
he ever got around to writing a parody
of the newsroom, the voiceless intern
(me) would certainly be included.
Fast-forward to the end of sum-
mer: I'm at the University of Michigan
Hospital sliding through CT scans and
MRIs. After coming home to Michi-
gan, I saw a University doctor who
specializes in voice disorders. The plan
was to get vocal cord injections to help
me recover my voice before classes
started. But prior to the procedure, the
doctor ordered a CT scan because he
Buzz is nearly ten years past retire-
ment age. He knows that he'll eventual-
ly need tostep down and give the PCAP
reigns to someone else. But right now
he's not distracted with talk of that, he
has too much to do - between the three
classes he teaches, weekly meetings
with PCAP members and executives,
organizing the annual prisoners' art
show and promoting his recently pub-
lished memoir, "Is William Martinez
Not Our Brother? Twenty Years of the
Prison Creative Arts Project."
There will come a day when Buzz
will no longer be teaching English
classes every week, when he won't
meet with students and prisoners on
a weekly basis, when he will be able to
enjoy the benefits of retirement.
"Maybe that day will come," Buzz
jokes. "Maybe."
But he hasn't reached that point yet.
He continually reshapes the definition

heard my dad say this was the worst
time in his life.
If this was hard on my family, no one
besides cancer patients themselves can
imagine what went through my mind
- both physically and mentally.
For the biopsy, the surgeon cut
behind my left ear, which caused
temporary hearing loss followed by
a magnified sense of sound in that
had a hunch I had more than a para- ear. Clunking pots and pans, drawers
lyzed vocal cord. banging shut and clinking silverware
His hunch was correct. As it turns sounded like bombs dropping in my
out, I have a tumor pressing down on ears. Even the sound of tearing tin
the nerve that connects to the vocal foil made me cringe. Now, add my two
cords. Doctors couldn't tell if it was barking dogs and my squawking parrot
benign or malignant based on the to the mix, and it was almost too much
scans, so I had a biopsy done to find to bear.
Although the
o exeruciating noise
"I was too stunned to know how was difficult to
to react. Yesterday I had cancer. handle, the men-
tal agony was far
Today I didn't." worse. As I lay in
bed recovering
from the biopsy I
out. The results sent an unpleasant thought of all the things I haven't done
ripple through my family and friends. and places I've never gone. Would I
It was cancer. ever get to go skydiving? What about
I found out that until something becoming a famous journalist? Would
tragic happens, you don't truly know I even live long enough to get married
how many people care about you. Once or have children?
word got around that I had cancer, Four days after being diagnosed
cards, texts and Facebook messages with cancer and mulling over my past,
flooded me with support, prayers and present and future, my dad received a
love. call from my surgeon, who immedi-
The pain and misery my family ately asked to be put on speakerphone.
experienced can't be described with "Remember I told you after the sur-
words. No parent wants to hear his gery that there is a small ray of hope?"
or her child has cancer and may have he asked in a strangely positive voice.
to undergo chemotherapy, radiation "Well, Ijust got the official report, and
or brain surgery. At one point, I over- it's not cancer."

The response: My mom burst out in
tears, my dad was all smiles and I was
too stunned to know how to react. Yes-
terday I had cancer. TodayI didn't.
I'm not angry with my doctors for
the misdiagnosis and all the grief they.
caused, putting my family and friends
on a roller coaster of emotions. In real-
ity, I'm just thankful they were wrong.
Two weeks ago I was planning to
drop out of school, resign from my edi-
tor position at The Michigan Daily and
fly around the country to seek treat-
ment at cancer centers. Tonight, I'm
writing this from my bedroom over-
looking State Street, listening to cars
and ambulances whiz by and my four
roommates yell at the characters on
Degrassi late night reruns.
Even though life is now back to
"normal," I still don't know what's in
store for me down the road.
Doctors injected me with collagen
shots to bring my voice back, but their
effects wear off after only three to six
months, and I dread the day when I
will again wake up without a voice.
Aside from this, I still have many deci-
sions to make about potential proce-
dures to have, one of which could leave
me unable to hear and swallow prop-
erly. When it comes down to it, I have
two choices: let this thing keep grow-
ing inside my head -or go under the
knife and prayI can still swallow when
I wake up.
And to think, I once thought choos-
ing which classes to take was difficult.
- Stephanie Steinberg is an
LSA junior and a senior news
editor at The Michigan Daily.

of what it means to risk further and by
doing so has engaged the University
in one of the most compassionate and
reflective opportunities available to
For Delezica, PCAP provided a cre-
ative space that allowed him to retrieve
himself. It instilled in him the impor-
tance of contribution to others and
within 10days ofhis releasefromprison
he was doing just that in his community.
Recently, he has connected a local
organization with Sherwin Williams
paint. The outreach project refurbish-
es homes for the homeless and with
Delezica's help, it's able to paint every
single one of those new houses.
"It makes places look better, it
makes people feel better about where
they live and it helps to raise their
whole entire consciousness," Delezica
"You'd be amazed what paint on a
house can do for people."
And for others, paint on a canvas.

Prof. William
Buzz Alexander,
director of the
Prison Creative
Arts Project.
Buzz came to
the University
in 1971 to teach.
Nineteen years
later he started
PCAP. (Jed

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