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Walk It Off
The True and Hilarious Story of How I Learned to Stand, Walk, Pee, Run, and Have Sex Again After a Nightmarish Diagnosis Turned My Awesome Life Upside Down
Table of Contents
About The Book
Learn How to Walk (Again) To-Do List:
Step 1: Stand
Step 2: Step
Step 3: Pee (Wee!)
Step 4: Walk with walker
Step 5: Walk with sticks
Step 6: Walk
Recreational interlude for sex (Hooray!)
Step 7: RUN!
Ruth Marshall—power-mom, wife, actor, and daughter—was in great health, until one day, her feet started to tingle. Ruth visited doctors and specialists for tests, but no one could figure out the cause of her symptoms. Was she imagining those pesky tingles? She tried to brush it off, even as she tripped over curbs and bumbled into people. Clumsiness is charming, right?
But when Ruth suddenly couldn’t feel her legs at all, she knew something was terribly wrong. Her fears were confirmed by an MRI revealing a rare tumour that had been quietly growing on her spine for over a decade. Within days, surgery was scheduled, and after the intense eight-hour ordeal, Ruth woke up to find her legs and feet had forgotten how to do...well, everything. The question that burned in her mind was, “Will I ever walk again?”
What Ruth thought would be three days in the hospital turned into months of rehabilitation as she learned not only how to walk, run, pee and even have sex again, but how to appreciate everyone around her—including her devoted husband, her two young sons, her worried parents, her loving friends, and the caring staff at the rehab centre who help her tackle her recovery head on.
Laugh-out-loud outrageous and searingly honest, this is a memoir that not only entertains but inspires readers to put their best foot forward and walk off anything life throws their way.
MARCH 2012, 4:30 A.M.
I watched as my parents pulled into the driveway right on schedule—fifteen minutes early. I moved down the stairs as quickly as my confused feet would allow, trying to beat my dad to the house before he knocked and woke up Rich and the kids, but I was not quick enough. He rapped on the door as if it were mid-afternoon; a nice confident knuckling. I opened the door.
“I’ll just be a sec, Dad. Everyone’s asleep. I’ll meet you in the car.” I closed the door.
My father’s smile was too wide, his eyes crinkled unnaturally, his stance was uncertain.
I was in the clothes I had laid out the night before: black sweat pants, black T-shirt, black hoodie, black trench. Christ, I thought as I looked in the mirror, I’m a vampire. I was even wearing a black bra. Most mornings when I am hooking my bra into place, Rich, my husband of sixteen years, perks up. “Whoa!” he’ll say, as if seeing my boobs for the first time instead of the ten thousandth. But on that morning, his response was more sober.
“I doubt you’ll be able to keep your bra on during the MRI,” he said.
I gave him a look. Decorum, plus the size of my breasts, dictates that I wear a bra, in every situation, always.
Rich wanted to take me to the hospital, but I didn’t want to leave the boys alone at such an early hour of the morning, even though, at eleven and fourteen, I’m sure they would have been fine. “Besides,” I told him, “my parents need something constructive to do with their concern.” I knew my mom and dad had been secretly talking to everyone about me, consulting the Internet, matching up every theory they had with what Google had to say, commiserating with their friends, taking stock of their own bodies’ failings to see if anything I had lined up with anything they had. It was almost laughable how one innocuous observation had snowballed to this moment.
“Why do you keep staring at your shoes?” the soprano beside me had asked just a few weeks earlier.
Every Thursday night, a bunch of middle-aged Jews gathered to sing in the sanctuary of our local synagogue. Somewhere between the beginning of practice and coffee cake break, I became aware of my feet. “They’re asleep,” I said. “I feel like they’ve been asleep for a few days now.”
“You should see my doctor,” she said, without hesitation. “Actually, he’s a chiropractor, but he’s also magical.”
I took down his name.
The next morning, I woke up, but my feet didn’t.
