Sunday, June 11, 2006

June 11, 1996

Just a normal day in every single way but one.

In May I went to our company doctor here complaining of headaches. I was told by another doctor that they were probably just migraines. Well, these "migraines" were turning me into a person who couldn’t do anything but work and come home and go to bed. I wanted no pain meds. I wanted to find out what was wrong. I was always very active. I rode my bike 20 miles a day, golfed, worked in my garden – but for the last few months I could do hardly anything.

The company doctor said he thought we needed to do a head x-ray to check my sinuses. I went that afternoon to the local imaging center. The next day Doc called me at the office and told me he had the x-rays back and could I come in. Since he’s just around the corner from the office, I headed on over figuring he would tell me it was just a sinus infection.

I knew it was much more serious when he walked in the room. He proceeded to show me the x-rays and explain that I had a very large brain tumor that was on the front part of my brain behind my forehead. He was referring me to a female neurosurgeon in Pasadena, and he suggested I make the appointment that afternoon.

It took about two weeks to get in to see her. I was so scared waiting for that day. A few days before my appointment, her secretary called me and said she had scheduled me for an MRI so they would know what they were dealing with before my appointment. I went over the next day to the radiologist. I just remember about 10 minutes into the test they turned the machine off and pulled me out of the tube. The radiologist said he wanted to inject dye for contrast imaging. I asked him what he had seen – and I thought it very strange that he said he would show me the pictures when we were done. Almost always the radiologists say that your doctor will discuss the findings with you.

When the imaging was all done, three or four radiologists called me into an office and they were all gathered around the light box on the wall. One of them took me by the hand and drew me close to the light box. What I could see was my head and brain and a huge black space on the front that almost completely filled the space behind my forehead. They explained what I was looking at – a large tumor that seemed to be fairly solid as not much contrast had penetrated it.

At the appointment with the neurosurgeon, she said that it was necessary to go in and take out the tumor. She did not think it was malignant but wouldn’t know until she got in there. I remember sitting there with the most horrible headache, the kind where you just want to go to sleep and never wake up. I told her that she could do anything she wanted in the surgery; I just wanted the headaches to go away. She sent me right over to Huntington Hospital for pre-admission. That hospital is wonderful. I was taken on a personal tour of the operating facilities, the ICU, and great attention was paid to my feelings at that time. I remember thinking that not once did they say “Everything is going to be fine.” What they said over and over was that they would take very good care of me.

So the morning of the surgery, I went for a long walk, a swim, planted some annuals, and then showered and was driven to Pasadena. When the doors opened on the elevator in the hospital, my doctor was standing in there. She gave me the biggest hug and kept her arm around my shoulders all the way into pre-surgery. I felt a great sense of comfort at that moment.

I don’t remember much else until I woke up in ICU. There were what looked like millions of tubes coming out of me, and all sorts of machines bleeping and clicking around me. And my doctor was standing there. She told me the surgery went perfectly, and that the tumor, about the size of an orange, was off at Pathology. We would know later that day their findings. She asked me if I was in any pain, and I realized right then and there I was not in pain. I had no headache at all. I remember telling her that they sure had good drugs and she burst out in laughter. She said that I had been given no pain medication as she wanted to know my pain level when I woke up. She told me later that I kept saying over and over, “I can’t believe I don’t have a headache.”

I was scheduled to be in the hospital for 7-14 days. The morning after surgery I was put in a private room. The following morning she told me I could go home as I was past the point of seizures and I didn’t have any paralysis, something which they fully expected and had warned me about. I was given some cognitive tests which I had a lot of trouble performing. She told me that I might have some problems with logistical thinking and perhaps being able to communicate thoughts, but I should be able to work through those.

The first few months were sort of rough as I had to really think about simple tasks a long time to be able to do them. I had always been a very quick thinker, but I had to ponder things a bit more. Cookbooks seemed to be written in a foreign language. My daily tasks at work were confusing. I cried a lot when I couldn’t figure out how to copy and paste something in Word. It took me 45 minutes to figure out how to do it. I had to speak slowly so that I wouldn’t twist sentences. But because I was very aware of the problems, I was able to work around them and function on a day-to-day basis.

The real turning point in my recovery was five years later when I decided to take a quilting class. Even the simple task of cutting squares was so difficult at first, but with a lot of help from friends (thank you, Jane and Judy!) and just sheer determination, all those baby steps I had been taking were turning into leaps and bounds of progress. In only a few months, I was able to look at and immediately comprehend patterns, look at a quilt and be able to break down the components, and in short order I was able to think through design changes and make them work! Even now if there’s a day when my brain isn’t firing correctly, I’ve learned to just put it aside and come back to it another time. Or not. I avoid a lot of frustration by doing that.

I know it’s awfully dramatic to say quilting saved my life, but that’s kind of how I feel about it. Today I’m “almost” normal. Unless you spend a lot of time with me, you’d never know anything was ever wrong! A few months ago I was talking with a neighbor and I couldn’t think of the word “sprinkler” for anything. I stumbled around a bit and came up with “waterer.” I later told her why I stumbled on that word, and we had a big laugh about it. So I just make up a word if I can’t say the one I’m thinking. It’s okay! I just figure it’s just another occasion to chuckle at myself!

