Tumor Humor, Out of My Mind (with a Brain Tumor) Part IV

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Dear Lindsey,

After a week of letters (I, II and III) of my brain surgery story’s drama, I have to tell you how


much laughing Chris and I did before, during and especially after the surgery was successful. If you are in the middle of a health battle, I hope humor can help take weight off. I never mean to offend.

God knew we needed a laugh to ease the nerves as I checked into the hospital on October 14. After fasting 15 hours, driving 2 to the hospital, going through the extensive check-in process, having IV’s started, and then sitting for hours waiting for the arterial scope the day before brain surgery was a good time for some distraction! Chris and I began going through text messages on our phones that we had not had time to read the week before. Many of them had scriptural references, so I had a Bible ready to look up the verses, while Chris read both of our phones.

A friend texted: Psalms 71:21. So I looked it up: “You shall increase my greatness and comfort me on every side.”

Another was Romans 15:13, “Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

We continued, one after another, until one stopped me in my tracks: Our Florida pastor, Tom Ascol, had sent Chris a text referring to Romans 8:32, so I anxiously read the verse from my Bible,

“… He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth.”

What?! I read it again silently.

“… He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth.”

A lamb to a shearer? Right before they shave part of my head? A sheep to slaughter? Before brain surgery? Why would Tom send such a note today? I don’t think that’s a funny joke. Tom has a fantastic sense of humor, but his timing is really off on this one; there must be a mistake.

“What was that reference again?” I asked, hoping Chris had read the reference wrong or something.

“8:32,” Chris said.

Yep, that’s where I was and I couldn’t believe it was true.

“Romans?” Chris asked, hoping he was getting his friend Tom out of hot water.

OHHHHH I thankfully realized that I was in the wrong book: I was reading Acts 8:32.

(I laugh now when I see that I pridefully assigned blame everywhere but myself. I laugh harder to think I would EVER have thought Pastor Tom would have texted such a verse. ha!)

We went on to read Romans 8:32, “ He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

Much better.

We called the Ascols in Florida right then from the hospital bed to share the story. We laughed and praised God for the humor to relieve the stress.

In previous letters, I alluded to some of the lingo we used on purpose during this time. It’s more fun to laugh than cry, and these colloquialisms have different meanings for brain surgery patients:

– I gave the doctors a piece of my mind.

– I am no longer in my right mind.

– I am a little out of my mind.

– They had to take a piece of my brain, so I would be back on level with my husband.

– I need to have my head examined.

– I thought something was wrong, but it was all in my head.

– I needed to have the head surgeon present. (from Part II)

– This brings the urgency of life to a head (from Part III – did you catch it?)

– I think I have a screw loose. (My skull was “put back together” with titanium screws.)

– And my friend, Jen, just texted, “Your blog will really help some people, but don’t let that ‘go to your head’.” Love!

Thank You

Although I know this letter is titled “Humor with the Tumor,” I have to get a little more serious for an acknowledgement section:

There were many heroes and heroines in this story, and I wanted to take some time for acknowledging them. I did not even know the definition of the word, “serve,” until God put these people in my life. I recognize that they did not do it for me, but to serve the Lord; I was blessed by them, anyway.

I must begin by saying that if friendship is like a bank account – and love is the currency of deposits (and unfortunately withdrawals)– then the year previous to the surgery, I had bankrupted all of my friends. In my survival mode, I felt like I had nothing left to give, and had even inadvertently offended many friends by not returning calls or asking them to pick up my slack, without explaining why. I am indebted to these heroines, since they loved me anyway, and served as only Jesus could. Of course, I can’t name everyone – especially the number of strangers who visited the surgery-update blog, or sent prayers and cards that began with, “You don’t know me, but…” and took time to encourage. What a blessing they were!

First, thank you to my hero and husband, Chris. My loving knight in shining armor read the recount in these Letters to Lindsey last week and had a whirlwind of emotions again. He regretted that he didn’t do more during the year of pain, but I don’t know what more he could have done. He took over chores and diminished expectations, knowing I was going down. I think maybe God was teaching me to swim, and restricted use of lifejackets – even from my husband. His love for me then and now is irreplaceable. I kept saying his job was much harder than my own in the hospital bed – all I had to do was go to sleep.

Thank you to my brother, Tim, who traveled from Colorado to be with Chris during the surgery days. All three of my brothers returned my calls within minutes when I left them voicemail. That love cannot be duplicated.