“They’re still tingling,” I said to Rich before the alarm went off. He wasn’t technically awake yet. I kicked him a little.
“Mmmm,” he said.
“But not that weird.”
“Oh, forget it.”
The following week I told my mother about the weird feeling, and the week after that I interrupted the arm-buffing part of my personal training session to tell my trainer.
“You should have an MRI,” she said, reacting swiftly to my tone, which caused me to react swiftly to hers.
“Do you think it’s MS?”
My trainer sat back on her heels and studied me. “I think your feet shouldn’t be tingling.”
I saw my GP, Dr. Bright, the next day. Remembering her weakness for pretty shoes, I was quick to comment on the new cherry-red ones she was wearing. She looked both flush and fresh, as if maybe she had just had sex with her boyfriend in the patient file room moments before our appointment. I had never noticed all the posters on her office wall. I commented on each one. I asked about her daughter, and her daughter’s boyfriend, and her daughter’s job prospects, and her daughter’s boyfriend’s job prospects, and if she thought the weather felt uncharacteristically dry for spring.
Eventually, Dr. Bright cut in. “What’s up, Ruth? I usually see you only for strep throat.”
“Oh, it’s nothing. It’s nothing. It’s stupid actually.”
“Okay . . .” Dr. Bright said, waiting.
“Well, my feet have been feeling tingly and numb for the past, oh, few weeks now, and I looked up some stuff on the Internet and I know I’m too old to have MS—nice to be too old in some cases I guess—haha! So I know that’s not the problem but it does seem a little weird so I thought maybe you could poke me or something and also, just a side thought, I wondered if maybe I should have an MRI to rule out the possibility of MS—not that anyone even suggested that to me but anyway is your hair different?”
Dr. Bright didn’t answer. “Is one leg giving you trouble or both?”
“It’s not my legs,” I said. “It’s my feet.”
“So your legs aren’t bothering you?”
“Well, the strangeness does seem to have moved up my legs somewhat. Somewhat.”
She asked again if one leg was more problematic than the other. It felt like a trick question where neither answer was incorrect but one answer was more correct than the other. In the end, to stop her questions and to stop myself from saying anything more, I decided to cry. Dr. Bright stood over me for a moment with her arms crossed, observing me. I am not a crier. She went to her computer and started tapping. A piece of paper shot out of the printer. She passed it to me, still warm.
“A requisition for an MRI. I’ll book the appointment right away.”
I looked at Dr. Bright. Her face was redder than when I’d arrived. “Do you think I have MS?”
“I really don’t know, Ruth, but we should probably find out. And here’s a referral for a neurologist.”
She ripped a piece of paper from her prescription pad.
“And I’m red because I’m having a hot flash,” she said, putting the backs of her hands against her cheeks. “Try to relax,” she said as I got up to go. But I wasn’t sure if she was talking to herself or to me.
My MRI was booked quickly, only two weeks out from my appointment with Dr. Bright. To offset increasing worry in the days leading up to it, I decided to change my perspective. Maybe having tingly feet wasn’t so bad. It’s kind of cute, I told myself. No one ever died from the tingles, right?
I asked around.
“It’s because you wear high heels too much,” Karen, my older sister, said.
“It’s the hot yoga,” said my mom. “I don’t trust it.”
“How the heck am I supposed to know?” said Joey, my fourteen-year-old son.
And then there was Rich. “It might just be age, hon.” While this theory made the most sense, it was also the most depressing. We were walking in the ravine near our home, part of our Sunday-morning routine. “You can’t get around the fact that your body is changing.”
“I thought I was getting around that fact just fine,” I said.
We linked arms and looked at my feet as we walked; they appeared to be doing their job perfectly well. So what if some extra tingling came with age? Tingling, after all, did come with some rather pleasing effects.
But that was then. Now here I was with my parents, on the way to Toronto Western Hospital, my MRI requisition tucked inside my purse, at four thirty in the morning, an hour when nothing good ever happens. It was so early the front doors of the hospital were locked. My parents and I had to walk through the alley to a side entrance, a dark wind pulling our hair up and swirling our coats around our legs. An enthusiastic security guard rushed to meet us at the door.
