This is NF: Olivia Sederlund

Growing up, I wanted to be a basketball player. Alas, I was gifted with neither the height nor the athletic skill needed to play basketball, or even most organized sports. I wanted to be a writer, then a teacher; I wound up being a librarian-pretty close! I think that there were many things I dreamed about as a kid that, for whatever reason, didn't come to pass. But also I'm doing things I never would have imagined!

In high school, I was the last person in my class to run the timed mile in gym class-and I often walked the last quarter. And now I'm finishing half marathons! I started my martial arts training my freshman year of high school and I don't think I ever expected then that I would still be training 15 years later, or that I would have my second degree black belt!

One of the biggest struggles I faced happened about four years ago: since high school I had known I wanted to teach history. I've always loved working with young people and I have a passion for the subject. Once I started teaching, however, I realized that I was not suited to aspects of the profession, in particular the lack of work-life balance. I made the very difficult decision to walk away from the classroom for my own mental and physical well-being.

Currently, I am finishing my Masters in Library Science and have found a career that I am both passionate about and well suited for. It lets me indulge in much of what I loved about teaching (interacting with people, research, and reading) but also allows for me to have a life outside of work. The most important lesson I learned from this is that I will be OK, and that sometimes walking away from something can lead to something even better. In my martial arts training, we are always taught that there is no such thing as doing something "wrong." If a defense or a throw doesn't go as planned, whatever that outcome is, it’s a new opportunity for something different.

I grew up knowing that I had NF, but I didn't know much about it. My symptoms were minor, and so I never had any cause to really think about it. But as I was going through middle school, I started to look up information online about NF and it was terrifying! It was more or less 99% tumor-this-and-that which, as a 12-year-old, is pretty scary stuff! So much of what's online are the extreme cases. And even those don't show the full lives that people are living. I think that seeing symptoms in a vacuum is scary, both for people with NF and parents of children with NF. Being able to attach a face and a life to neurofibromatosis, and seeing that you can live a happy life and have NF, even severe cases, is so important. I grew up assuming that those extreme cases were what NF was and thus I felt weird about my diagnosis, like I couldn't claim that I had NF because others "had it worse." This project, and the variety of people living their best lives with NF, and their variety of symptoms, makes me feel more connected to the community.

My motto in life is "as long as there's life, there's hope." It's a reminder to me to push through difficult times, and also as a reminder to keep pushing myself: as long as I'm alive, I will keep striving to be better. In a martial arts context this is a reminder to keep fighting and pushing myself until I succeed. My sensei always says that the only times you get to stop fighting is either when you're dead or when you have successfully defended yourself. And so as long as I'm alive I have hope of finishing the fight.

Olivia Sederlund, 30 years old, lives with neurofibromatosis type 1. She is a librarian and practicing martial artist and resides in Maynard, MA.