There was an episode of Grey’s a few years ago that began with Meredith’s voice over saying…
“When something begins, you generally have no idea how it’s going to end. The house you’re going to sell becomes your home, the roommates you were forced to take in become your family and the one night stand you were determined to forget becomes the love of your life.” ~ Meredith, S5:23 Here’s to the Future
When this year began, I had no idea how it would end. I expected changes as we adjusted to life outside of active duty. I even figured that we would buy or build a house at some point this year and experience the major life change that is home ownership. When hubs retired a year ago after serving 24 years in the Navy, we deliberately chose one major life change at a time and put off buying a house until after the adjustment of leaving active duty and his move into the civilian work force.
Two of my kids are now grown and out in the world, figuring out how to be a grown ups. Hubs’s time in active duty is done, and he has “passed the watch” down to our son who is now serving in the Navy on the other side of the planet. Our youngest is almost 12 and almost as tall as me. Our Border Collie passed away this year at 14 years old. We have had many changes in the year.
But this year ended up having a lot more in it that I could have expected. Inside of 30 days we went under contract to have a house built, our poochie passed away, and I got diagnosed with a brain tumor.
When I began this journey I thought maybe my tumor was something I could have removed and then I could return to life as normal. Meningiomas are typically benign and easily removed. I mean, as far as brain surgery goes. But not mine. Out of the roughly 6,500 cases of diagnosed meningiomas per year only a handful are inoperable. I was in that handful. My tumor is too deep in the brain and too close to the brain stem to be removed. I’ve written a few times about how my neurosurgeon took one look at my scans and declared he was not going in after my tumor. When the probability of further damage outweighs the possibility of a cure, surgery goes out the window.
Then I thought maybe the radiation could destroy the tumor and I could return to life as normal. But the further I got into preparation (and understanding) of what my radiation therapy would be like, the more I came to understand that the very best news I could hope for was that the radiation would shrink the tumor and put it into remission. I learned that this would be something that would be with me for the rest of my life.
So I went through radiation therapy. Stereo-tactic radio-surgery. Five days of very high doses of the newest form of radiation designed for inoperable brain tumors. It was harder than I thought it would be. I was exhausted and nauseated but I wouldn’t let them put me on steroids. I had brain edema starting on day 3 of treatment and my oncologist kept insisting that I’d feel “better” if I took the steroids, but I was too scared of the side effects and I didn’t want to add one more thing that I’d have to survive. The doctors and techs kept watch and a couple of weeks later the brain swelling went down and I started to feel like me again.
Two months later, it was time for the post-treatment MRI and check-ins. We were hoping for the best news. Tumor shrunk, no new tumors, no damage from radiation, and remission. We didn’t get the best news, but we did get good news. The tumor has not shrunk, but there are no new tumors and there is no evidence of damage from the radiation. And the tumor has not grown.
It wasn’t the news I wanted, but apparently the risk of damage from the radiation was higher than I realized, so my doctors are very pleased that they don’t see any. There is still a possibility that the tumor could shrink over the next 6-12 months. Now it becomes wait and see. As my oncologist said “With a problem like yours, this is actually very good news.”
I’ve struggled as I’ve come to realize that this is the rest of my life. I have a brain tumor, an autoimmune disorder, and an artificial hip. At some point this week, in the middle of a tearful breakdown, I cried out “WHO THE FUCK LIVES LIKE THIS?!”.
I’ve journaled and blogged a lot about grief this year. I’ve made my way through denial, bargaining, anger, and depression in unpredictable and interchangeable shifts. Now it’s time to pick myself back up and find my way through acceptance. That’s a hard thing to do when you realize your body is so hellbent on turning on you.
Now I pick myself up and move forward. And I do what I’ve always done: use my pain and my experience to grow, and learn, and teach, and inspire, and connect. Use my pain to write and to let someone else out there know they are not alone.
So what did I do this year? I survived.