This is an awfully long blog. However, I must tell the rest of the story here – but will do it in a few short sentences. Four months after the brain surgery, I was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I underwent an emergency hysterectomy on October 31, 1996, and the next few months were difficult ones. But it’s been ten years. Ten years!

My gratitude: Life!


Tracey said...

(((HUGS))) Life is so precious. I'm so glad that you are still with us, Vicky. :o)

Doodlebug Gail said...

Vicky, like Tracey I too am so happy that you're still here with us. What a precious gift you are to so many of us. Your post brought tears to my eyes - so many don't survive brain tumors ..... 10 years - what a milestone! I am so happy for you!

(((HUGS))) for your heart and for your day. If I were closer I'd most certainly make sure that you had some sort of celebration today.

Gail L.

anne bebbington said...

Ten years - what a milestone - it just goes to show we should all aim to get the most out of life every single day as who knows what's round the corner - congratulations for reaching today :o)

Anonymous said...

I found your blog, just a few days ago ... and I've enjoyed reading what you've been upto. Last week, I had thought to tell you that I'd try to match your quilt-output, if I stopped reading blogs long enough to get to the sewing machine (but it hurts my knee to sit for too long).
Now I read of your last ten year, and realize you've been battling much more than a cross-country transplant plus a divorce.
Hang in there, babe ... off to set-up the sewing machine.
God bless, Christine in Los Angeles

dot said...

What a story. I am sooo happy you are here today to share it with us. I cried as read through your blog. Thank God your are still here and able to share your beautiful quilts with us.

Mama Koch said...

What a great anniversary. So glad you're here to share your talent with us.


Melinda said...

(((Hugs))) Life is a good gratitude to have.


Laurie said...

Another SURVIVOR! Life is good!

Rebecca said...

You have mentioned that it is sometimes difficult for you to learn things, but I have never noticed a difference between you and any other quilter. It probably is a very good exercise for your brain, thinking "spatially" and figuring out how to do things. What an exercise the Jane Stickle quilt was for that!

I love you just the way you are. I'm so glad you recovered so well from those scary times. ((HUGS))

Darlene - Dazed Quilter said...

I've enjoyed your blog and all the pics that you've shared. Now, I feel that I know the real you - thanks so much for sharing. Life is precious!

Linda_J said...

what a story and history you have, Vicky. Thank you for letting us celebrate this anniversary with you. 96 was not a good year but thankfully 06 is.

Anonymous said...

You are a special person in my life. You are an inspiration to so many in so many ways. Didn't get to tell you last night that I do enjoy your blog.


Marilyn said...

Vicky-you have been so special to me. The better I get to know you has meant so much to me. You have indeed shared your heart with so many. Your support for others has meant so much. You have been such an inspiration to me, in quilting and just being there when I have been in need,

You excell in your quilting. Your work is just beautiful.

You also excell in being a friend and confidant.

I love you. Happy 10th!


Patti said...

Your post made me cry Vicki - I'm so glad you are here and healthy and quilting! My sister died of a malignant brain tumor just over 11 years ago - hers was a different type than yours. You are certainly a fighter and a survivor, and an inspiration to every one of use. I think you can do almost anything!

Carolyn said...

Thank you for sharing that part of yourself with us. You are a talented quilter and a wonderful person. I'm so happy that you are with us!


Jeanne said...

{{{Vicky}}} I'm just speechless. I'm in awe of your strength, both physical and spritual. I'm honored to know you.

Hanne said...

Congratulations on your 10 years anniversary !!

The Calico Cat said...

WOW! I am so glad that everythig worked out! The way I was reading I thought this was all current... I guess the real short story is that quilting is good for you! Thatnks for sharing, I am feeling a bit more thankful for what I have after reading your story.

Laurie Ann said...

Wow Vicky, you've had to travel a hard road. You are an inspiration! Congratulations on 10 years cancer free!

Rae said...

Vicky, I am so glad that you are here to share with us. You have come through a lot. As to the aphasia (I think that is how to spell it) (inablity to think of words), I just wish I had a good reason for mine. I just cann't always think of the word I want. (more often then I wish to admit). The more stress I am under the worse it is. Maybe it has to do with my dislexia, who knows. So there is no reason to get embarist or chastize yourself. Just substitue words or discriptions and keep on trecking.

JudyL said...

Vicky, OMG . . I'm sending you an e-mail!


Ann said...

You are a beautiful role model for guilting and for living our lives to the fullest.
Thank you.

Passionate Quilter said...

Wow, what a story! I read your post after reading your most recent ones and wondered what everyone was talking about. I'm so happy that you are alive and well enough to talk about it. And how neat that quilting was part of your recovery.

Evelyn aka Starfishy said...

Cheers to LIFE! I admire those who have the strength and courage to fight the fight. I am not sure that I would ever be that strong or brave. Good health is so precious.