My Family:
My Means of Survival

by Karen Backman

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    It was not until I became totally dependent on them that I realized how much I love my family.

    Isn’t it too bad that it usually takes trials for us to learn to really appreciate others? I have always loved my family very much, but not until I became totally dependent on them did I realize how completely lost I would be without them.

    In the fall of 1981 it was discovered that I have a disease called neurofibromatosis. This is the same disease that afflicted the Elephant Man. It causes benign tumors to grow, and it was found on my spinal cord and in my brain. Since the first tumors were discovered I have had three major operations, lost a great deal of my balance and coordination, had my lungs collapse three times, and had increased difficulties with digestion. Worst of all, the right side of my face and my vocal cords have become paralyzed, and I have become deaf.

    How have I survived? Through the love and support of my family. I am 17 and the youngest of three children. I have a brother who is 21 and a sister who is 24.

    Whenever I have been in the hospital someone in my family has been with me almost constantly, even when I was in the Primary Children’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. (My home is in Provo, about 45 miles away.) My mother even gave up going on a free cruise that my father was directing so that she could be with me while I was recuperating from one operation.

    Each member of my family has become very special to me in a unique way. My dad is forever searching for new medical findings or cures that could help me. He is always worrying about what he can do for me and how he can make me happy. I will be eternally grateful that he is a faithful priesthood holder because, through his administrations, I have had some miraculous healings.

    My mother is always here, 24 hours a day, for whatever I need. Whether it’s to rush me to the doctor or just comfort my sorrows, I always know she is near. It would be very difficult for me to try to get through a day without her loving care.

    My sister has become a dear friend to me. I’ve always loved her, but now we share a close bond that few sisters obtain. She doesn’t live at home anymore but often comes to see me. We go fishing, shopping, or miniature golfing; or we stay home and play games. When she’s visiting, she never lets me go to bed without giving my aching back and head a massage. She recently got married and told her husband that she would only marry him if she could still come often to see me. (He is a wonderful guy and sincerely agreed.)

    My brother and I were very close when he was in high school. We often had long talks and confided things we’d never tell anyone else. We were constantly teasing each other and playing games together. When he went on his mission, we wrote often, but it was during this time that my illness was discovered. My parents kept him informed about me and let him know of all the changes to expect in me when he got home, but I know I was still a complete shock to him when his mission ended in the spring. For a while I was afraid that our closeness had been destroyed, but now I know I was wrong. Over the summer we had some honest talks, and our love was strengthened. He is learning sign language so he will be able to better communicate with me, and our joy for teasing one another and playing games together has returned. We are also able to confide in each other again. It must be hard on him to have his playful little sister so changed, but he doesn’t show it. He just lets his love for me overflow all the more.

    Without my family I would never have survived, for they are my most faithful teachers, dearest friends, and treasured loved ones. When God placed me on this earth, he must have said, “That girl’s going to need a special family,” because he made sure to put me in the best one.