Be Brave

I sat on the bench hoping that gym class would end before my name was called. In high school there are those that are popular, those that just blend in, and others that stand out for reasons that are “not cool.” The gym teacher said, “Valen, you’re up next.” I cringed inside, as playing softball was quite embarrassing for me. I thought: “Oh great, let’s draw attention to the un-cool girl that can’t swing a bat.” With having scoliosis surgery, I am unable to twist and hence can’t swing a bat. So, there I stood next to the substitute swinger that the gym teacher selected. Pitcher throws the ball, substitute swings and hits it and I run to first base. Oh, how I just wanted to blend in.

I wish, as I ran to first base feeling like an outcast, that I could have been encouraged by Sara Bareilles’s beautifully strong lyrics singing in my ear, her song “Brave”…

“You can be amazing
You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug
You can be the outcast

Or be the backlash of somebody’s lack of love
Or you can start speaking up
Nothing’s gonna hurt you the way that words do
And they settle ‘neath your skin
Kept on the inside and no sunlight
Sometimes a shadow wins
But I wonder what would happen if you

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave.”

Mom & IAfter my scoliosis surgery in 8th Grade, I had a six-month recovery at home in which I was home-schooled. Upon my return to middle school, I was unable to walk in the halls with all of the kids because the doctor’s did not want me to get bumped into and possibly injure my back. Since the students’ seats were so hard, I needed to take a pillow to school to prop against the back of my chair. Now, imagine an 8th Grade girl holding a pillow; leaving class a few minutes before the bell rang; walking to her next class; and standing outside the door waiting for the students to exit. Now, imagine how unkind kids can be and how they will take any opportunity to make fun of other students who are different. I lost all of my so-called friends after this surgery and was made fun of A LOT! So bad that my mom went to a girl’s house to confront her and her mother. That is a whole other story and I always pitied the person who picked on me because they had to deal with my mother. Ha! As I stood with my back against the school wall, holding my pillow, I needed comfort by hearing more of the song lyrics from “Brave” …

“Everybody’s been there, everybody’s been stared down
By the enemy
Fallen for the fear and done some disappearing
Bow down to the mighty
Don’t run, stop holding your tongue
Maybe there’s a way out of the cage where you live
Maybe one of these days you can let the light in
Show me how big your brave is

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave.”

I believe the moment that trumps the above two examples was at cheerleading tryouts. My closest friend in high school was a cheerleader. I knew I was not athletically fit because of my health challenges, but I could give cheerleading a shot in hopes to make friends and do something with my best friend. There I stood in the school lobby with a bunch of pretty, fit young girls with great cheerleading skills. This was a whole new ballgame for me. I was encouraging myself to be brave and try my best. Well, that came screeching to a halt as I was pulled aside by the coach and several others employed by the school. They informed me that due to my health challenges (PKD and scoliosis) they did not feel that it would be safe for me to continue with tryouts and I was politely asked to leave. This was quite a low blow and embarrassing to happen in front of all the girls. As I walked away from the beautiful and talented cheerleaders, I wish I would have been brave and known that it was such a tiny and insignificant part of my life. At the time, it felt huge!

As Sara Bareilles sings …

“Innocence, your history of silence
Won’t do you any good
Did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty
Why don’t you tell them the truth?

Say what you wanna say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave

With what you want to say
And let the words fall out
Honestly I wanna see you be brave”

The things that made me different– such as not being able to participate in gym class due to PKD and scoliosis– and being picked on for being “not cool” is what makes me stand apart from the crowd in a positive way today. My life experiences are what fuel and drive me to help others. Having PKD is not easy. There are a lot of fears and unknowns. We are all in different stages of the disease. I wish in high school that I would have known that I was not alone and that there are 600,000 other Americans battling the exact same thing. I want everyone out there young and old, to accept your differences, be proud of them and realize that those are what make you special.

I dedicate the song, “Brave” by Sara Bareilles to all of you.

Never underestimate how strong you are. “Show me how big your brave is!”

Do you have any brave stories to share?


  1. Karen Yeomans

    You were brave back then, and you are still brave today! Thanks for sharing Valen.

    • Valen Keefer

      Hi Karen,
      From one brave PKD survivor to another, thank you! 🙂


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