“Sorry, sorry,” he said, as if he were late. He held the door for us, the wind straining his arm.
In the reception area, I filled out a form.
Do you have an eyelid spring? No.
Do you have any shrapnel in your body? No.
Did you tell your husband that your feet aren’t the only limbs that are tingling?
I blinked several times until the question disappeared.
There were other patients waiting, some also filling in forms. The MRI department was a twenty-four-hour, seven-day-a-week business, and as far as I could tell, business was booming. My parents quietly read their books: two fake pictures of calm. I left to change into a hospital gown. I was allowed to keep my underwear, shoes, and socks on, but Rich was right—the bra came off; the machine didn’t like metal or wires. I had taken an Ativan as soon as I woke up that morning so I could stay still during the MRI. Outside the curtained stall, I sat on the green plastic chair wearing two hospital gowns—one covering my boobs, the other covering my bum. The mottled black-and-white floor caught my attention and I tried, using only the power of my mind, to make all the tiny black dots converge into one giant black dot. That’s how the male nurse found me, elbows on my knees, face in my palms, captivated by the floor.
“We’re ready for you, Ms. Marshall.”
I lay down on the table and discreetly readjusted my gowns. The Ativan had melted inside me, thick and sweet, flowing straight down to my toes. They felt coated with good news. I smiled at the male nurse and the male nurse smiled back at me. He handed me a rubbery button to press in case I felt panicky, then he slid me inside the tubular MRI machine. I was content, at peace, high. This was going to be so easy.
My thoughts swayed gently, silky tendrils in the sea, sweeping lazily back and forth, reaching lower and lower. As they neared bottom, my thoughts found a little snag. The tendrils caught it, picked at it, combed it back up to me for examination. It wobbled close; I could just make out its lineaments. Yes, there was definitely something there. I tried to blink the image away, but it kept bobbing in front of me. It was bigger than an amoeba, bigger than an avocado. I gripped the rubbery panic button.
It was the size of a grenade.
In a matter of days, Dr. Shure, the neurologist I’d been referred to, had my MRI results. She mulled aloud over terms she’d learned in medical school but had rarely encountered since.
“Blake’s pouch cyst, arachnoid cyst, ventricular enlargement . . . Ah! Hydrocephalus!” she exclaimed.
“You know those really big-headed kids?”
“Their heads are like that because they have water on the brain. And so do you, although it doesn’t seem to have ever bothered you. In fact, none of these conditions seemed to have bothered you.”
Actually, I was thinking, you’re kind of bothering me.
She tested the strength in my legs and arms. She placed a tuning fork against my feet, clanged it, and asked me to tell her when I felt the buzzing stop. She pressed the palm of her hand against my forehead and asked me to push against it as hard as I could. She brushed her hand up my left leg, the leg that had become more numb and tingly in recent days.
“How does that feel?” she asked.
“Sure.” I hesitated. “How should it feel?”
“Sometimes people with nerve issues will say that it feels as if they’re being touched through cloth.”
That was exactly how it felt but I remained stubbornly silent. I also didn’t tell her about my thighs.
“Does that feel hot to you?” I had asked Rich only days before, pressing his hand against my inner thigh where the sensation was most pronounced.
“I always think you’re hot,” he said. I looked at him and waited. “No, it doesn’t feel hot.”
Hours later, pressing his hand on the same spot. “Freezing cold, right?”
“Sorry, babe—not to me. It just feels like a thigh.”
“You have huge calves!” Dr. Shure said, startling me. “I mean they are really huge. But the rest of you is so small. And your arms are so skinny!”
“I know.” I have been told both these things my whole life.
“You wait here. I’m just going to slip out and take some notes.”
