Excerpt: 'Note to Self'

I grew up in Lewisville, Texas, a middle-class suburb of Dallas. While some kids spent their summer vacation at camps, on lakes, or at the very least, the community pool, I spent mine pouring over Christy Brinkley's operating manual, "How to Look Like a Model." I studied its glossy pages like a student preparing for my dissertation. I wanted to be a model, and not just for myself. There were many who deemed me beautiful, and I felt I owed it to them, too. At 14, I was 5'10", 120 pounds and wore a 34C bra. I had been voted Sophomore and Junior Duchess. I knew my place amongst the jocks, nerds, and burnouts, and I enjoyed the view from up-on-high as I looked down on my adoring subjects. Senior year was primed to be a royal cakewalk to the ultimate crown, homecoming queen. At the time, this was serious business; signing each other's yearbooks as we said our good-byes for summer vacation after junior year, we all knew the crown would be mine when we returned in the fall. My acceptance speech was all but written and my glorious future was laid out before me like my homecoming cape: my star linebacker-boyfriend and I would get married after graduation and our first child was going to be named Rush, after the band. This was the roadmap of my life. And it was happening just as planned.

That summer, however, my body went rogue. I mysteriously packed on 30 pounds, developed a goiter in my neck, and almost overnight suffered from a serious case of bug eyes. My mother had her theories about what was causing the sudden change. For a while she determined that I had a bacterial infection that I'd caught tubing down the Rio Grande. Not long after that, she knew in her heart of hearts that the chemicals used to perm my hair were ruining my looks. My favorite theory, however, and one that stuck the longest, was simply my cat.

My mother moved beyond these strange explanations for this sudden illness and was determined to find a diagnosis. As helpful as her determination was her sharp sense of humor, which helped us keep a bit of levity in the house during this stressful time.

My parents took me to a specialist in Dallas. As I sat in his cold office barely covered by a paper gown, he examined my body - feeling the goiter in my throat, checking under my arms for swollen lymph nodes and around my breasts for possible cancerous lumps. While he was conducting his exam, he whispered to me, "I can see why your mother is so upset. I can tell you used to be so beautiful." Though I didn't give him the satisfaction of seeing it, at that moment I broke into pieces. Life was never going to be the same for me, and I knew it.

I was diagnosed with a severe case of Grave's disease (a thyroid disorder) and the doctors ultimately had me drink radioactive iodine, which tasted awful, to kill my thyroid, which had decidedly gone berserk. This was followed by all sorts of medication to replace what they destroyed with poison, so that what was left of my abnormal gland, could function. It was a scary time. as we attempted to regulate my metabolism with chemicals, and I absolutely didn't feel or look like myself.

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