Eva Hagberg Fisher’s memoir of her life-threatening illness that occurred in 2013 when she was in her late 20s documents her surgeries and recovery from a suspected brain tumor. The narrative describes her journey, during which she learned to be a friend, accept friendship, develop compassion, and acquire the gift of humbleness.
Fisher’s early life was disruptive because her mother was involved in three marriages before Fisher was a teen. She also suffered emotionally because her biological father was absent from her life for many years. Further disruption occurred because Fisher had a disjointed education in overseas boarding schools far from her family.
Frequent moves, the uncertainty of her life from one year to the next, and a revolving door of friends and family led her to seek affirmation and attention in destructive ways. She made unhealthy choices in partners, used drugs and alcohol to excess, and was unable to assert herself. Fisher also lacked social responsibility, which led her toward a ruinous life that betrayed her education, intelligence, and potential.
An upsetting breakup led her to California where she started graduate school to earn a degree in architecture. She joined AA and began the path to sobriety. While in AA, she met a woman in her 60s, Allison, who became her best friend and mentor.
Allison viewed the world in a different way because she was dying of cancer. Witnessing and becoming involved with Allison’s journey with her terminal illness, Fisher learned for the first time the power of friendship and the satisfaction that comes from being of service to others in times of great need.
Over the years, Fisher had experienced baffling physical symptoms, weight loss and extreme fatigue, which she managed to deflect with common medications. In California, she could no longer ignore her pain and symptoms. A tumor in her pituitary gland was diagnosed. She had brain surgery, which caused side affects and recurring illnesses, as well as temporary brain damage. Fisher no longer recognized herself as an independent, self-reliant woman. Through her interactions with Allison, Fisher learned how to ask for help, and more importantly to accept help.
During a brief period of wellness, Fisher met her husband. He stayed with her through long separations as Fisher traveled from New Mexico to Colorado in a failed effort to find a place free of mold or other allergens that seemed contribute to her illness. Friends helped her along the way, and she relied on them for emotional support during bouts of depression, anxiety and recurring illness.
Fisher survived her five years of sickness, and now is an author and lecturer on architecture. She believes her diagnosis was mast cell activation syndrome, an immunological condition.
“How to Be Loved,” teaches us the importance of maintaining friendships with people we know who are struggling with illness. It shows that the smallest things, phone calls, small gifts, cards, a meal, a service, mean everything to a person facing an illness, whether it be terminal or temporary.
I learned that the phrase “let me know what I can do” is not enough. Helping, jumping in, being there, is what friends need. It is an affirming, influential, honest new memoir that deserves a large audience who will learn from the story.