May 13, 2013 is a very special day to me. It represents the celebration of 11 years of being tumor free. On April 17, 2002 I was diagnosed with a meningioma brain tumor. This was not a phone call I was expecting. In fact, I thought I had some serious sinus problems, and after asking for and receiving a CT scan of the head I was convinced this was what was causing the nagging problems I had been experiencing for the past couple of years. I had headaches that were often debilitating. I would go into a fog, the world wasn’t visually clear and I could barely function. I tasted metal and slept on and off for a couple of days when these headaches descended upon me. Given my age and what I knew was going on with my hormones, I chalked it all up to menopause and the possibility of migraines that run in my family. However, I would soon start to develop balance issues as well. I would stand up and for no apparent reason fall right back down into the chair. This proved to be more embarrassing than anything, and I ignored it altogether. Then there was the constant missing of visual ques on my left hand side. I would bump into things often, not noticing them before I walked into them. At the time, I thought all of this was due to my nature of going a million miles a minute.
On April 17, 2002 all these strange events would be woven together when my general doctor who had ordered the CT Scan called to tell me that my sinuses were just fine, however, I had a brain tumor. That is exactly what he said to me on the phone. This from a man I had never even met as I saw his PA each time I visited the office. I was in complete shock when I hung up the phone. I had been working on a project for my son’s school at the neighbor’s across the street and had run home to grab some additional items for the project. The phone rang, I answered and received this life altering news. I thanked him for the information, if you can believe that, still acting with the utmost politeness, and hung up the phone after he told me he had ordered an MRI and someone would contact me within the next day to schedule it. I walked back across the street, sat quietly with the other women and continued my work. After some time had passed and a few of the women left for other things they had scheduled in their own busy lives, I laid my head down on the table and cried explaining what had transpired when I had run home. I am sure no one knew what to say to me, after all how often does someone share they just received a call telling them they have a brain tumor.
Within 24 hours I had the MRI, and it was confirmed that it was in fact a brain tumor and most likely a meningioma. Having some doctor friends and being married to a lawyer, things started to swing into high gear very quickly. We received all the information about meningioma brain tumors to include the fact they are most often benign and usually remain untreated until they start to show symptoms. This all sounded somewhat reassuring to me, however, it was still very disconcerting to think of a foreign object growing in my head. The only concern our doctor friend expressed was the fact that my meningioma was not in the best place for removal if in fact that was recommended, but still things looked good. How could a brain tumor be good?! These were my resounding thoughts in what I now know was my impaired brain. I researched as much as I could. There was someone in the neighborhood that had a meningioma, she reached out to me immediately putting me in touch with the American Brain Tumor Association where I was able to receive a lot of important information. I continued to research like crazy, found out I had the choice of my doctor, and yes it had to come out it was symptomatic. After interviewing doctors, which necessitated sending the large cumbersome MRI films out via Federal Express for those out-of-state to review, I chose my doctor, Dr. Steven Chang at Stanford Hospital & Clinics in California. We set an appointment with him at Stanford for a Friday with a contingent surgery date the following Monday morning, May 13, 2002. My husband (who died just two years later) and I flew out after making arrangements for the care of our son by having my parents come to watch him. We both decided to go ahead with the surgery as we felt completely comfortable with Dr. Chang, and thus I spent Mother’s Day weekend waiting for surgery to remove a 2.4 cm meningioma brain tumor.
None of this was easy for me, I was incredibly frightened to have a craniotomy (brain surgery) and worried I would not survive the surgery thus leaving my 10-year-old son motherless. I not only survived the surgery, but have been tumor free since May 13, 2002 and while I do have some residual issues from damage that was caused by the growing tumor, for the most part all is well. I experience issues with reading at times, my concentration skills are taxed a bit more than average for my age, and I experience occasional sensory seizures, but all in all my life is wonderful and I am healthy. There are many statistics as to life expectancy for someone who has had a brain tumor, etc., but I attempt to look at life as the gift it is and am grateful for each and every day I am able to live tumor free.
May is also brain tumor awareness month, so please consider reading more about it by visiting the American Brain Tumor Association’s website (http://www.abta.org/) and donating to a worthy cause. You never know when someone you love might be diagnosed with a brain tumor. There are over 120 different types of brain tumors and no one is immune. I am lucky in that I had one of the more nonthreatening ones, and it was benign which is often the case for women when they are diagnosed with a meningioma. I celebrate this Mother’s Day being tumor free for 11 years and while I have suffered other tragedies since my diagnosis and surgery, specifically the death of my husband, I feel very blessed to be alive and have a wonderful 21-year-old son who makes being a mom the best! My personal motto is: