Evelyn – brain tumor

The Woman Within

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I met a new person on the road to recovery: myself.

Awake? Asleep? It was hard to know. So much had happened, and here I was in a hospital bed. My husband, Frank was by my side. And my boys. Raising three sons was anything but easy, but there they were, healthy and successful. I saw our indispensable Franco, who'd worked with us so long I considered him another son. Family was so important. I'd always known it, but now.. Well, I had no words.

"It's over," Frank said. "You survived the surgery." A massive tumor had been removed from my brain. Fifteen hours on the operating table. This was more than I could comprehend. I'd been told my personality could be changed. I might have brain damage. The idea frightened me. Everything in life centered in the mind. My thoughts, my dreams, my humor. Even my soul-the sense of my spiritual self when I closed my eyes in prayer. Had anything been lost? Dear God, will I be the same person I was before?

Last October a truck rear-ended my car on the freeway, and I was slammed into the car in front of me. Luckily, my seat belt worked. I was fine, but the car was totaled. Then I got the flu. "First the accident,," I'd said to Frank, "and now the flu. What next?" A few nights later I was getting ready for bed. I felt myself falling to the bathroom floor. Not falling, really, more like I was gently lowered, by something as soft as an angel's wing. For a few seconds I actually saw myself lying there. I wasn't frightened, but I could hear Frank shouting. Was he angry? What had I done? Maybe I was dying, I thought.

EMTs rushed me to the hospital. "You have a brain tumor," the doctor said. I looked away. I couldn't make myself look at the MRI pictures. I was given medication to sleep. Soon after I woke my three boys arrived. They'd spent the night on the internet learning about brain tumors. "The best neurosurgeon is right here at UCLA," Alan, assured me.

"The EMTs told us you were very funny in the ambulance," said Brett, my youngest, "just talking and talking."

"Well, that's no surprise, is it?" I said, trying to laugh. That's how I was before my surgery. Who was I now? I was too groggy and exhausted to know.

The tumor had invaded a large portion of the left side of my head, pressing on my brain and the nerve to my left eye. My carotid artery was going thru the tumor, and there was bleeding. The fall at home could have been a godsend. Perhaps the accident had aggravated the tumor in my brain, causing my blackout. Without that warning sign, the tumor would have continued to grow. I could have died.

In the days that followed the surgery, Frank and my sons visited me in the hospital. My surgeon, Dr. Neil Martin, Chief of Neurosurgery, often came by. But when they were gone the room was almost unbearable. Just four walls and a curtain. I felt trapped. Barry, my number two son, called me and said I was "freaking out", and came to my room. I felt he was my savior. I needed him. My mind churned with crazy thoughts. Is this my life now? My prayers were urgent pleas for comfort.

Going home after a week was one of the best days of my life, but I was in for a shock. I passed a mirror and saw my reflection for the first time. I caught my breath. Now I understood why I was getting strange looks. My head was shaved around the incision. There were staples in my skull practically from ear to ear. "Who are you?" I asked. The woman in the mirror looked like Frankenstein's monster. It wasn't me. Or was it?

For two months I spent most of my time in bed. For the next month I was up and down. Therapists came most days. One drilled me on keeping my left eye open. Another worked on my balance. Bogey from Bulgaria announced, "Today you will walk down the stairs." "Oh, no," I said. But I did it! Little victories like this built up my determination. One afternoon I took a long look at myself. I am prettier than this. I have always kept myself looking sharp. I got out my makeup. I had temporarily lost my dexterity for the art of makeup, and I couldn't remember how I combed my hair! I regained my skill. I was still Evelyn after all.

Afterglow

My family surrounded me. God and his angels were with me. In spite of feeling tired, I had tremendous enthusiasm for my recovery. Life seemed wonderful. I loved my husband and my boys. I loved Franco and the doctors and therapists who encouraged me. I'd thought I'd always been generous with my affections, but I was different now. There was no holding back, because I knew time was precious. Each day was a gift. The joy I felt lit up my face better than the best makeup out there!

I have regular checkups at the hospital, and I'm still working on my balance. There's a scar on my forehead from the surgery, but I think I look great. I have slight memory lapses in conversation, but that doesn't keep me from talking-just ask my family.

The doctor said the brain tumor might have changed me, and he was right. I'm better than the Evelyn I was before. I've found new joy inside myself. It has been a difficult recovery. But God walked with me through it and made me the woman I am today.

I wish to honor Dr. Martin for his loving care. He spared me pain and returned me to being a normal, healthy woman. He will always hear from me, "Thank you, thank you, thank you". God bless you "Neil".

Evelyn Case History

Case History of Evelyn

Evelyn presented to an outside hospital in October 2005 following an episode of sudden onset weakness and collapse. She was transferred to UCLA after discovering a large meningioma (about 8 centimeters) in the frontal and temporal areas of her brain. A meningioma is a benign brain tumor. It was compressing critical structures and moving brain tissue aside, known as "mass effect".

She had a pre-operative angiogram that demonstrated a large number of blood vessels feeding the tumor and underwent pre-operative embolization (a technique used to insert a glue-like substance into some of the feeding blood vessels to simplify the surgery). Her surgery was very complex and she was in the operating room under the care of Dr. Neil Martin for fifteen hours.

Pre-operative scan
8-month post-operative scan

After surgery, she spent two days in the intensive care unit for monitoring. She was subsequently transferred to the neurosurgical nursing floor and was evaluated by physical, speech, and occupational therapy. On the fifth day following her difficult surgery, she was discharged home only with the assistance of a walker for balance. She was free of major neurological deficits.

Evelyn was seen for several post-operative visits, most recently in March 2006. She made an amazing recovery. She regularly exercises, is without neurological deficits, and she is an active member of the community. She routinely engages in public speaking events about her experience. Her most recent MRI scan does not show any evidence of tumor recurrence. Normal brain tissue is slowly re-occupying the surgical cavity, a process that may take a few years.

Jennifer Varma, NP


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