Book Review: The Opposite of Certainty — Finding Myself in the Story

Catherine Lanser
4 min readJul 20, 2020

I started reading The Opposite of Certainty, a memoir by Janine Urbaniak Reid, because it’s another story about someone with a brain tumor. This time it was the author’s young son. I’m an astrocytoma survivor and I think I’ve read every book there is on brain tumors trying to find myself in the story. Even as I tried, I never quite found the same story, until now.

Maybe the person I read about didn’t really have a brain tumor, but had cancer instead. Or maybe they had a stroke, like my dad, who acted like a different person after his brain bled and gave me insight into what my life might have been like for me had the doctors not been so skillful when removing my tumor. But this time, as I read The Opposite of Certainty, though the details still remained different, I was seeing my story.

Mason’s Story Could’ve Been Mine

The first indication that something is wrong with Mason, the author’s second of three children, comes when he is eight years old and begins having headaches and a tremor in his hand. The family only discovers the cause two years later after many doctor visits, having been told tremors are normal and receiving treatment for headaches. That is when an MRI reveals a slow-growing tumor.

The family grapples with advice from numerous doctors, some who say the only solution is treatment, others who say the only solution is to wait and see if the tumor grows. The family chooses a little of both, waiting and consulting a whole bevy of professionals from herbalists and nutritionists to a chiropractic neurologist and a Qigong master and then later choosing a course of chemotherapy. Once it seems as if everything will be okay, at age 13 the tumor bleeds, leaving Mason with brain damage.

This isn’t the first time, but it is the major way our stories diverge. Although we shared the same type of tumor, a pilocytic astrocytoma, mine was only a pea, not a lemon, like his. I was initially told that I wouldn’t need surgery right away, but within hours that changed, only because I was going to be off my parent’s insurance in a few months.

I had been having symptoms for much longer, but had hid them until my college roommate made me tell my parents. It turned out I…

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Catherine Lanser

Narrative nonfiction and memoir. Querying my memoir about my family, told through the lens of brain tumor.