She came back a while later with a marked uptick of excitement, one that drew her to her full height. “I’ve got it! Neuromuscular disease!” It was as if she had been searching her office, turned the place upside down, and then found the two words attached to each other like Lego pieces under a sheaf of papers.
“No, no, no,” I said, wagging my finger. “I don’t have a disease.”
“Then let’s call it a muscle disorder,” she said, practically rolling her eyes. “But I have to tell you.” She leaned in very close, letting me in on a secret. “I’ve seen only three cases like this in all my years as a neurologist.” She was smiling, astounded, I think, by her good luck. “And you’re the third!”
“You mean, people with big calves and skinny arms?”
She wrote down the name and number of a neuromuscular neurologist and told me to make an appointment with him straight away. “I can’t just ignore this,” she said.
But I could, and I did. I left her office with the name of this new neurologist already lost in the detritus at the bottom of my purse. I come from a long line of short people with skinny arms and big calves. Common sense told me this was not an extraordinary condition.
I went home and told Rich and then I called my parents.
“It appears that I’m fine, but the neurologist is nuts,” I said. We had a good laugh over her skinny arms/meaty calves obsession, and then spent some time enumerating those members of our family in possession of both.
Meanwhile, in the days that followed, I became increasingly clumsy and tentative. Stairs gave me pause, as did curbs and sidewalk cracks. My feet acted like they were drunk trying to act like they were sober.
I met my friend Michael for breakfast. Before we ordered, I made him watch me walk across the restaurant. I wanted to know if he thought my gait seemed different. He claimed not to notice any change. I didn’t feel relieved, only more anxious. Was it possible that this whole tingly mess was in my head? I worried about pursuing this train of thought with my friend. Although he is a deep thinker with clever insights and a uniquely unmasculine ability to discuss a thing to death, he is also on constant alert for potential health catastrophes—his own as well as others. (Before his first sip of coffee that morning, he told me that his eye twitching clearly pointed to ALS.)
“Are you worried?” he asked me, already worried himself. “About your feet?”
Believing me, he double-checked that his swallow reflex was still in good working order, then swiped the last of my bagel.
“It’s me,” Rich said.
“It’s not you, babe.”
“But it must be me.”
“I’m telling you, it isn’t. It’s me. Something’s wrong with me.”
What Dr. Shure had said, about patients with nerve issues feeling as though they were being touched through cloth, that was happening to me—but the area of impairment stretched higher than I had been willing to admit. Yes, my feet and legs felt covered in cloth. But there was also the matter of my hoochie. It felt covered in cloth, too—all the time—even naked, especially naked. My sex life with Rich was going off the rails. I considered faking it, just to tide us over until things sprang back to normal, but I couldn’t go through with it. I had only ever pulled that stunt once—not with Rich, but some other guy, a hundred years ago. Now, feeling desperate, I called my girlfriend Joanie to offload my worry, believing that since she lived in a different country, the friendship rule of marital-sex-nondisclosure didn’t apply. As soon as she realized where my story was headed, she began yelling frantically into her cell. “Hannah! Hannah! Hannah!” Her ten-year-old daughter was in the car and I was on speakerphone.
As happy as I was to speculate on the frequency and hotness of other people’s sex lives (the butchers at Nortown, our next-door neighbors, every Real Housewife), I never discussed my own. Mum has always been the word. Mum, not numb.
I made another appointment with my GP, Dr. Bright.
“I seem to be a little frozen.” I pointed. “Down there.”
“What about your feet and legs?” she asked.
Dr. Bright tapped away on her computer.
“I didn’t tell the neurologist about this,” I admitted, pointing again down there, like a three-year-old incapable of using her words.
“I can see that,” she said, looking over Dr. Shure’s report.
“Just tell me you’ve had other patients with this same numb clitoris thing.” I tripped over the word. I have never known where to put the emphasis: clitoris or clitoris.
She stopped tapping and swiveled in her chair to face me.
“Ruth, you’re an enigma.”
It struck me that this is the kind of thing you want to hear only from a lover when you’re naked in bed and you’ve just said something really off topic but still terrifically sexy.
