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!