Anyone Could Have Done What I Did -- Jean Pennington's Story

THRIVEnet Story of the Month - October 1997

In her own words:

Before I start, let me emphasize that there is nothing amazing about my story. My reactions were perfectly normal. I am not an unusual person; the only thing unusual was the circumstances. Anyone could have done what I did.

My name is Jean Pennington and I work for a federal agency. I am in a support job, and have been for a number of years. Let me start at the beginning.

I was born in Walla Walla, Washington to parents who met during World War II. They had only known each other for a short time before they got married, and in more usual times, they wouldn't have gotten married at all. I was born two years later. My father was an extremely smart man, but he was unbalanced and very difficult to live with. I have never known anyone as selfish as he was.

My mother was a smart dresser who worked as executive secretary in the Nebraska state courthouse. Her marriage wore her down, and she became a strange woman. She was extremely devoted and a hard worker, but gradually her stylishness was transformed into martyrdom. She actually told me one time, "The greatest thing in the world is to have people feel sorry for you."

I was an ornery infant. I think at some point my parents must have clamped down, because I became a good kid who got As and Bs and gave no one any trouble. Unfortunately, I also became very rigid. It's only in the last few years that I have loosened up and gone back to my real self, or at least as far back as I can.

My brother was born when I was 11, and from that day, my mother absolutely adored him. He could do anything he wanted, but she expected me to really toe the line. For example, I hesitated after she ordered me to clean out my savings account again so she could give the money to my brother. She then told me what a terrible person I was.

When I was in my junior year at college, I started having grand mal seizures and problems with my left side. I did manage to graduate, but by the time I was 23, I had a brain tumor removed. Unfortunately, in those days, diagnostic tools were not too sophisticated. When one semiconclusive test showed no tumor on the surface of the brain, one neurosurgeon told me that there was nothing wrong with me, that I was just looking for attention because I was afraid of men. Where did he get his psychiatric training? I was so angry that my mother couldn't drag me back to the doctor for a year-and-a-half.

When I did go back, I was quite paralyzed. Dr. Shelden took one look at me and said, "You're going into the hospital." An angiogram was performed there, where dye is injected into your neck veins to show the movement of blood in your brain. When I was told it showed I did indeed have a brain tumor, I was relieved. When the brain tumor was removed, the surgeons had to go fairly deep into the brain. I was left with scar tissue 4-1/2" thick.

The weird thing about my brain tumor is that it's supposed to be fatal. The tumor is called a glioma and is never cancerous, but it keeps coming back and back until it kills you. Mine never did come back. After it was removed, Dr. Shelden told me that they had gotten it all. My first thought was, "Oh, good. Now that my father's gone, it'll never return." And it never has.

I did not recover quickly, and I'm afraid that my debilitated state gave my mother the idea that she could do anything with me that she wanted, and I couldn't do anything about it. When I was well enough, I moved several hundred miles away. When she died about three years ago, for a couple of weeks, I felt as though I had swallowed a rock, but I never shed a tear. I had said my good-byes to her when I moved away.

I am now living in Portland, Oregon. I own a nice car, a house I'm very fond of, several investment accounts and four cats. I have had a steady job for some years. I never managed to get married because I was always preoccupied with my own problems -- I have become quite an introvert. However, let me tell you that unless you're in good emotional shape, you attract people who are happy to take advantage of you. I had no business getting married.

I have only known one man I seriously considered getting involved with. That didn't work out, and now I don't expect anything much. There doesn't seem much point in worrying about it, although I'm not entirely happy at the prospect of spending my life alone.

Al wants me to tell you how the brain tumor has made me a better person. I have never wanted to say that the tumor had any positive aspects at all, but I must admit:

  1. It has made me more understanding of other people.
  2. It has made me more flexible in responding to changing conditions.
  3. It has made me more grateful for what I do have.
  4. It has made me realize that I can survive nearly anything, and do well.

Life is exciting and full of surprises. Who knows what the future will bring?

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