“Just give me a pill,” I said. “Seriously, any pill. Just make it go away.”
“I wish I could. But I don’t know what to make of this,” she said.
My file was open and she was using her lap as a table. I didn’t like the urgency with which she was taking notes. I didn’t like how quickly she passed me a copy of my file, or the intensity with which she urged me to make another appointment with the neurologist. I could feel my internal circuitry shorting out from worry, my mind pinging and popping with electric anxiety.
“Maybe you should try reading a sexy book. Watch some porn. Might get things moving down there.”
“Ha!” I said, a little too loudly. It seemed absurd to be obsessing over my sex life when my feet, legs, hoochie, and increasingly, my bum were slowly disappearing. What will my life be like if I cannot properly feel what the hell is going on when I’m having sex? What will that mean for my happiness? Maybe I was just being greedy. We’d had a good run of it, Rich and I. Shouldn’t the memory of sixteen years of good sex tide me over for the rest of my life? I played a game called What would I rather live without: the ability to walk or the ability to have an orgasm? My answer changed every time I played, which was every other minute.
I read the notes in the file Dr. Bright had given me. “Perineal numbness . . . This is a patient who never complains . . . Please explore.” I took the file home with me, but I didn’t make another appointment with the neurologist. I didn’t have time to dwell on my multiple concerns and what they might mean. I had a busy life to live, the needs of my children to be met, and a trip to pack for: The next day, our whole family was leaving for Peru.
In the days leading up to our July departure, Rich and I were locked in a game of chicken. Each time he sat at the computer to nail down the details of our trip, he would turn to me and say, “Babe, are you sure we should do this? I can easily cancel the whole thing.”
It was true—he could have canceled the whole thing, but that it could be done easily was a lie. There would be penalties to pay, trip guides to terminate, flight money lost, and, most worrisome, the need to face the fact that although I wasn’t sick, I definitely wasn’t well.
I had tried to be vigilant about getting to the bottom of things. I had kept all my doctor’s appointments, met with the magical chiropractor, had an MRI, stopped wearing high heels, cut out my hot yoga practice. I was doing everything right, but still, I was afraid to go. I had some serious trust issues with my body but was zealous in overcompensating so my kids would never know. I challenged them to Ping-Pong tournaments just so I could prove to myself how coordinated I was, when all I wanted to do was lie down and keep a wary eye on my feet. Or I encouraged them to go on bike rides with me even though I was half convinced my numb bum would veer off the seat if my tingling feet didn’t get trapped under the pedals first. I would sometimes swallow my aggravation at how much they were enjoying their lives, while also patting myself on the back for hiding my fears from them so brilliantly.
For years before this, Rich and I had discussed taking the kids on an adventure holiday. Now, when we were finally on the cusp of committing to this trip, I felt the least capable of doing it. How could I possibly hike the Inca Trail when I could barely make it from the driveway to our house without tripping?
In the smallest hours of the night when both of us pretended to be asleep, a fearful presence rested between us, the size and weight of a sick child. We took care not to jostle it, not to awaken it; if we just let it rest, maybe everything would be okay.
The trip moved forward.
“Lima is a donkey’s belly.”
I didn’t know what our Peruvian guide had meant when she said this—until the last day of our trip. We had to stay in Lima overnight. The sand on the beach was gray, the water was gray, the sky was gray. Even though it was chilly, the air felt heavy. We ducked into our jackets as if the clouds were pressing down on us. I moved through that day like a ghost, biding my time, masking my worry, checking my watch, just wanting to board the damn plane already and be gone. At the airport, we passed a tiny nail salon.
“I’ve got an idea,” Rich said. “Why don’t you treat yourself to a foot massage?” He didn’t know that over the past five months pedicures had not gone well for me. I half sobbed when my feet were touched. The foam space-keepers that separated my toes after a polish were padded instruments of torture. Rubbing a pumice stone on my heels made me hyperventilate. But I continued to submit myself to these monthly appointments because to do otherwise would indicate a problem, and I had already decided that there wasn’t one.