My friend, Anna Huber taught not just me, but all of the other heroines in the story just what the word, “serve” means. Since 2008, I have often been in a position when I didn’t know what to do to help someone and I thought, “What would Anna do?!” However, many of the other ladies listed here have told me that they now ask the same question – after having experience working with Anna! She sent me cards every day leading up to the surgery, organized food for those staying in the hotel near the hospital, arranged rides for my kids for weeks after the surgery, arranged food to come to my house in the boondocks for weeks after surgery, and at one point when I texted and asked her if someone was coming to get one of the kids, she replied, “You are not supposed to be thinking! Let me do that!” Anna and her husband Mark drove the four hour round trip and visited with Chris during my less conscious moments.

My great friend and confidante, Tracey Avereyn sent me countless scriptures via text. She was the shoulder on which I could cry. She updated the blog when I was unable. In the weeks after surgery, when I required 24 hour care, she stayed with me more than her share of shifts, and made extra meals without milk and beef to be sure my son could eat as well. Of course the 6lb jar of peanutbutter delivered to my hotel room in Louisville was a favorite love note from her.

Thanks to Laurie Woodward for practically begging me to get the second MRI. How God used her! Woodwards sent flowers to Christine for her 5th birthday, a thoughtful gift the day before my admission. Laurie also flew to Michigan from Florida for a surprise visit seven days post-op. She and I could hardly visit, because the kids kept saying, “Can I play with Mrs. Woodward now?”

Nancy Jones was an immeasurable friend. Her physical therapist background combined with a caring heart provided for incredible help in my time of need. She voluntarily made the trip to the distant hospital, and massaged my horrendously sore neck (the muscles had much involvement in the surgery). On her birthday, (which I forgot in my ill condition), she helped Chris bring me into the house from the hospital discharge. She insisted on staying with me for “a shift” of nursing a week or two later, just to make sure I was really doing as well as she had heard.

Susie Hallstrand was incredible. From many phone calls before, advice on local hospitals, to voluntarily staying with me in ICU (which was a huge fear for me), her nursing background was the cherry on top of our friendship. Her faith was unwavering and a great stronghold for me. Her selflessness in keeping one of my children for the week – the one with food allergies no less – as well as making the four-hour round trip to the hospital is a quality I hope to emulate.

Shirley Barker was used by God when she “randomly” texted a friend to see if I needed muscular help, since she had a cancellation in her massage therapy schedule. She drove from Indiana to use her gifted hands on my neck muscles and really shot the starting gun for my road to recovery.

Friends and business partners, Bob and Nancy Frazzini, approached me at a meeting and asked if they could can my garden – a task that had clearly left my list of things to do that fall. It was so sweet of them to 1.) remember I had a garden and 2.) offer the service I would never have thought to ask. Every soup I had that winter reminded me of the Frazzinis’ gift and I asked myself the question, “How can I serve people like that?”

Wow. This list gets so long, but I am SO grateful to all!

Thank you, God, for sending my in-laws, Jim and Gayle Brady. One memory I have from the hospital was Chris’s mom in a heated discussion with the hospital staff. I was barely conscious to hear, “This woman has given birth four times! If she says she’s in pain, SHE’S IN PAIN!!! NOW!” She has taught me a lot about having an advocate to stand up for you in a hospital setting – especially if you will be unconscious. Being a retired hospital nurse herself, she knows how busy the setting can be for hospital staff and that it doesn’t hurt to have another eye on the situation.

Thank you to people who made the long drive to visit us in the hospital: Eric and Lori Stewart, Norm Walworth, Pastor and Mary Dickie, Chris’s brother, Pat and Jenny Brady, his parents and Mark and Anna Huber, who stayed all night with Chris.

Thanks to Tim and Amy Marks who sent food to feed the entire waiting room, probably for a year. 🙂

My parents, Ron and Sue Estes, came 1300 miles and stayed with me for three weeks, about two weeks post-op, to help me ease my way back into motherhood, which took time. It was helpful having parents who would let me do some things, and then also let me crash for lots of napping. My dad and I had some special walks outside, arm in arm, on the driveway in the cold fall air to ease my cabin fever.

Who can you trust to take your kids from you when you are having serious surgery – knowing that if things don’t go well, they will be the only buffer between your kids and the news? Four families volunteered – one for each child. What a blessing! Thanks to John and Tammy Sonnenberg, Rob and Susie Hallstrand, Doug and Tiffany Huber and Don and Chris Freeze.

