Rubin: Not every disability is visible – so stop yelling when cancer survivor parks
Catie Glossmann was a very good teenage ballerina.
Then she wasn’t so good, which is how she discovered she had brain cancer and embarked on a path to getting yelled at by strangers about parking spaces.
The same path will take her to a place with tens of thousands of cookies tonight, and it helped her make a friend so committed to fighting cancer that she had the stripes in her restaurant’s parking lot painted pink.
So it hasn’t all been bad, if you don’t count the cancer and the aftereffects. But still:
Please, world, stop barking at her about where she parks.
Glossmann, 29, has one of those state-sanctioned license plates with a wheelchair on it. Her mother and occasional chauffeur has a hanging tag for the times Glossmann is in the passenger seat.
People tend not to notice those, though, possibly because they’re too busy following her through parking lots hollering, “You’d better move your car, or I’m calling the police!”
In college, she says, campus police at Oakland University harangued her. A familiar shopping mall clothing store refused to let her use the handicapped changing room, or even fetch her a chair.
The problem, as some have explained it to her, is that “I don’t look handicapped.”
That puzzles her, because when she looked up “handicapped” in the dictionary, she didn’t see a picture.
“Do you want me to put a stone in her shoe so she hobbles?” asks her mom, Debbie Hormel, 61. “Should she wear a helmet?”
It’s not a daily occurrence, and sometimes not even weekly. But a month doesn’t go by without somebody questioning her credentials for a handicapped spot or a space at a yellow curb in Birmingham, where she lives and where those openings are designated as “Y’all Come!” for those with certified afflictions.
It wasn’t her first choice, Glossmann says, but “I’m handicapped. I can’t walk a straight line.” Or, some days, a line of any distance. And here’s a bottom line:
While it’s nice that people have become attuned to disabled drivers and protective of their access, not everyone with a legitimate need for the parking spaces uses a wheelchair or an oxygen tank.
Battling brain cancer as a teen
Glossmann was 16 when she started emerging from pirouettes dizzy and fleetingly blind.
The seventh doctor she saw in a six-month span finally noticed that her face had become asymmetrical and ordered up an MRI. His suspicion was correct: medulloblastoma, a tumor at the lower rear portion of the brain.
“We’ve seen a lot of kids buried with the same thing,” Hormel says. Glossmann came away with issues, but also perspective.
She has a faint north-south scar on the back of her neck. Radiation left her with hair loss, even after implants, and chemotherapy cost her some hearing.
Toss in short-term memory loss, blurred vision, a trace of facial paralysis and exhaustion that sets in with something as placid as reading, let alone walking, and she’s a mess – albeit a contented and happily married one.
She and Hormel created a nonprofit, Support the Cause, that puts on fundraising events at no cost for charities working with childhood cancer.
It’s $75 at the door from 5-7:30 p.m. to sample and vote on cookies from a few dozen local bakeries and take home a bagful.
Duo now helping others
Then on Tuesday, they’ll be at the Cloverleaf Bar & Restaurant in Eastpointe, where co-owner Marie Guerra Easterby will donate 20 percent of the take from 4-9 p.m. to a 17-year-old cancer patient from Burton named Jonathan Trantham.
Easterby punched out breast cancer 11 years ago. For October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she overrode the yellow stripes in her parking lot with pink.
She met Glossmann and Hormel a few years ago at Bible study. “They’re just awesome,” she says, and they will be welcome to use one of the handicapped spots at the Cloverleaf.
The spots remain blue, and Glossmann remains legitimate. As for the scoundrels who use the spaces fraudulently, she says she’ll leave their fate to karma.
Maybe someday they’ll really need one – and strangers will follow them, yelling.