“That’s a great idea, babe,” I said, smiling.
I grabbed hold of the plush armrests, twisting in my seat and grimacing while my feet were massaged with exfoliating cream—a cream that seemed to have been concocted from glass shards, barbed wire, and cactus. Rich came by to check on me.
“All great!” I was smiling so hard he took a picture of me with his phone. Once the torture was over, I slipped my flats back on and walked unsteadily to our gate. What if someone tried to kidnap the children? What if we were being chased? What if a fire suddenly engulfed the terminal—would I be able to run?
“I’m sorry,” I said to the two airport staff as they attempted to shuffle us more quickly to our gate, as we were, literally, running behind. “I can only go this fast.”
They seemed to gather that there was some unexplained issue and slowed down. We made our flight on time and headed first to Miami. As soon as we landed, I called my sister.
“Please get me an appointment with the neurologist, Dr. Shure.”
“Are you okay?”
“And an appointment with Dr. Bright.”
“Oh no. Are you—”
“The earliest appointment possible.”
The second our cab pulled up to the house, I regretted my dramatic call to my sister at the airport. There was absolutely no reason not to think that all that climbing in Peru had taken a toll on my body. Plus, there was the altitude. The truth was, I was a woman in my late forties who kept asking her body to act like it was thirty.
“I’m canceling my appointments,” I told Rich that night, after we had gotten our exhausted boys to bed.
“Why would you do that?”
“Because this is dumb. I’ve had an MRI, which said explicitly that nothing was wrong with me. We just climbed a mountain for seven hours and my body just needs a break. Doesn’t yours?”
He said nothing.
“Anyway, the kids are leaving for camp in a few days and I will have the entire month to put my feet up and rest. I’ll be fine. I am fine.”
“Ru, I think you should keep your appointments.”
But my decision was made.
I called my friend Paula, who wanted to hear all about our trip, but it was the last thing I wanted to talk about.
“How are your feet?” she asked.
“Oh, you know. Tingly still, but all right.”
“Ruthie, can I say something without you getting mad?”
“I’m already mad.”
“Maybe you should consider having another MRI.”
“No point. There’s nothing wrong.”
“But maybe you should get one more?”
“Sex is weird.”
“What? Oh, that’s—oh.”
“I can’t feel things the same way.”
There was a long, awful silence. Paula has always known the right thing to say to me, but not this time. As soon as we hung up, I called the neurologist.
“I’d like to rebook my appointment,” I said. “And I need another MRI.”
“This is ridiculous!” my mother barked into the phone.
“No, it’s not, Mom,” I barked back. “The neurologist said this is not an emergency. She can’t just snap her fingers and get me another MRI right away.”
“It’s been five months since the last one and nothing has changed. You’re getting worse, not better. We’re going to Buffalo.”
“We’re going. Hang up the phone and make the appointment right now!”
It didn’t matter that I was a grown woman; I still did what my mother told me. Three phone calls and two days later, we were on our way to Buffalo.
Cheery John, the MRI technician, set me up inside the capsule. He was short and moved like a garden gnome come to life. His smile said: This is all routine—we’ll have you out of here with a clean bill of health lickety split! I was grateful for his cheer. I had no choice but to do my MRI drug-free this time—I was the designated driver. While I did manage to doze for the first few minutes, remaining still soon became impossible. The back of my head was throbbing in one spot as if a nail were being pushed slowly, relentlessly, inexorably into it. I hummed along with my breath. I pictured my belly moving up and down. I tried to remember the lyrics to all the songs I knew. I counted backward from a hundred until the numbers collapsed into one another. My heart jumped wildly like it was leaping from one hot coal to the next. I pressed the rubbery panic button and the clanging inside the capsule immediately stopped. Cheery John rushed in and eased me out of the machine.
