Counting the Days Until the World Goes Quiet

Jessica Stone was told months ahead of time that she would be deaf.

Aug. 27, 2008 — -- Some sounds, like car horns and bad ringtones, are annoying. Some are soothing, like wind through trees or waves crashing on the beach. Some are smile-inspiring, like the perfect song or the laughter of friends and family. These sounds are the symphony of life.

But what if, a month from now, everything suddenly stopped and the world was quiet? Before they disappeared forever, which noises and voices would be savored?

For Jessica Stone, it wasn't a hypothetical question.

This winter, doctors told Jessica that to remove a life-threatening tumor lodged on her brain stem, she required a surgery that would leave her completely deaf.

With the surgery scheduled for April, Jessica, 23, was forced to prepare for a world without sound, and decided to keep a video diary of her last month of hearing.

"The deafness thing -- I will find some funky, quirky way to make it work for me," Jessica told "Good Morning America" shortly after she got the diagnosis. "To be the person in the family where they are like, 'Wow, she's deaf, but she does it so well!'"

"GMA" sat down with Jessica recently, now living in her own cone of silence, her old iPod now useless and her Blackberry now used solely for texting. She can no longer hear the bongos that she loved to play, but she still pounds away on them, tracking the beat through the vibrations they cause. And Jessica is still smiling.

Here is how she coped with the transition from a wonderfully noisy world to a silent one.

Just days after being told she would soon be living without a soundtrack, Jessica started living -- and listening -- like never before.

Counting Down the Days

Since she was a little girl in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Mich., Jessica had been no stranger to surgeries. At age 15 she was diagnosed with neurofibromatosis, a rare genetic disorder that causes benign tumors to grow along her nervous system. In all, she has had more than 20 surgeries to remove the tumors and battle the disease.

"I'm like, OK, I have this disease that I can't pronounce and I don't really understand it," she told "GMA." "To me, the diagnosis was pretty much a kick in the gut."

Her mother, Cindy Stone, was hit just as hard by the news, but was inspired by her child's courage.

"Since this whole thing started eight years ago," she said, "I want to crawl up and cry, and I can't. I can't do it because she doesn't do it."

When Jessica found out about the latest tumor and the consequences of its removal, the emotional weight got even heavier.

"[I'm] really at a loss for emotions -- freaked out actually, to be very blunt. Freaked out," she said in a video diary.

To help cope, Jessica set out to capture all the sounds that make up her world by recording them on video in her last month -- her playing the bongos and making a smoothie -- in hopes that one day the images will at least remind her of sounds she can no longer hear. She also started to teach herself sign language.

With just three weeks until the surgery, Jessica was able to meet Matt Nathanson, who sings her favorite song, "All We Are," at a concert -- the last concert she would ever hear.

"On the one hand, it was great to meet this person," Jessica said the day after meeting Nathanson. "On the other hand, I will never hear him sing again. So it was definitely an emotional thing last night."

With one week left, she strolled calmly along the beach, savoring the gentle roar of the wind and the waves.

"Oh it's gorgeous," she said. "Listen to those waves."

Then, the night before the surgery, she spends time listening to the words and laughter of loved ones.

"We talked and laughed and all kinds of things the night before," her mother Cindy said. "We wanted to get every minute in and nobody wanted to go to bed and then all the sudden it's 6 a.m. and we're at the hospital."

"[It has] been a long 30 days," Jessica said before the surgery. "Very long, very hard."

The morning before the surgery at the hospital, Jessica is able to hear her mother say "I love you" one last time and is wheeled into the operating room while listening to her favorite song on her iPod.

Living Without the Music

After 13 hours of surgery, the doctors tell Jessica's family that the tumor is out and that she is doing well.

The next morning, Jessica has her first conversation with her sister Samantha without sound, through sign language.

The first couple weeks after returning home are difficult.

"[It is] really hard to come home deaf," Jessica signs. "Mostly because I expect sounds and they are not there."

Now the whole family is learning to sign.

"She teaches me and I teach her. We have the same text book so we learn a little, then sign a little and then learn a little more and laugh about how neither of us can get it right," Samantha jokes.

In the meantime, life goes on for the Stone family. And even though she cannot hear it herself, Jessica knows that her story can resound like thundering to those listening.

"I am still the same person," she said. "I just have more of a drive to keep going, push on, be a role model for others."