A devastating diagnosis throws a writer and his family into a tailspin.
The crushing catastrophe at the core of Scalise’s memoir is a burst pituitary tumor that occurred in 2002, when the author was just 24. The author enlivens his anecdote-driven chronicle with dispatches involving his mother, a worrisome matriarch who smokes and drinks despite a congenital heart ailment; his father, who emails pornography to him in a postoperative attempt to jump-start depleted testosterone levels; and his understanding, compassionate longtime girlfriend, Loren. Scalise’s tumor, seated behind his eyes, released an increased amount of pituitary hormones into his bloodstream, which can lead to a rare condition called acromegaly, causing facial and body gigantism. In a chapter titled “Q&A,” the author discusses the protocol used by physicians to assess him for symptoms, intimately detailing the numerous adverse side effects he subsequently endured throughout the months following his neurosurgery. Excessive sweating, nerve damage, sleep deprivation—all pointed to a positive diagnosis and more agony for Scalise and his family. The author’s quirky sense of humor and crisp, hopeful worldview transform this memoir from dreary to fascinating and engaging even after the grueling particulars of his Gamma Knife cranial radiation procedures are laid bare. Adding substance to the story is the medical history of how acromegaly has altered the appearances of notable public figures like Andre the Giant, Tony Robbins, and Olympic skater Scott Hamilton. Combined with his thoughtful meditations on the nature of life’s randomly occurring catastrophes, readers are further drawn into the author’s story. There is no silver lining here, but Scalise’s narrative verve and brisk prose create a winning chronicle of illness, recovery, and “courageous defiance.”
A frankly written debut memoir that captures all the fright of a medical calamity and the humor and grace necessary to survive it.