“What is it, Ruth? Are you all right?”
“I need to know how much longer this is going to be.”
I still wasn’t allowed to move. I hoped he could hear me. Between the earplugs and the little foam pillows around my head, I wasn’t sure if I had spoken out loud.
“The doctor on the other end tells me the pictures he’s getting are real good! But the thing is, Ruth, he wants me to inject a dye into your arm so we can get a real clear look in a couple areas. It’s called a contrast dye and it’s—”
“I’ll have to program the machine to get a better idea.”
“You know these things don’t happen for free, right, Ruth?”
“It’s okay. Just do it.”
“Alrighty, then, Ruth. Let’s just get that dye in ya, okay?”
He lifted my arm to put the needle in and I turned my head just a little so the tears could run sideways.
It was one minute then one minute then three minutes then four minutes and I went through the Beatles songbook that sits on the piano where my younger son, Henry, and I practiced “Let It Be” as a duet for his piano recital just two months earlier. I couldn’t remember the words and I couldn’t remember the chords and the pounding of the machine as the slides took pictures of my spine matched the imaginary nail going into my head, which matched the words written on the computer chip inside my ears that was trying to brainwash me. Both my hands were sweating and the tingling in my legs had turned ice cold. I couldn’t feel my legs or my feet or my torso and I thought I was paralyzed. I jerked my legs to wake them and then panicked that I had screwed up the pictures by moving and would have to start the whole process from the beginning. Cheery John said, “Just ten minutes more,” and I started to count to sixty over and over, but I couldn’t count past thirty-eight and I couldn’t remember the words to “O Canada” and then almost two hours later it was over.
I took my time sitting up. Cheery John was there, holding his arm out toward me. I wiped my damp eyes and then bunched the front of the green hospital gown in my hands.
“Did you tell my mom I was going to be a little longer?” I whispered.
“Oh, yes, Ruth. Don’t worry. She knows. She’s waitin’ for ya.”
“Thank you, John.”
I picked up my purse and clutched it like a shield. I walked back to the cubicle to change. I sat down on the little stool to pull on my jeans and let out one last terror-stricken moan before I shoved my companions—Worry and Fear—into a private closet inside my brain and kicked the door shut. Already, I had forgotten what it was like to move through the world largely unburdened. As I walked toward my mother, I tried to laugh. “Sorry that took so long, Mom!” My big smile was almost outmatched by her big smile.
“No problem! They told me you’d be a little longer. They’re very nice here.”
“Very nice,” I said.
“Very nice,” she said.
“Very,” I said.
“Nice,” she said.
We got back in the car and drove home. We did not mention the MRI ever again.
The sky was unusually dark for an August evening. We arrived at my house and I waved to my mother as she got in her own car to go home to my father and talk about me. I walked into my house without turning on any lights, dropped my bag at the door, and headed upstairs. Rich wasn’t home from work yet; the kids were still at overnight camp—I was completely alone. I tore my jeans off before I reached my room. They were driving my legs mad, had been all day, but I thought that wearing them instead of leggings—the only clothing I was comfortable in anymore—would mean that I was still normal, and normal people are able to wear pants without wanting to rip their hair out. My thighs and calves looked like they had always looked but felt ravaged by a thousand tiny cuts. I leaned on my dresser and clasped my hands under my chin. I closed my eyes.
“Listen, I don’t really know how to begin this conversation since I only call on you when I fly, but tonight I need your assistance in just one small matter and I’m not going to promise that I’ll never ask anything of you again if you help me, because I have children and a husband who I love more than myself, but something is very wrong with me. I know Cheery John saw something bad on my MRI, so all I’m asking is this: Please God, don’t let it be cancer.”
I wanted to be an actress from the time I was six years old and have been one since I was twenty-five. My career has been notable for three reasons: I got naked in my first film role; I was in a television series with Billy Ray Cyrus; and for eight seasons I played a mom on the Canadian teen drama Degrassi. The biggest chunk of my career, however, has been made up of commercial voice work. My voice has sold everything from Ikea kitchens to condoms.
