StoryCorps
7:00 pm
Thu November 3, 2011

Memory Loss Sparks A Plan For Running, And Living

Originally published on Fri November 4, 2011 8:54 am

Remembering even the smallest details of her life can be hard for Gweneviere Mann. She has suffered from short-term memory loss since 2008, caused by complications from an operation. But that's not enough to stop Mann and her boyfriend, Yasir Salem, from running a marathon — with a unique strategy.

Recently, Mann, 41, sat down with Salem, 34, to talk about her daily life.

"I always have a note card in my pocket that tells me what the date is," she says. "And I have to write down when I eat meals, because sometimes I might eat lunch three times because I don't remember that I ate already."

Mann's memory loss began when she underwent surgery several years ago to remove a brain tumor. During the procedure, she had a stroke. She has had short-term memory loss ever since.

"The doctors say the brain can continue healing up to two years," she says, "but whatever is not back by that point is not likely to ever come back."

Salem asks, "So you had your surgery in November of 2008, right?"

"Right. And so, I'm going to have to live the rest of my life this way," Mann says. "And the thing that scares me the most is, like, the thought that I will wake up one day, and I'll be 80 years old — and I won't remember the last 40 years of my life."

"Do you remember when you first came out of surgery?" Salem asks.

"I know that I used to always think that I was in San Francisco," Mann says.

"What are those things called, do you remember?" Salem says.

"Confabulations."

"Yeah."

In the field of memory loss, a confabulation is defined as an invented memory of an event that never occurred — or an actual event that is remembered as happening in a different time or place.

Mann asks Salem, "Do you remember another confabulation that I used to have?"

"You used to think that your co-worker, Barbara, was your mom ..." Salem answers.

"Oh, that's right," Mann says with a laugh.

"... even though she's a completely different race than you," Salem says.

"That's funny, yeah," Mann says.

"There was one point where you were confused," Salem says, "because you thought we had broken up. And I would ask you, like, 'Why do you think you're staying at my place?' She's like, 'Well, we're just cool like that.' "

"Yeah. Sorry about that," Mann says, laughing.

"That's all right."

"And after all you'd been doing for me," Mann says.

"Thankfully you got over that."

"I'm thankful for that, as well," she says.

Salem asks, "So, is there any positive things that have come out of losing your memory that you can look back on?"

"Well, I ran the New York City Marathon with you, my boyfriend," Mann says. "And one of the things that I asked you, was to help me — as a trick — to not let me look at any of the mile markers along the way. And if I asked you how long we'd been running — to always tell me 10 or 15 minutes."

She laughs at the thought of running more than 26 miles, using that strategy.

"And it really worked like a charm," Mann says. "And when we got to the end, you and I were running across the finish line ... and as if on cue, I started crying my eyes out. Because I was so happy."

The couple will be running their second marathon in New York City this Sunday.

"You know, I have spent a lot of days since my injury comparing myself to what I used to be and feeling sad about the things that I've lost," she says. "But doing the marathon really shows me that I still have a lot left in me."

The New York City Marathon offers spectators the chance to follow runners remotely. Gweneviere Mann's bib number is 65445. Yasir Salem's bib number is 65444. Their start time is 10:40 a.m., ET.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Every Friday we hear from StoryCorps, the project recording the stories and memories of people across the country. For Gweneviere Mann, remembering isn't easy. She had brain surgery several years ago to remove a brain tumor. During that surgery, she had a stroke and has suffered from short term memory loss ever since.

Gweneviere sat down with her boyfriend, Yasir Salem, to talk about her life after surgery.

GWENEVIERE MANN: I always have a note card in my pocket that tells me what the date is. And I have to write down when I eat meals, because sometimes I might eat lunch three times because I don't remember that I ate already.

The doctors say the brain can continue healing up to two years, but whatever is not back by that point is not likely to ever come back.

YASIR SALEM: So you had your surgery in November of 2008, right?

MANN: Right. And so, I'm going to have to live the rest of my life this way. And the thing that scares me the most is, like, the thought that I will wake up one day, and I'll be 80 years old - and I won't remember the last 40 years of my life.

SALEM: Do you remember when you first came out of surgery?

MANN: I know that I used to always think that I was in San Francisco.

SALEM: What are those things called, do you remember?

MANN: Confabulations.

SALEM: Yeah.

MANN: Yeah. Do you remember another confabulation that I used to have?

SALEM: You used to think that your co-worker, Barbara, was your mom...

MANN: Oh, that's right. (Laughing)

SALEM: ...even though she's a completely different race than you.

MANN: That's funny. Yeah.

SALEM: There was one point where you were confused, because you thought we had broken up. And I would ask you, like, why do you think you're staying at my place?' She's like, well, we're just cool like that.

MANN: Yeah, sorry about that.

SALEM: That's all right.

MANN: And after all you'd been doing for me.

SALEM: Thankfully you got over that.

MANN: I'm thankful for that, as well.

SALEM: So, is there any positive things that have come out of losing your memory that you can look back on?

MANN: Well, I ran the New York City Marathon with you, my boyfriend. And one of the things that I asked you was, to help me, as a trick, to not let me look at any of the mile markers along the way. And if I asked you how long we'd been running to always tell me 10 or 15 minutes. (Laughing) And it really worked like a charm.

SALEM: Yeah.

MANN: And when we got to the end, you and I were running across the finish line, and as if on cue, I started crying my eyes out because I was so happy.

You know, I have spent a lot of days since my injury comparing myself to what I used to be and feeling sad about the things that I've lost. But doing the marathon shows me that I still have a lot left in me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MONTAGNE: Gweneviere Mann with her boyfriend Yasir Salem in New York City. Their conversation will be archived at the Library of Congress. The couple will be running the New York Marathon again this Sunday, and find out how to track their progress at npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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