Girlfriends stayed with me for eight-hour shifts, 24 hours-a-day for the first 10 days. Apparently this was needed due to my short hospital stay, and my risk for falling. At one point JR (who was 3) told me he would help me walk so I wouldn’t fall. So precious! But God sent other angels to keep me upright: Jackie Lewis, Cassie Birtles, Marsie VanBuskirk, Mallory Purdy, Tracie Clouse, Beth Morgan, Heidi Smith (who pulled an all-nighter when I was having pain-control issues, despite the fact she was working the next day), Tina Jacklyn, Meredith Cordes, and Corrie Jones – in addition to the others already mentioned. These ladies really saw me at my worst – after their love tanks were probably emptied by me the previous year – and they loved me anyway. What true friends and gifts from Above. May they hear, “Well done, thy good and faithful servant!” one day.

I know I have missed someone – but please know your reward is in heaven! I am so grateful that God allowed you to help in such a time of need.

Ladies groups made quilts and crocheted blankets, praying at the corner stitches. These afghans still reside in my house as a reminder of my leper experience. Thank you!

Val Brimsmade sent a note I still remember, and it often brings myself to right thinking. She said, “We are commanded, not requested, but commanded in Joshua 1:9 to be strong and courageous in His name.” I believe Martin Lloyd Jones says that we are abusing the gospel if we do not approach the crossing into eternity with JOY.

Thank you to the pharmacy and hospital staff: nurses Sarah, Wendy, Michael, Robin, Heather, Jackie, Keyonna and hospital executive VP, Patti who was so kind to the family.

Thank you

Thank you to people who brought or sent food and or gifts:

  • Randy and Rusti Spence – Thanks for reminding me to dance in the rain!
  • Kelly Johnson – The homemade card shower that lasted for months after surgery! (and still does today!)
  • Brenda Overman
  • Paul and Lois Nobels
  • Sarah Kingsbury
  • Mary Ann Markel
  • Sheri Stroh
  • Jen Golden
  • Ed and Lynette Zentner
  • Billy and Peggy Florence
  • Val Taylor
  • Dallin and Karree Larsen
  • Hugh and Karin Pobur
  • Brigg and Lita Hart
  • Guzzardo Team
  • Jerry and Sherry Daniels
  • Dave and Claudia Walker
  • Manase and Lisa Fotu
  • DarkAngelos
  • Manteises
  • Gertslers
  • Rhodes
  • McGlinchys
  • Nancy Deats
  • Holger and Lindsey Spiewak
  • Mike and Vi Gowen
  • Jamie and Lisa Cirello
  • Dave and Tracy McDade
  • Charlie and Polly Ballmer
  • and so many more that did not get written in Chris’s notebook during the surgery dates.

As I look back to the “leprosy” days, (referring to Luke 17 where Jesus healed ten lepers, and one came back to say thank you), I really believe that to truly say, “thank you,” to the Lord, we must also say, “thank you,” to the people He sent.


In summary, let me recall a poem I wrote years ago regarding the Luke 17 story:


Ten lepers were healed

By Christ’s words that day.

He said, “You are new,”

And sent them away.

They danced and they sang

With their limbs now anew.

Showed friends their new health

And all they could do

One returned thanks,

The others took for granted;

But Jesus gave freely

His gifts not recanted.

Lord, help me to be

The one of the ten

Who thinks to come back

and say, “thank you,” again.

-Terri Brady

May God bless you with much, and may you bless Him with thanks.

– Terri

Out of My Mind (with a Brain Tumor) Part I

Dear Lindsey,

Hearing the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed (and only one came back to say “thanks,”) reminded me to say thank you, Jesus. Thank you for every day, every sunrise, every received smile from my child, every swallow, and every breath.  I hope to always live in gratitude, but 2007-2009 marked years for which my “thank You, Jesus!” gained weight.

As I reminisced in writing this story, many of the emotions came back to me –the tears, the stress and the gratitude for friends. I need an acknowledgement section in a future letter!!

Here’s the story…

The Headache Journal, December 2007

The arrows that stuck in my husband’s back seemed to attract more arrows from other angles.  I felt myself crumbling with stress, and yet, crumbling with guilt for feeling stressed. Didn’t I trust that God already had this battle for us?!

To my right, the “friend” who stole our Jeep would be in jail, but the broken trust cut deeply.