The day after I went to Buffalo, I had a voice-over gig for Shoppers Drug Mart, a frequent client. It was hot as hell out and the air-conditioning in my house was wheezy at best. I was already having second thoughts about blow-drying my hair, knowing that I would only start sweating again the second I was done. I kept up a gentle, mantra-like monologue in my head to help me slow down and redirect my focus away from the looming results of my MRI and onto the little things, like: Was it a stupid idea to wear silk on a sweltering August day? I decided that the uplifting periwinkle blue of the dress canceled out practicalities. I shaved my legs. I wore gold-and-silver sandals that tied up around my ankles. I wore a long silver necklace with a green teardrop pendant. I put on mascara. I looked at myself in my full-length mirror. My tingly feet fought the urge to escape my sandals. They were unwilling to accept anything but total nakedness while I was unwilling to accept such brattiness; pants were optional, shoes were not.
I was able to stand for the entire voice session, ignoring the temptation to rest on the stool behind me. Neither the producers nor my voice partner seemed to notice the effort it took for me to remain perfectly upright, making me wonder for the thousandth time: If no one else was noticing, was anything wrong with me?
When the session was over, I got in my car and headed straight to Rich’s office. He was standing outside his building waiting for me even though I hadn’t called to say I was coming. United in fear, our connection had become supernatural.
“Have you heard anything?” he asked without preamble. In addition to being able to get an immediate MRI booking in Buffalo, they also guaranteed a one-day turnaround for the results.
“No,” I said, just as my cellphone rang. It was Dr. Shure’s office. They had the results.
“Should I make an appointment to come in?” I asked her.
“Are you close by?”
“Why don’t you make your way over right now.”
“Oh . . .”
“What’s going on?” Rich asked.
I covered the phone. “She wants me to come now.”
“Can you do that, Ruth?” the voice on the phone asked me.
“Tell her we’re on our way,” said Rich.
“We’re on our way.”
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (January 1, 2019)
- Length: 272 pages
- ISBN13: 9781501173691
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Raves and Reviews
“A page-turning and inspiring journey of recovery. . . . Hilarious and hopeful.”
– LISA GENOVA, bestselling author of Still Alice
“I can’t remember the last time I’ve liked a character in a book so much—only this one is real. . . . Ruth Marshall’s story is filled with heart and courage and heaping spoonfuls of humor.”
– GLENN DIXON, #1 bestselling author of Juliet’s Answer
“Funny, heartfelt, and well written. . . . Profound and witty. I could not put it down. ”
– KARMA BROWN, bestselling author of Come Away with Me
“A moving and hilarious portrayal of what happens when our bodies get the best of us and life is turned upside down . . . Wry and honest and wickedly funny, Walk It Off is a wonderful debut memoir from a writer to watch.”
– AMY STUART, bestselling author of Still Mine
“A hilarious account of the kind of thing we all pray doesn’t happen to us. . . . An epic journey of recovery that is equally scary and funny.”
– MICHAEL REDHILL, author of Bellevue Square
“Ruth Marshall writes with unblinking honesty and intimate charm about the challenges and triumphs of medical calamity. The pages practically turn themselves.”
– TEVA HARRISON, award-winning author of In-Between Days
“Revelatory, human, gutting and funny . . . Taking a simple step will never feel the same. One of those books you can’t put down and you will insist that everyone you love has to read. Ruth Marshall is us, at our worst and most brave.”
– DIANE FLACKS, actor, author of Bear with Me
“So funny, so achingly poignant . . . Ruth’s story is riveting, her warmth and honesty irresistible.”
– JAMES CHATTO, author of The Greek for Love
Awards and Honors
- Heather's Pick
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- Book Cover Image (jpg): Walk It Off Trade Paperback 9781501173691
- Author Photo (jpg): Ruth Marshall Photograph by Maria Ricossa(0.1 MB)
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