Who Was Bob?

If you spend much time around my family, you’re likely to hear someone refer to Bob, and it probably won’t be complimentary.

“Bob was a jerk.”
“Yeah, Bob sucked.”
“I’m so glad you kicked Bob to the curb. We’re all better off without him.”

Here are some of the ways I think of Bob:

*Bob was my abusive loser boyfriend. He estranged me from my family, made me behave in ways I never would have otherwise, and nearly killed me before I got some help to throw him out. And after all of that, he wasn’t even any fun to be with.

* Bob was a parasitic alien life form. He slipped into my brain undetected, made me act in strange and inexplicable ways, and nearly drained me before he was found and killed.

* Bob was a bunch of cells growing in my head where they shouldn’t have been. They grew slowly at first, then mushroomed to the size of a golf ball, then ballooned to the size of a large man’s fist within the span of a week. It had no conscious will or volition, but the physical and chemical effects it had on my brain affected me profoundly and nearly killed me.

Bob was, of course, my brain tumor: a non-malignant meningioma, type I.

According to what I understand, these types of tumors can grow very slowly, undetected, for years and years. I think my neurosurgeon said about half a millimeter a year is typical. At some point, the process accelerates and they begin to grow like crazy, expanding until they kill the organism they’re living in. (Understand, I could have parts of this wrong. I’m not a doctor.)

Given that Bob went from a little bigger than a golf ball to fist-sized in a week, I don’t think I had long to go.

Conjecturing in the other direction, if tumors like Bob typically grow about half a millimeter a year, and Bob was 5.5 centimeters around when he was first discovered, then at least in theory, he could have been a part of me for…literally, all my life. Realistically, there’s no way to tell how long he’d been there or when he began to affect me, unless someone could travel back in time and sling me into an MRI every so often.

But he’s gone, and he shouldn’t be back, and that’s what really matters.

Why “Bob”?

So, wait. You named your brain tumor? And…why Bob?

Well…both seemed logical at the time. Of course, I had a massive brain tumor at the time, so go figure…

As I was lying in my hospital bed one night, I thought about other people who’d survived similar medical traumas, tumors or cancer or injured body parts. Many of them had named their tumors or affected parts.

“Kind of a hokey thing to do,” I thought. Immediately I knew I had to do it. But what would I name my tumor? Almost at once, the answer was there, as if it had just been waiting for me to discover it:


But why Bob? A little bit of thought gave me that answer, too. On one of my Weird Al Yankovic albums, there’s a song titled “Bob”. The song is made up entirely of palindromes, words or phrases or sentences that read the same backwards and forwards. Because of this, the song is  strange and random and doesn’t make a lot of sense.

And that’s a brain tumor for you: It’s strange, it’s random, and it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Perfect.

Bob and the Rest of the Family

My family thought Bob was a great name for my tumor. Or maybe they were just so happy to have me back without him, they’d have gone along with anything I said.

Since then, Bob has become like a member of the family. An unlikable member of the family, a dead member of the family, but an unshakeable part of our history nonetheless.

I think it’s good for us to be able to personify Bob and talk about him the way we do, and here’s why:

During my last few years with a brain tumor, I was not a great person. I may or may not have been an outright jerk. I remember being tired and irritable. My husband and sons remember me being angry all the time. I was argumentative, illogical, and sometimes verbally aggressive. I seemed lazy and disorganized, unwilling to help with household chores or look for a job. Near the end of that time, I’d neglect to do the grocery shopping and there’d be no food in the house. My older son, then 19, would use his personal money to buy food for himself and his brother. I would come along and eat it.

We know now that none of this was my fault. That’s not the kind of person I was before the tumor affected me, and it’s not the person I’ve been since it was removed. But I did do those things, and they were very hurtful things, and all of us have been hurt as a result.

Bob gives us a safe way to talk about those things.

“When Bob was around, no one could tell you anything.”
When Bob was living here, nothing got cleaned unless I did it, Mom.”
“Sometimes I hated you when you were with Bob, Mom.”

We all know what we’re talking about, of course. We’ve talked a lot about that time in straightforward terms, too. But somehow those times are safer, easier, to talk about using Bob as a shorthand for the tumor and everything it meant.


One of the biggest blessings in my life is that our family had such a close-knit relationship, and that we’ve been able to work together and repair that relationship. Nothing can erase the hurts that happened, but we’ve been able to heal and move on together.

That’s who Bob was. And we’re all very, very glad that he’s gone.

Good riddance, Bob. Don’t come back.


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