Brains: Fascinating Things

Even before I had brain cancer, I was intrigued by the brain’s endless wonders. Foreshadowing or Irony?

I’ve loved reading Oliver Sacks’ books because it’s fascinating what the brain is capable of – healing, compensating – and yet how delicate and complex it is when injured. The idea that you could look at your wife and think she’s a hat was an amazing concept. Having experienced Expressive Aphasia (even temporarily), the complexity, fragility and mysteries of the brain are even more enthralling.

When I took an art class at a local community college (16+ years ago), we had to make a piece using pointillism and parallel lines. I made this:

pointellism and parallel lines

When I started experimenting with needle felting to make pins for a friend’s charity fundraiser, I made this:


An amazing local band (Corpus Callosum) was receiving a grant and I thought it would be cool to have brain pins in their honor. Then I found out the greatest needle felt artist EVER (Stephanie Metz) would be there and I wimped out. She was my inspiration for exploring the medium, but c’mon…my work looks like a Needle Felting FAIL compared to her work. Needle Felting takes INCREDIBLE patience and focus – which I don’t have. I’ll stick with the knit and felt method. 

I’ve always wanted a phrenology bust, like this:


Phrenology – while now obsolete and a little wack-a-doodle – was the precursor to neuroanatamy and psychology. Read about it – you’ll be amazed.  

I got my BA in Behavioral Sciences and my favorite class was Abnormal Psychology – where we learned about behavioral disorders and mental illness. What was so interesting to me is that mental illness can be inherited – I had never realized that before. The question is what inheritable brain function or chemical imbalance triggers the mental illness. Some mental illness can be a result of a subconscious means of coping with a traumatic experience – some believe that’s what triggers multiple personality disorders. People with mental illnesses can lead normal lives until WHAM! something triggers a switch in their brains and they’re schizophrenic. There are so many possible variations on ‘abnormal’ brain/behavior function – it just further illustrates that delicate, yet resilient complexity of the brain.  

It’s just that complexity that makes Brain Tumors so challenging. There is no known ’cause’ of brain tumors, there are so many types of brain tumors, it can strike anyone – young, old, man, woman – they are indiscriminate. The blood-brain barrier limits treatment options. The criticality of our brains (we can’t live without it) make surgery, radiation and drug therapy more risky – the location, depth, size; is it primary or metastatic; is it encapsulated or infiltrating. That variability require treatment options that cater to the individual in a way that perhaps other forms of cancer don’t. Brain Cancer Research is desperately underfunded in comparison with other forms of cancer. We’re running out of colors for awareness campaigns.  But what we really need is a cure.  

5 thoughts on “Brains: Fascinating Things

  1. Thank you for another well written and provocative post. One query from someone who is also younger and terminally ill about your last sentence, “But what we really need is a cure.” I don’t share that feeling. I am in a clinical trial and can’t even imagine walking away cured. It seems so greedy (the concept not you!) I would be so incredibly content to live with my disease, even to die from it eventually; I mean, we all have to die…..ovarian cancer, why not? I rally to extend our lives, to figure out how to manage it as effectively and for as long as possible.
    Marcy Westerling

    • Marcy – I believe in stretch goals. 🙂 I, too, would be more than happy to live WITH my disease – if it means I’m living. But I also believe we are capable of finding a cure if we keep looking – maybe it won’t be in my lifetime, but we can’t stop fighting for it.

  2. Abnormal psychology AND needle felting…jeez Karyn we’re more alike than I thought!
    I know you’ve written this before. but which organization do you preference for brain research funding?

  3. Hi all..maybe I’m missing something..but these people don’t want a cure?

    As in, you wouldn’t want to wake up one morning completely healed?

    I just lost my dad to brain cancer – and I PROMISE you, he wanted a cure.

    just my two cents…or maybe that’s like three cents…

    thank you,
    Gabe Berman
    Where Is God When Our Loved Ones Get SIck?
    The Question That Haunts Us and the Answer That Helps Us Heal

    • Hi Gabe – I think anyone with cancer (and their loved ones) wants a cure, but when faced with a terminal illness we’d first like to get to the point where we can live long enough for a cure to be found within our lifetime. Congrats on your new book.

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