As humans, we have a natural tendency to try to fix things that are broken. The problem with an incurable illness is that it cannot be fixed. There is no cure. Yet, we try anyway.
Two days prior to my scheduled craniotomy, my surgeon called. If you have a neurosurgeon, you know that getting a direct call from him or her is rarely to discuss the weather. This was no exception.
My latest MRI scan showed that the largest of my tumors (about the size of a large strawberry) had grown into the main vein that supplies blood flow to my body. He sensitively expressed concerns for cutting off blood supply to my brain (which would kill me), or causing a stroke and deficits. He still felt strongly that surgery was my best chance of survival as the tumor would continue to grow and eventually cut off blood supply on its own anyway. We had to do something.
I hope you’ve never had to hang up from a call like that.
All I could think was, “I want to live!”
I had worked hard and achieved so much out of life, but I hadn’t gotten to LIVE it all yet. It felt like we were just getting started. I still wanted to travel with my husband, finish our basement, and develop my career. I wanted to see my children grow up; the baby was born just last year! What sports would they play? What books would they read? Who would they decide to become?
I’ve always been a firm believer in talking to my children and telling them the truth. They’re young, and incapable of fully understanding such a BIG situation. But, when we talked to them, they understood “it hurts,” “I’m scared,” “I need the doctors help,” and “I’m doing this because I love you so much that I have to try.”
I made it my mission to do everything I could to make them feel loved before surgery. Our favorite was going to Build-A-Bear so we could make “friends” to keep each other company while I was hospitalized again. I recorded my voice telling each of them how much I loved them so that they could hit the button whenever they missed me. Subconsciously, I also knew that if i didn’t wake up from surgery, I was leaving them with a beautiful memory, and a recording of my voice to remind them every day how big my love was.
They made me a bear too, Buddy. He was a black and white Star Wars bear with yellow power ranger pajamas and a light saber. He was perfect. When we got home, I put him straight into my hospital bag. He was going to surgery with me.
Our 4 year old wanted to make beaded necklaces that said “forever,” so we knew “we are always together even when we are apart,” (yeah, he’s insightful). So we did. And, that night, I rocked my 1 year old, my last baby, in the silence of his room. When that wasn’t enough, I climbed over the railing and laid in his tiny little crib with him until he fell asleep.
Long after everyone else in the house was asleep (we had a full house!), I stayed up to finish writing a letter for my husband to read while I was in surgery. It included some helpful hints, like our Amazon password, what size clothes our kids were currently wearing, and a reminder to not ever feed our boys McDonalds, no matter how bad it gets! I also told him how much I love him, how he changed my life, and how hard I would fight to be there for him at the end of the day. Then it was time to try to sleep (yeah, right).
When my alarm went off at 4am, my eyes were already open. I didn’t bother with makeup, afterall, I was having a major craniotomy. But, I did take extra time to style my long blonde hair, knowing it would be the last time.
Then, I took off my jewelry; my wedding rings and a necklace that said “Be Brave.” I hadn’t taken either piece off since I left the hospital after being diagnosed. I took a deep breath. I felt totally exposed.
Upon arriving at the hospital, our medical team started fussing over me right away; there were papers to sign, IVs to put in, one last MRI to double check blood flow, and markers to be placed for navigation.
In order to properly place the markers, 8 patches of hair were shaved away by my nurses. I grit my teeth together as the buzzer shaved away, and closed my eyes so I didn’t have to see my long blonde hair hit the hospital bed or thrown in the trash. When the last marker was placed, I ran my hands through my hair, and huge clumps fell into my fingers. Without a word, my husband held out his hand to take the strands. And then he held me so I could cry.
In hindsight, it was such a trivial thing in the big scheme of things… to cry over a few spots of shaved hair. I know that hair grows back. But, it was the moment that everything hit me. This was happening. I was having brain surgery. And, I might not wake up from it.
My neurosurgeon came in, scribbled his initials on the right side of my forehead in blue marker, shook my husbands hand, and then it was time to go.
In the operating room, one of my anesthesiologists introduced herself, helped me settle on the table, and then placed the mask over my nose and mouth. She told me to take a few big breaths.
As I did, the room started to fade away. My last thought was “I want to live. Please God, let me live.”
And then I was out, and it was all between God and my neurosurgeon.
This is my story, and it is not over yet.