At my left, I could see the addiction was destroying everything she had known, yet her blindness made her plow forward not recognizing the monster sleeping within her hobby.

Behind me, I felt the pressure of those Michigan neighbors whose jobs were tanked with the economy. Their children were yanked from my children’s teams, as payments for activities got cut with the family budget.

My headaches began so subtly, it seemed I could assign the cause to anything – and thus, “the headache dance” began.  I could blame it on stress, lack of sleep, hormones, too much sugar, not enough sugar, too much fake sugar, caffeine, not enough caffeine, not exercising, wrong exercising, not enough water, not enough vitamins, busyness of homeschooling two children while entertaining my 2 and 4-year-olds, all while adapting to a new house in the boondocks of Michigan.  My list of reasons for the headaches was enough to give me one.

The scientist in me eventually began a journal – a simple calendar with a note each day, labeling the pain between 1 and 10. Were headaches really ruling me as much as it seemed? The journal began in December 2007.  headache journal

The grid told the story: five days in a row of level 2 pain, spiking to level 8, then a day or two off. Then blindness, followed by a 24-hour migraine. Then bliss. Then a couple days of level 4 pain, ended by forcing myself to bed at level 6. There were some days I couldn’t remember what it felt like to be without pain, and other days when the pain was so distant, I would forget the underlying worry.

In Hiding, January 2008

To stay focused on others, I don’t like to talk about medical conditions.  Besides, stating, “I have a headache,” only reminded people to tell me about their headaches, and did nothing to relieve my pain, much less bring glory to God. Because my husband frequently travels, I knew if he knew my pain he would feel worse about leaving. But in the hot-tub, as I scrunched down, trying to heat the nape of my neck, through tears, I put up the white flag of surrender and told Chris I couldn’t handle my life.

Aside: We can’t handle it. God does. When we forget, He’ll remind us – sometimes gently, sometimes more painfully.

They were not “headaches”, they were truly “head-pains,” I told him, not sure what I wanted him to say or do about it.

We wintered in Florida that year, and I had hoped the climate change would bring relief, but it only got worse.

The Florida sunshine became a nuisance; the glare seemed to light a fire in my brain. My vision seemed “off,” so I began the headache dance in the medical world:

  • “80% of women complain of headaches with no known cause,” the urgent care doctor deflated my hope, after I drove myself there for immediate relief once when Chris could stay home with the kids.
  • “Eyesight causing headaches is a rarity,” said the eye doctor after an extensive exam.
  • “Hormonal headaches are something many women just have to deal with post hysterectomy,” the OBGyn told me before changing my HRT prescription.
  • “I have taken care of 90% of the headaches of which people complain,” the chiropractor said caringly, “I really don’t know what the deal is.”

I waited months and drove hours to see highly recommended holistic specialists.

My prayer journal was filled with prayers for ME.

My prayers grew depressed:

  • “God, how can this possibly bring You glory if I am in bed?!”
  • “Lord, my 2-yr-old turned 3, and I feel like I am only hiding from him.”
  • “God, I want to raise my children to be readers, to be disciplined, yet I have virtually locked them inside for months, often in front of a movie so I can lie down with heat on my neck and ice on my forehead.  My head can’t handle their squabbles, much less lead them biblically through it.”

God brought friends who randomly offered to take my kids without truly knowing the extent of my situation.  In March, I finally poured out my heart to my friend Donna Ascol, and asked for prayer. Matthew 18:19 in action.

Under Pressure…flying

A flight to Atlanta and then a subsequent flight to Canada that April put me over the top. I was sure my head would burst from the pressure changes; I prayed I would lose consciousness.

Wow. Tears flow today – just in remembrance of trying to keep my world turning that year. My responsibilities didn’t stop – and I didn’t call “May-day!” because it felt like we all have headaches or some other issue we have to push through. However, I promised myself to continue the medical search for a solution, once we returned to our regular doctors in Michigan at the end of April.

In the mean time, a noise began in my head. I researched “ringing in the ears,” on the mighty online doctor, who of course told me there was no cure.

The “ringing” turned into a chain saw.  A grinding. Daily. Sometimes it was louder, sometimes quieter, sometimes silent. I never noticed it starting, so it must have been gradual (or I was too distracted by head pains to notice), but I never noticed when it stopped. It just came and went, and eventually I would notice its presence or lacking. “Grrrrrrrrr” went between a whisper and a scream in my right ear.

