Networking with a Traumatic Brain Injury

Autumn Foerderer
4 min readAug 5, 2021
Fort Wayne’s Children Zoo from above

I am tired today. Socializing still wipes me out. I spent last night unintentionally a part of a networking program for new residents here in the Greater Fort Wayne area. Andrew, as the top leader who sits in Fort Wayne, gave the keynote address while I was simply going to walk around the zoo having not visited it yet.

Upon arrival he was called over to a table where he signed in, and I went to the ticket counter to purchase a zoo pass. As I was heading over to check out some adorable monkeys near the entrance, I overheard a sophisticated looking lady say, “oh, is that your wife? She can join us you know! My husband is coming and Dr. so and so is bringing his wife.” Thus, this unabashed, broken brained introvert was roped into a networking function and forced to socialize.

Fortunately, I had one of my precious books in my purse. There was a cash-bar and hors d’oevres. Tables to stand around with your drinks and food, but I found a picnic table and plopped down contentedly with my book and a glass of water.

Andrew did a great job with his talk welcoming the newcomers and talking about the company. We are also newcomers, which he briefly mentioned in his spiel, marking what a pleasant surprise Fort Wayne has been for us.

Then came the dreaded “get-to-know-you” games. It was a game of bingo. We were supposed to find a person who “had a pet, liked coffee, etc” and write their name in that spot. One of the questions was about being left-handed. Great. There were only two of us in our “right-minds” in the crowd. I did not even have to get up from the table as everyone flowed to me.

Soon the small chat started with people milling around and asking me questions unrelated to the game. Unfortunately, because of the brain cancer, I have recall issues and often feel trapped inside my brain. I’ve accepted that I will never be the same person outwardly. The fact is I have a sizeable portion of my frontal lobe damaged: thanks to the monstrous tumors and craniotomies which make articulating my thoughts and executive functioning nearly impossible when in a crowded, noisy locale.

The zoo director’s wife stopped by and introduced herself remarking that they were also new to town. She asked me where I lived, and I’m like “ummm, I don’t know exactly.” And, then she said, “… is it the northwest corner or the southwest corner?” I was fairly certain it was the southwest…but not certain enough to give a clear answer. I was still recovering from a conversation with a lawyer who’s lived here for 25 years and is a transplant from Louisiana. He had asked me if I had found any restaurants I liked, and I was like “umm, Chipotle?” Embarrassing. We’ve been to several nice places here in town, the gastronomy is fabulous for a small area like this, but my memory is so unpredictable, so Chipotle it was. I was internally flustered about not being able to tell the nice lady where I lived that I finally admitted that I had brain cancer and my memory could be spotty. Her stunned and apologetic face gutted me and reminded me why I try to keep the cancer thing to myself. It turns out we are neighbors.

Andrew rescued me from the well-intentioned prodding people, and we went on a ski-lift like ride floating over the zoo observing the lush green grasses, quietness, and an occasional animal. It was close to closing time, so we had the lift to ourselves. I was feeling ashamed and embarrassed about my ineptitude in speaking with large groups of people, and weak for mentioning my brain cancer, so I divulged this to Andrew. Andrew lovingly gave me the same analogy he always does about if I were in a wheelchair, people would not need an explanation for my limitations. And it’s okay to tell people about them since they cannot see them, even if it makes them uncomfortable. And that it is not my responsibility to carry their discomfort. We all carry hard stuff of varying degrees. He also reminded me that if I don’t want to talk about it I don’t have to. It’s okay to just be silent or to say “I don’t know.”

I have the best partner in crime. We can do this and are doing this together.

--

--

Autumn Foerderer

Ramblings from a broken brain: stage IV brain cancer: giving up the life I planned, greeting the one waiting for me: thoughts, anxieties, hopes, dreams: LIFE.