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

For those who are just joining, it may be helpful to READ FIRST:

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

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

Dear Lindsey,

In some ways, 2008 seems like yesterday, but as I recall my history, it seems like a whole different lifetime. As I said in part I and II of this letter, headaches led to MRI’s which revealed a tumor. Although the tumor seemed unrelated to the location of the pain, its speed of growth required surgical removal. When it rains it pours, and so did other “unrelated” health issues of skin cancer, a noise in my ear and swallowing problems which led to coughing issues…but the brain surgery took priority.

My story continues…

The Two Weeks

For the two weeks before surgery, anxiety woke me daily before my alarm.  My 5am quiet times would finish with the Lord’s arms around me like a warm blanket on a frosty morning. (Thanks, Alice Doan, a woman of our church for praying that to happen.)

I was already scheduled to speak in Phoenix, AZ and Louisville, KY those two weekends. I know anyone would have understood if I had decided to cancel due to impending brain surgery, but what happened in those two weeks was a wonderful alignment of priorities.

What is important now?” dominated my thinking.

If I were truly given only two weeks left to live, what would I do? The song says, “I’d go skydiving; Rocky Mountain climbing; ride a bull…” but none of that came to mind.

Although I think the chances of handicapping my voice were greater than the chance of death (The surgeon had said he wouldn’t come close to the life-threatening vein.), it brought the urgency of life to a head, as well as the momentousness of the ability to use my voice.  I wanted to live my life on purpose, and I felt like my message to the stadiums those two weekends was my purpose, or I would never have scheduled to leave my children, even before the diagnosis.

Each weekend, I changed my originally planned speech and told of the upcoming surgery and the heaven that awaited for those who have faith in Jesus Christ – whether the finish line would be October 15 or any time before or after.

During this time, the news of a fatal car accident jarred me to remember that we are all dying. EVERY day is a day that may be the end of our “dash”, and priorities should be lived as such, impending surgery or not.

Telling the Kids

The moment I dreaded had arrived: we needed to tell the kids.  We knew we had one promise we could make: not “Mom will be ok,” nor, “It will be just like always,” but that God is in control.

Pride of being a mother is a difficult thing to fight. Feeling the heavy weight of responsibility yet keeping perspective that if God chooses, it will be relinquished in a moment can only be accomplished by surrender. I surrendered (again) that I was not the one taking care of my children; God was.  If He chose for me to reach my finish line during brain surgery, my children would still be in His care.

True surrender is the most humble act.  I would have told you I surrendered when I was led to Christ at the age of thirteen. Again, a deeper surrender occurred when I “lost control” (which of course was never mine to begin with!) during infertility challenges.  I have often surrendered during my battles with pride.  But I had never before completely surrendered to the thought that the world would just keep turning in my absence. After a funeral and time, hearts who may have missed me would heal, and life would continue as it was…without me.  The church would find another musician; friends would get back to laughing; business would grow. I am the proverbial pea in the ocean. God’s ocean. Removing me was not a big deal. I suppose that is the humility with which we should live at all times, but nothing brought this to realization like a life-threatening storm.

We told the kids the good news: they would get to stay with friends, and then we told them the bad news. Chris grimly went through the recovery information, and the risk, and we prayed as a family. Within ten seconds of the word, “amen,” Nathaniel (8) said, “Can I tell you about the Scooby Doo movie now?!”

I know his comment frustrated my husband who wanted more concern, but the child’s words were a little note from Above: the kids would be fine.

To the Hospital

After a party for my daughter’s 5th birthday the day before, I wrote a little post on a blog my brother Tim had set up to give friends and family updates during my surgery. (The blog has since been deleted (after we printed it), because it wasn’t renewed.  There were more prayers/ comments in 10 days of that blog, than there have been on Letters to Lindsey since it began 15 months ago!)

I had indescribable peace as we made the two-hour trek to the hospital.  I was no longer preparing a basket with pitch and hyssop (from my Basket Case letter), but like baby Moses, I was riding inside, waiting to see where the Lord would have the water take me.  I decided everyone’s prayers were like a river on which I floated. So many prayers were said for the surgery, I bet Chris could have performed it! (but I opted for the surgeons instead.)

I believe PEACE comes from knowing that in all outcomes: God is in control. Thoughts at the time, while reading Trusting God (Bridges) were:

      • God is in control if I am healed completely.
      • God is still in control if I have nerve damage and live a life as handicapped. (Ask Joni Eareckson Tada if she agrees.)
      • God is still in control if I have reached my finish line; it would be heaven. Heaven is the finish line no matter what happens to my today.

First Surgery and a Friend’s Call, October 14

The first surgery on the 14th went better than planned; the arterial scope revealed there was no need for embolization to stave bleeding…answered prayer! Because of that, I was able to stay in a regular room and have one less night of ICU.

That night, while lying flat in bed as directed, I received a call from a friend who could hardly speak as she cried, “I don’t know if I know how to pray, but I just need to know, Terri, if I pray for you tonight, will God save you?”

Seeing her in her humble state, asking of the Lord for possibly the first time, I replied, “I don’t know if He will save me here, but I know if you pray to Him tonight, He will save YOU for eternity.”

She and I prayed together on the phone from my hospital bed, as I felt her come to the knowledge of what it means to be a sinner who is completely forgiven and saved by Christ.

Chris and my brother Tim visited with me before heading to their hotel, and I waited for the morning. I glowed with the joy that only comes from knowing a soul will be with me in eternity.

TT bed

Today’s the Day, October 15th

The morning of surgery, I sat up in bed and posted a favorite hymn on the surgery blog:

Day by day and with each passing moment

Strength I find to meet my trials here

Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment

I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.

When rolling my bed to surgery that morning, one of the medical students said to me, “I can’t believe you have such peace about this!”

