Marla Bronstein is one of the most out-and-about go-getters in Bellingham, whether she's working at her job with development and membership at Pickford Film Center, on stage or behind the scenes in community theater, or volunteering for a cause she supports.
She's not a quiet person. And she's big on multitasking.
A few years ago, after she was diagnosed with acoustic neuroma - a benign tumor growing on the nerve that connects the ear to the brain - she began an online diary and blog leading up to her brain surgery and for the months following.
Marla, who lost her hearing in her left ear, found that many stories similar to hers had not-so-pleasant outcomes, and she wanted to write her own "map" to guide other people and help them deal with life-threatening or life-changing situations.
Marla spent months at Woods Coffee at Boulevard Park writing her book, "A Whole New Normal: An Acoustic Neuroma Journey." She'll read from it at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, at Village Books.
Profits from the book will support the Acoustic Neuroma societies of the United State and Canada. For more about her book, find "A Whole New Normal" on Facebook or go to awholenewnormal.com.
Question: You write in your book about the time in California when you experienced something strange with your ear. What went through your mind years later when you experienced more-definite symptoms?
Answer: In 2009, my ear pains I had in 1982 and 1992 never came up in the conversation with the doctor. I don't know if he never asked or I just put it "out of my head."
We are conditioned to work through pain. After I was diagnosed and learned the acoustic neuroma is a slow-growing tumor, did I think back to when it probably "started?" Honestly, I think if a doctor had suggested I have an MRI in 1982, I would have thought he or she was crazy.
It's sad when I hear how large some tumors are when they are finally diagnosed. I hope this raises the awareness of symptoms of this tumor by patients and physicians. (Just to be clear, ear pain is not the only symptom; it was mine.)
Q: Your business card for the book has a photograph of a road, and your subtitle has "journey" in it. What does that signify?
A: In 2008 I remember thinking, "I see a light at the end of the tunnel:" The end being 24/7 responsibility for a child, the beginning of my new life, or to recapture my old life.
At the exact moment of my diagnosis, that light went out. Now my journey is endless. I'm not looking toward "what's there?" I'm looking at "what's here?"
Q: Have you had negative feedback about your book or your blog/journal?
A: Not to my face or in any online comments. My biggest fear is that someone with a bad result from surgery would resent me. I have a little bit of survivor guilt.
Q: How did having an acoustic neuroma change your perception of yourself?
A: Years ago, a friend of a friend, a person I barely knew, reached out to a large group of people, including me, asking for help. I helped because, well, because honestly, I had nothing better to do that day. I remember at the time asking her if it was hard to ask for help, and she said it was the hardest thing she had ever done. But she knew she had to.
That's how I felt before I went in for surgery. I knew I'd need help for myself and for my family. Not all of my friends and family could help. I understand that. But enough could and did.
I had people, some who I barely knew, and one woman who I had never met but was a friend of a friend, step up to help me. It has made eternally grateful, and has enabled me to be more willing to help others if I can.
Q: How do you think of faith?
A: Faith to me is that if I put all the work into something, it doesn't matter what Hell Week (the week before it's done) looks or feels like, everything will turn out for the best.
I had a little trouble with faith at the beginning of this journey. Until I met my surgeons. And then, boom, there it was. I just knew I had found my team. I trusted them to do the best work for me inside my head.
Even now when I talk to others preparing for surgery, I ask them how they feel about their doctors. No matter what, I tell them, having complete trust and faith in their treating physicians is crucial to a successful recovery.
Q: Any plans for an extensive book tour or conferences?
A: I recently returned from the national symposium in Los Angeles where I met (and hopefully encouraged) about a dozen newly diagnosed people from all over the country. I'd love to go to another symposium in Canada, maybe next year.
And then there is an AN group in the United Kingdom, and I've met some people who live in Australia through one of the six AN Facebook groups I'm part of.
The good news is, I am not the only person out here with a happy-ending story. There are lots of good teams. I hope more people tell their stories, because more people are being diagnosed every day.
Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her Entertainment Blog at bellinghamherald.com/entertainment-blog or follow her on Bellingham Entertainment on Facebook or @bhamentertainme on Twitter.