My Friend HarryEssays - Issue 28
My Friend Harry
How Harry Potter Helped Me Overcome My Own Lord Voldemort
By Sammi Robertson
Harry and I were about the same age when we got news that would
drastically change both our lives forever. Harry had just turned eleven when
Rubeus Hagrid quite literally burst onto the scene and informed Harry that he
was a wizard. It was March of 2003, and I had just turned ten when a tall
doctor (not quite as tall as Hagrid, of course) twitched aside the
curtains surrounding my hospital bed and beckoned my father into the hallway of
the local ER. Instead of telling my father that the excruciating headaches,
neck pain, and vomiting I was having was because I was a witch with awesome
magical powers that couldn‘t be contained, the doctor said that something had
shown up on the CT scan of my head I had just undergone. A mass. A brain tumor.
I couldn’t quite comprehend it. Me? I had a brain tumor? I knew it had to be a mistake. Surely I would’ve known if something was in my brain! I’d always been perfectly healthy until three days prior to visiting the ER, when I got a headache that kept getting worse. In the weeks and months to follow however, I came to realize that yes, it was true and that in fact, I hadn’t been completely healthy all my life. The vision changes I’d experienced, when I’d just stopped growing in 3rd grade, how I was frequently sick with a cold or the flu - things I had just pushed aside as being flukes. Turns out, I had had this tumor all my life and it was slowly growing and subtly affecting my life from the minute I was born. Rather like Harry’s magical powers had been sending him to the top of a school building and turning his teacher’s wig blue from a very young age.
The first book I picked up after I got home from the hospital was Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I had been a fan of the series since I saw the first movie in 2001. The day after the movie came out, I asked my mom for her copies of the first four books. I was only eight, but I sat down and read them all in about 5 days. I was hooked from then on. Harry’s journey in his first year at Hogwarts, from finding out that he was a wizard and had been one all his life, to confronting and defeating Lord Voldemort, gave me a lot of hope in those first few months after the diagnosis. Here was a boy who, like me, had no idea that the weird things happening to him the first ten years of his life were because of a strange entity, magic (or in my case, a brain tumor), that inhabited his body. Here was a boy that was about the same age as me, but he was able to beat his enemy, who was just as, if not more, deadly as a brain tumor. If Harry could do it, so could I.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t that simple. My doctors had no idea what kind of tumor it was and it was in a very dangerous spot, so surgery to remove it wasn’t advisable, at least not until we had no other option. We didn’t even know if it was cancer or not. An MRI I had a couple of months later showed that the tumor was growing again but still, the doctors didn’t want to operate because of the risk. So I finished fourth grade and tried to enjoy the summer, even as I tried not to imagine what could happen in the future.
When the fifth book in the series came out, a couple weeks after school let out, I was ecstatic. It was the first book that had come out since I’d been introduced to the series, the first book that I got to rush to the store and wait in line for. I started reading it the second I picked it up from the shelf. I only reluctantly handed it over to the cashier, not because I wanted to steal it, but because I wanted to read it! I finished it in ten hours and once again, Harry’s determination to conquer evil inspired me. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, to this day, has a very special place in my heart because of how much it helped me in the years to come.
I started fifth grade and for the first couple months it was great. I was still having headaches and I was tired a lot but I was able to go to school and function pretty normally, until the headaches started getting bad again. I started missing a lot of school and I underwent some more tests. They showed that fluid was building up in my brain and that’s why the headaches were still happening. The treatment for this is to surgically implant a tube called a shunt that drains the fluid out of my brain. I wasn’t nervous about the surgery though because, once again, Harry and his friends came through for me. If Harry could go through breaking and then re-growing all the bones in his arm and if Hermione could survive being Petrified by a Basilisk, then I could handle a routine surgery like this. I got through the surgery fine, except for some vomiting but, as I kept reminding myself, it was better than burping up slugs.
The surgery and the shunt drained the fluid from my head but I was still feeling really tired and having headaches everyday, so for the rest of that year, I was home schooled. By summer, my condition had deteriorated so much that I had to be admitted into the hospital for intravenous nutrition. I was eleven years old and I only weighed 51 pounds. I felt worse than ever. But my brain surgeon was still unwilling to operate.
I was. I begged him to operate. I begged my parents to beg him to operate. I just wanted that thing out of my head. I didn’t care what happened during the surgery; I couldn’t possibly get any worse. I just kept thinking of Dumbledore’s Army and how all those kids took their lives into their own hands when the adults around them either couldn’t or wouldn’t do anything to help. When Hermione and Ron persuaded Harry to teach his classmates Defense Against the Dark Arts in their fifth year, they were merely doing what it took to save their own lives. I was going to do the same.