It was ironic that this guy who was probably used to trying to calm people’s nerves was trying to figure out mine. “I need not worry about tomorrow, God is already there,” I quoted a favorite saying. I knew I was in my proverbial “basket floating down the river,” – two IV’s, arterial lines, tubes coming out of every angle and all. Like baby Moses, I was secured by God’s plan, waiting to wake up 2 to 14 hours later, to see either Chris, or Christ:  completely surrendered to His will.  Oh! How I pray I live that way out of the hospital bed!

Post Surgery News

I guess the 15th was quite an exciting day full of drama, according to the surgery blog, which I was able to read weeks later.

The summary:

    • The tumor was surrounded by a sheath, which protected any nerves from being touched. No nerves to my mouth were damaged!
    • The tumor had “fingers” that went into my right ear, so, unpredicted by the MRI’s view, several bones from my ear were “eaten through” and were removed.  In one of my few memories of recovery, the brain surgeon motioned “YES!” with a clenched fist when I reacted positively to noise in that ear. Although hearing was lost for several weeks due to swelling, the nerves were not severed, and hearing was restored by 4 months post-op.
    • The surgery went as well as it possibly could. I stayed in ICU only one night, and a regular room one night and then went home! (I stayed longer for an emergency appendectomy a year later!) Although I have virtually no memory of that week, my husband tells me that I was in a lot of pain, and he was sure I would get meds in a more timely fashion in our house. (He cholerically took over.) Friends stayed with me 24/7 for ten days post-op, giving me medication and stabilization from falling. I learned what it means to serve one another in love.  I only wish I could erase some of those shower moments from their memories. (yuk!)
    • Although unable to get what the medical world calls “clear boundaries,” due to the tumor’s proximity to the main vein, the brain surgeon had confidence he got all he could see through his microscope. This has been confirmed by four years of clear MRI’s. (Praise God!)
    • I found out a couple years after the surgery (probably because my memory of the events was tainted) that there had been a 24-hour prayer chain during October 14-15, 2008. Apparently, all through the night, every 15 minutes, people were assigned to pray – on the phone with one another- in Michigan, Florida, Phoenix, Salt Lake, Louisville, etc. Wow. I learned what it means to be part of the body of Christ.
    • The headaches, the swallowing problem and the ear noise were all healed.  By January 2009, Chris was forgetting I was recovering and asked me to go snowmobiling! (I said, “no,” and reminded him the helmet would not feel good.) Really, less than three months after surgery, I felt better than I had felt in years. Chris said, “I feel like I got my wife back!” I still stand in awe.
    • I never before 2008 thanked God for a reflex like swallowing, but it still comes to mind. I learned that I have taken the body’s involuntary reflexes for granted.

When Bad Turns to Good:

I feel extra-blessed if I get a glimpse of God’s plan, when something I perceived as bad turns through a winding trail to be better for me after all.

    • My brother’s melanoma was such bad news, but if he had not called me, I may not have had the skin exams – which led to my recognizing the skin-healing problem. I cannot imagine I would have survived brain surgery lacking the ability to heal.
    • The rejection from the insurance company was a disappointment the day I received it; however, that rejection (along with Laurie Woodward’s encouragement) is what spurred me to get the second MRI. God’s thoughts are always higher than my own, and He meant it for my good. (Is 55:8)
    • The physical pain was bad, but it was good because it forced the solution. Without the substantial physical pain, I may not have sought help as fervently, and the tumor would have grown inoperable. (It reminds me of sin! But I will save that for another letter.)
    • I believe my friend (who prayed on the phone with me from the hospital bed) was changed for eternity. Heaven instead of hell… when my illness caused her to humbly reach for a Savior  (John 3:16). There is no greater joy for those who ask.

Despite whether we see the good coming from bad, we can be thankful for the struggles, because they promise to give us perseverance, character and hope (Rom 5:3-5) and increase our pain tolerance, too!

During a horrible storm that was tossing a fishermen’s boat in the billowing waves, Jesus said, “Peace be still,” and the winds and waves obeyed His command. (Mark 4:35-41)

The old hymn says, “the winds and waves still know His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.”

Although He may not remove you from the water, may you experience His peace as He calms the storm within.

In Christ,

Terri Brady (See below for Frequently Asked Questions)

FAQ:

1.  Will the tumor come back? – I was told there is a documented average 20% chance of return when they get clear boundaries around the tumor’s location. Since they did not get clear boundaries, the chances would normally be considered greater, but my surgeon was very confident that he got every cell, so any return would be due to its ripe environment for growth. At the five-year mark, the chances of its return decrease significantly.

2. Were there residual effects on me? – Yes. The biggest effect is that I am more grateful for pain-free days than ever. The other effects are minimal in comparison, and I don’t like to talk about medical things. 🙂

3. Do you still have headaches? – Yes. I am back to “normal”. In October this year, I was even speaking in front of a crowd – lights and all- with a migraine. To me, it was a testimony of increased pain tolerance. The occasional headache now comes as a blessing, reminding me of my past as “the leper” who comes back to say thank you.

4. Was the brain tumor caused by cell phone use? – I have read probably too much information on this topic. Although evidence is still questionable, it can’t hurt to hold cell phones far from the ear, and limit children from holding phones to their heads. (Their skulls are softer and the radiation has been measured much further into their brains.) My guess is that a cancer survivor who thought it had nothing to do with smoking could probably have written a letter like this in 1950, but of course my guess could be wrong.

5. Do you think your healing was a miracle? – I don’t feel worthy of the term, “miracle,” considering the miracle of a virgin’s birth or raising of a Man from the dead. However, I don’t take from God that He provided answers that the doctors were unable to predict. To God be all glory.

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