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My tumor

For some strange reason last month, I searched for a Facebook group about “acoustic neuroma.”

It’s an inner ear brain tumor, usually benign, that I had successfully removed more than 30 years ago. “Successful” is a relative term here because it was necessary to sever my auditory, facial and balance nerves on that side of my face. It was a long recovery, I am deaf in that ear, and I’ll never be a ballet dancer, but my facial nerve was repaired and I am fine.

When Acoustic Neuroma Friends with almost 2,000 members popped up, I was curious and asked for permission to join. The rules were strict, with the emphasis on coping suggestions and not medical advice. Thirty years ago, the only choices were surgery or “wait and see” since these tumors are slow growing. However, mine was impinging on my brain stem, so out it went. Now there are several choices, and I am grateful I wasn’t given them, since decision making is not my forte.

After my introductory post, I had this niggling feeling that I could help in a way that I learned from the best at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop — turning tragedy into humor, a la Judy Carter, Elaine Ambrose and my beloved Gina Barreca. I explained the concept as simply as I could and then wrote my first funny anecdote — that I can sleep on my good ear when my husband snores —  and asked them to share theirs. I had no idea the concept would be so welcomed. The comments to my post were downright hilarious — and clever!

Some use the surgery as silly but an authentic excuse. When an Army private was asked why she hadn’t locked a gate, she quipped, “I just had brain surgery. What’s your excuse?” Or when another’s husband gave her a look because she slurped her spaghetti, she said,”I have facial paralysis. What’s your excuse?”

We lose our balance often and one woman just grins and says, “Sorry, guess I’ve had too many.” The looks on her fellow grocery shoppers’ faces are priceless.

Or these quips: “Don’t be nervous, it’s all in your head” or “Using humor is a no-brainer” or my favorite, “Tumor Humor.”

Another term for acoustic neuroma is Schwannoma, so one clever patient made a song video called “My Schwannoma” to the weird ’70s ballad, “My Sharonna!” Another had the No Sound logo tattooed behind his deaf ear.

My initial post garnered more responses than I could have imagined so I continued to try to make these fellow warriors grin. I followed that post with one about the problems with background noise in restaurants or cocktail parties. We find ourselves nodding during conversations we can’t hear and fearing that we’re agreeing to something outrageous or chairing yet another fundraiser. Many of us seat our spouses to our  bad ear, because they know to tap us for attention…or so we can tune them out, as one responded.

I told the story of my 20th high school reunion, my first anxiety-causing occasion after my surgery, where no one seemed to notice my crooked smile and my high school  boyfriend said something I never heard while slow dancing. That prompted a possible Country and Western song title, “Please Don’t  Whisper Sweet Nothings in My Bad Ear.”

A plethora of new acronyms have popped up that are that are puzzling to me. Like SSD (Single Side Deaf) or W&W (Watch and Wait) to go along with the various choices for dealing with these ANs — another acronym that seems to make this tumor seem less threatening. So, in a new post, I came up with some of my originals, like INTW (I Need Training Wheels) or WMGGS (Why My Golf Game Sucks), which prompted more wonderful silliness from my new friends with my favorite being IRN2W (I Run Into Walls).

If humor can help allay the anxiety of the surgery or waiting to see how the tumor grows, I will use the power of my Erma tribe to put smiles on these warriors’ faces. So, I hope they grin every time they stumble, smile when they turn their good ear to conversation, laugh at their unique crooked smiles and never believe their dreams have ended, except maybe that Olympic gymnast gold medal or Tour de France yellow jersey.

Thank you, Elaine, Judy, Gina and all the humor writers who inspire us at Erma.

— Yvonne Ransel

Yvonne Ransel is a writer of essays — some humorous, some poignant — who is inspired by life’s crazy, everyday events. She was a librarian, then a bar owner, now a librarian again. She survived the ’60s and the millenium and the years in between as mother, wife and now grandmother of six.

Reflections of Erma