It worked. Eventually my doctors saw that I was getting too sick to wait any longer. My brain surgeon was going to go in and at least take a look at the tumor; if we knew what it was, then even if it couldn’t be taken out during surgery, at least we could formulate a treatment plan. On July 16th, 2004, I underwent a five hour long craniotomy, where they opened up my skull and successfully removed the tumor. It was only a few millimeters around and it was found to be benign, but as George once said, “Size is no guarantee of power.” 1 I had to stay in the hospital for a couple more weeks to recover from the operation, but finally, I got to go home. I went back to school and felt and looked relatively healthy, except for a scar that ran from ear to ear. When one of my classmates shouted out “Scarhead!” at me for everyone to hear on my first day back, I only laughed because that was the name that Draco Malfoy called Harry during the first Quidditch match in their second year. Frankly, I was delighted to be called a name that applied to Harry as well. I figured I could just go back to living a normal life...it was over.
As I was to learn though, that’s not often how it works when you have a brain tumor. Most kids whose brains go through trauma like that come away with chronic health problems, either physical or emotional, that can last the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. I wasn’t in school long before I had to go into home schooling again. I started to suffer with headaches, fatigue, nausea, and dizziness every day once more. I was sick all the time and no one could figure out why, since the tumor was gone and nothing else seemed to be physically wrong with me. And because no one could figure out why I felt so horrible, they started to think that maybe I was just making it all up. My doctors, my teachers, my classmates and even my family thought that it was all just a cry for attention. They repeatedly forced me to attend school, but I just wasn’t strong enough to go. After a few months, my family came to acknowledge that I was truly not well, but the school system wouldn’t accept it. When they didn’t succeed in getting me into school full time, they told my parents not to bring me to school anymore, even on the days I did feel well enough, not even to visit. As a result, I never saw my class and one by one, all of my friends stopped calling or coming over.
By the time 2007 rolled around, I was completely alone. I had no friends and I was almost never strong enough to leave the house. I was now technically in middle school and the new teachers and principal didn’t do much to make my schooling easier. I was still unable to attend class and the school’s faculty were not exactly sympathetic. Basically, I was home schooling myself. I literally read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix back to back eight or nine times that year because I felt like the fifteen-year-old Harry, even if he was fictional, was the only one who came close to knowing how I felt at that time. We were both being accused of lying by our classmates and even some of the adults in our lives and we both had former friends deciding that we were crazy and that we weren’t worth the trouble anymore. Like Harry, I was angry all the time and I was constantly on edge, snapping at everyone who even slightly annoyed me, even if they were just trying to help.
This went on for two more years before my family moved to another city, where the school district was more understanding. I was put into a program for high school students who can’t attend school but want to graduate. I’ve now earned my GED and I’m applying to a local community college, where I’ll be studying Psychology in the fall. My family and I attend a camp for children with life threatening illness and their families every year and the people we’ve met there are all the friends I need. It’s called Camp Sunshine and it’s in Maine, USA. When my family and I pull into the driveway of that place, I feel exactly like Harry did whenever he went back to Hogwarts after the summer. Like I’m finally home and with the only people who understand me.
When my doctors still couldn’t find out why I continued to be so sick, I took it upon myself to do some research and eventually I found that I have a relatively rare disease that causes low blood pressure, which in turn causes – you guessed it – headaches, dizziness, nausea and fatigue. I’m now on the right medicines and even though I still struggle everyday, I am a much happier person than I was five years ago.
All of this happened because of a skinny boy with glasses and a lighting scar on his head, who taught me about the best and worst parts of the human condition, and how to deal with the latter. I firmly believe that because I became such an avid fan at a young age, it ingrained in me the instinct that I had to be my own advocate and that’s why I had the courage to speak up and keep fighting for answers.
Harry and his friends (and even his enemies) have been the source of some of the best times in my life and they have been my savior through some of the worst. When I’m immersed in the books or movies, I feel like I’m with a dear friend. And in a way, I am. For a long time, Harry (and Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville, and all the other characters in Jo Rowling’s world) was one of my only friends. Albus Dumbledore‘s last words to Remus Lupin and Kingsley Shacklebolt ring particularly true for me. “Harry is the best hope we have. Trust him.” 2 I have trusted him all these years and I can’t imagine my trust in him would ever waver.
Things are better now … a lot better. Through the times when things weren’t so great though, I had Harry to turn to. For that, I am more grateful than I could ever express.
1. Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, 100.
2. Ibid., Deathly Hallows, 72.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic Press, Arthur A. Levine Books, 2003.