After a brain MRI that month, the general practitioner in Michigan let me know there was a “meningioma on the left side. They’re harmless; you may have had it since you were a child, but since you seem symptomatic, you should see a neuro.”

The neurosurgeon was not much older than I, and had apparently seen more brain MRI’s than the general practitioner, because she told me the tumor was actually on my right side.

March head“Is THAT why I have this noise in my ear?!” I blurted, for the first time telling a doctor about the noise, because I hadn’t wanted to mention it to the family doctor; I was surely toying with the psych ward already.

“No,” she said confidently.  “Your headaches are not related to this thing either. This kind of tumor can come and go on people.” (I remembered my dad had had a water cyst found on his brain after a fall a few years back. They said it was not related to the fall, and had been there since he was born, and would be until he died. I assumed this was similar.)

“I wouldn’t worry about it. Come back in a few months and we’ll do another MRI to make sure it’s not growing.”

I went home depressed, yet not surprised. I knew the chances of finding the cause were slim. I was hopeful, however, because a new hormone replacement was lessening the headaches and the ear noise had virtually disappeared by summer.


My older brother had been diagnosed with a rare colorless Melanoma (dangerous skin cancer) that winter. After several surgeries, they were able to get clear boundaries. (Thank you, God!)

“Siblings are the most at risk,” he warned me. Of course it reminded me that I had been meaning to get that spot on my leg checked. The dermatologist said it looked fine, but wanted to biopsy a different one. Diagnosis: “a-typical pre-melanoma.” All clear. But when I went back to the general practitioner to have the stitches removed, I asked him about the other spot on my leg that still had my attention. He said, “If it’s worrying you, let’s take it.”

Diagnosis: Basal cell skin cancer. (I use the term “cancer” lightly, since it is not the dangerous kind.)

“I must admit,” the general practitioner said, “I really agreed with the dermatologist that it didn’t look like anything.”

He removed several more spots between June and August that year.

Each time I had the stitches removed, the wound would pop open within a day. The lack-of-healing revealed a pharmacy error. Apparently, my hormone replacement prescription had changed dispensers and been halved, but they forgot to mention to me that I was supposed to take double. The lack of estrogen meant lack of healing, (along with other symptoms) until we figured out the solution.

Choking, September 2008

On the way home from an Ohio soccer tournament, I choked on coffee. I know. Who chokes on pure liquid?! Me, that’s who! I poured hot liquid directly into my lungs…and then coughed and sputtered until Chris almost pulled the car off the highway to try to save me. It felt like more and more often, things were going “down the wrong pipe”! We had friends over for a cookout on Labor Day. I was thrilled it lined up to a day without a headache, but unfortunately, laughing was painful. As the day continued, I felt like something was wrong in my lungs. My whole mid-section hurt.  It’s funny how I didn’t like to talk about medical issues, and the Lord kept having me in places where it was impossible to hide. I couldn’t breathe without pain. Laughing: not. I spoke shallowly, with much effort. I finally took aside my friend, Susie Hallstrand, an RN and life-saver many times over, and told her what was wrong. She did an assessment and decided maybe not holiday-emergency-room material, but I should see a doctor the following day.

Is this what it’s like getting old? I lamented, as my calendar kept filling with doctor appointments: skin, head, eyes, hormones….BLECH! Back at the family doctor, he named the chest condition- something like sore muscles, usually following severe coughing, like pneumonia.

“Or choking?” I asked.

“Sure, that would do it,” he said, and I recalled my wrong-pipe incidents that must have led to my painful breathing.

Health Insurance Decline

My insurance company went bankrupt. (It WASN’T MY FAULT! REALLY! At least notAug head yet.) As I applied for more insurance, I was turned down. What?! Healthy me? Water-drinking, exercising, prayerful ME?!

Reason: skin cancer? Breathing issues? Headaches? What?!

The insurance quote got my attention:  “impending brain surgery.”

I had never seen or heard those words before, so I really thought there was an error. I happened to be talking to my Florida friend, Laurie Woodward that week, who practically begged me to go back for another MRI, despite how I was resisting it. Really, I had all these other problems to deal with – who has time to go spend thousands of dollars on another MRI to check something which they said was not dangerous and unrelated to these other issues at hand anyway?!!

I scheduled an MRI for September 6, 2008, a Saturday, knowing my doctor would be on vacation until September 22, the date of my follow-up appointment.

Like the Brady Bunch episode in Hawaii with the totem pole guy and tarantula:…..……...to be continued…….

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