My brain tumor and Shaun Cassidy

Shaun Cassidy in about 1970. (Michael Ochs/Getty Images)
Shaun Cassidy in about 1970. (Michael Ochs/Getty Images)

An earnest goal of my young life was to meet Shaun Cassidy. I had no executable plan to make this happen. I believed I’d be walking along someday, and he would appear. And of course, he’d know me, as surely as I knew him.

But in the late 1970s, the closest I ever got to Shaun Cassidy was watching "The Hardy Boys" TV show in which he starred, plastering his posters around my room and listening to his albums fanatically.

In 2020, I revisited my youthful obsession with him. I wrote a piece about him which ran in an online publication. I facetiously told Shaun Cassidy I was sorry I’d neglected to properly break up with him in 1979, but that our fictional relationship was long over. I confessed that maybe I listed him as an emergency card contact, and I was releasing him from that responsibility.

I shared the essay on social media, but I didn’t tag him in any of the posts because that felt a little intrusive to me. But in August 2022, he trended on Twitter. I reposted the article and hashtagged his name. He saw it, and kindly responded.

I was part mortified, part thrilled. He graciously accepted the end of our fictitious relationship and said to say hi to my husband Shawn — I mentioned that I’d married someone with the same name. I thanked him for taking the time to fulfill a childhood dream. For a moment, Shaun Cassidy knew my name.

Turns out he was lucky I absolved him of the emergency card duty. About six weeks after our Twitter-sation, I was taken by ambulance to my local hospital, and was quickly transferred to Boston. I thought I’d had a stroke, but it turned out to be a seizure. A CT scan yielded a surprise: a brain tumor the size of a citrus fruit.

I named it Clementine based on the fruit comparison. It was a benign meningioma, an outside-the-brain tumor, between the brain and the skull. It involved the superior sagittal sinus, some kind of super-big-deal area in our heads. I still don’t grasp all of its job description, but if it fails to function, so do we.

Three weeks later, I had surgery to remove my juicy intruder because it was squishing my brain, and I needed that brain to keep me in business. My skilled surgeon found my meningioma had infiltrated that important sagittal sinus. It was okay though, because collaterals formed. He had to leave some of Clementine to keep those working. The leftover citrus peel in there just needs to be monitored for growth.

The night of the surgery I was up walking and talking. Still, my recovery has been some steps forward, some back. I now have epilepsy, balance challenges and word retrieval issues. I go to physical, occupational and speech therapy. I can’t drive, or be a passenger for long because I get wickedly motion-sick. I’ve changed seizure medication three times. I am now used to MRIs, one of the only things in my pre-tumor life I actively feared.

I get flustered by unexpected noises, whispers and bright lights. I doubt my ability to navigate social situations, and my once flowy cursive handwriting looks like a scrawl. But for a person who unknowingly cultivated a Clementine, probably for decades, I have little to complain about.

And in that time warp, Shaun Cassidy reappeared.

One of the weirdest things about this recovery is how often I feel like my brain was reset, adjusted to an earlier time. I have realistic dreams of long-ago events. I’ve thought of people and places I hadn’t in years. I drink bottled iced tea like I did in college. I watch videos from the early days of MTV.

And in that time warp, Shaun Cassidy reappeared. My husband noticed my tweet pal was playing just three miles away, in Beverly. My family insisted I was basically obligated to attend. I joked he’d chosen the venue just to see me in the audience. So again, I made seeing Shaun Cassidy a goal. This time my challenges were far different, but it seemed like something I might actually pull off.

After missing family gatherings, holiday events and countless get-togethers, this was a chance to do something I might have done pre-Clementine. It was also the chance to feel inconspicuous, sitting among other AARP-eligible-ish adults who only wanted to realize their childhood dream, too. No one would know about the scar across my head, or that I had indentations in my noggin where the piece of skull they’d taken off had been screwed back in. No one would see my uneven line of hair growing back.

So I went. Yes, I wore sunglasses inside. Yes, the music felt too loud a few times. Yes, I stayed for the whole show. And yes, it was great. Attending the concert was like medicine.

My life changed drastically, not only since childhood, but in the months since my teen idol friend Shaun and I tweeted. He still unwittingly served as an emergency contact. I needed to get back out, and the show was a safe way for me to try — and succeed.

Not to be as cheesy as the satin pants Shaun Cassidy used to sport, but it felt like my real life imitated his song’s lyrics. All of these circumstances made this much, much older girl believe in the magic my once young girl’s heart did. And it turns out, that can still set you free.

Writer’s note: Shaun Cassidy, should you read this, please be assured that this is the last time I will write about you. Also, say hi to Tracey for me.

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Stacey Curran Cognoscenti contributor
Stacey Curran is a longtime educator and a former journalist who also writes bad poetry.



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