“Everything Happens for a Reason” and the Judgment Zone

Throughout the last two years of living with the big “C” and delving into the big “C” world, I’ve met countless other survivors.  I’ve joined several support groups.  I’ve become heavily involved in various cancer charities.  Now, I’m blogging and finding other bloggers opening up about their big “C” lives.  Basically, from the moment of my diagnosis, I pushed myself right through the cancer club door, no questions asked.  I anointed myself a member of a club I never wanted to be a member of, and obviously, I never expected to be a member of.

Within this cancer club sphere, a topic that constantly comes up is the notion that “everything happens for a reason.”  I’ve seen that the reactions to this phrase run the full gamut –  we either embrace it unwaveringly, or it makes us want to punch people in the face.  (See below – this is a card I actually received from one of my favorite snarkiest friends)

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[DISCLAIMER: This is a “judgment free zone.”  I never judge any cancer survivor’s reactions, feelings, etc. to their situation.  Our cancer is our cancer and no two are the same.  While I may personally feel different from others, and I may embrace my experiences in certain ways, neither is right or wrong.]

So, for me, I do in fact believe that things happen for a reason.  After seriously contemplating life and death, and facing a potentially terminal disease, not to mention 3 complex brain surgeries, you can’t help but think, “What does all this mean?”

I was not always a very positive person throughout my life.  I was very cynical, even at a young age, and many times unhappy, really for no legitimate reason.  I frankly had a fantastic life.  Who knows where all that came from?  However, immediately after my diagnosis, everything changed.

I never got angry.  I never questioned, “Why me?”  Did I make jokes about how insane it was that a perfectly healthy person, who had never even been admitted into a hospital before, wound up with one of the most serious conditions you can get?  Hell yeah I did.  Some of the typical phrases I used were, “I can’t do anything simply.” or “Go big or go home.”  Every time I was asked about previous medical conditions, my standard reply was, “Nope.  Just brain cancer.”  My tumor is also so rare that my husband loves to say, “I always knew you were one in a million.”  (turns out I’m even more than one in a million, as approximately only 72 adults are diagnosed in the U.S. every year with my specific type and with all my factors.. yay me!)

I took on an unwavering positive attitude that I was going to beat this no matter what, and despite whether the end would come quickly or years and years from now, I would fight every single solitary day.  I would never ever give up.

[SECOND DISCLAIMER:  Another “hot topic” is the use of battle/war phrases to describe our cancer experiences.  There is a school of thought out there that by using those terms “fight” and “giving up” it implies that those we’ve lost didn’t fight enough, or did give up.  In no way do I believe that!!!]

So, I decided that Yes, this did happen for a reason.  I came to grips with the fact that I very likely would never know that reason.  I believe in God, and I do believe that throughout my life, every stage and every step has led to the here and now.  While I am here, continuing to breathe, continuing to get up out of bed every day and face this, there is a reason.  I mean, if there isn’t, then that REALLY sucks! All of this for nothin’????

So, while I harbor no ill will or judge those who feel differently, I don’t always feel that sentiment returned.  I have actually had relatively confrontational exchanges with survivors who do not in any way see that there is a reason for this.  In a circular-type argument though, those survivors tell me they have felt judged because they don’t embrace the notion “it happened for a reason.”  Yet, in the same breath, they roll their eyes and make slightly nasty comments towards people like me who actually do feel there’s a reason.  Hence, they’re sitting there complaining about being judged, as they’re looking me in the face judging me.

Again, I feel the way I feel.  It’s my coping mechanism.  So, along with that, I tend to distance myself from those who I feel judge my way of thinking/coping.  I understand how they feel.  Cancer is awful.  It’s bullshit.  It can kill us!!!  However, if I’m going to walk along this Earth, for however long that may be, I’m going to continue embracing every moment and believe that Yes, there is a reason.

God gives us only what we can handle.  Apparently, God thinks I’m a bad ass!

The First Signs…I Totally Ignored

I can’t specifically pinpoint when the strange sensations in my left leg began, but I recall a distinct moment in late January when I felt something was off.  To celebrate my 34th birthday, I planned a great getaway with some of my best girlfriends and my poor husband (the only male surrounded by 5 women is never easy).  We spent days on the beach in the Caribbean, sipping beers and frozen drinks.  We went dancing every night, so much that all of us came back with sore feet.  We ate fantastic food.  It was one of the best trips, filled with so much fun, joy and love.

One of those days, a few of us began walking the beach, hilariously to the end where the nudist resort began – just for shits and giggles.  However, less than halfway through the walk I had to stop due to that sensation in my left foot and leg.  I causally commented that it had been happening for a little while, but frankly I didn’t take it seriously whatsoever.

 As the early months of 2014 continued, the episodes came more often and they grew more intense.  I remember walking down the streets of Manhattan and having to stop until the feeling subsided.  My left foot would essentially become numb with the electrical-type sensations traveling all the way up my leg.  I recall sitting at my desk while they started to come multiple times a day.  It no longer mattered whether I was walking, sitting or laying down.

I know there were a few episodes, but one particular time while working out on an ellipitical machine the sensation wasn’t just isolated to my leg.  This time, it traveled all the way up my left side into my face.  I honestly thought I had just been working out too hard, but this episode did scare me.

So, by Thursday, April 3rd, I finally saw my primary care physician.  Due to a history of multiple sclerosis in my family, my doctor was concerned.  She wanted a brain MRI and blood tests.  I was devastated by the thought of an MS diagnosis.  I had seen what it did to my aunt over all these years.  I just couldn’t imagine it.

I went to my parent’s house immediately.  I was crying when I first saw my father and explained what my doctor had advised.  He was floored, but directed me to keep it from my mother.  Obviously, she had also seen what MS had done to her sister and our family.  My father did not want her to know anything until something, whatever that something was, could be confirmed.  I won’t lie.  That was TOUGH.

On Saturday, April 5th, I went in for the blood tests, but didn’t receive any results.  Those would take days.  The MRI had yet to be scheduled – insurance holdups of course.  Needless to say, it was not the best weekend.

And so, Sunday, April 6th, in an attempt to relieve all of the stress, I went to relax and get my nails done.  My world would never be the same.

The history of my seizure that day is detailed in my post.

https://braincancerbabe.com/2016/05/17/having-a-seizure/

Following my diagnosis, I learned that the episodes had been seizures and clearly, there was no question about the “big daddy” grandmal seizure.  However, there had never been any other symptoms I could pinpoint to have led me to even fathom cancer.  I never had headaches, blurred vision or issues with my speech.

No one prepares for brain cancer.  I can’t imagine anyone even suspects it despite clear symptoms.  I never really even knew about brain cancer.  No one ever really talked about it.  No one publicized the symptoms or what to look out for.  (As an aside, these are the reasons I tirelessly work to raise funds and awareness for brain cancer).

I wish I had known the symptoms and more knowledge of this disease.  Quite possibly, it could have pushed me into that doctor’s office much earlier.

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At your lowest, is a good thing.

A powerful piece on finding your strength even in our lowest, darkest moments

fonzandcancer blogging to encourage.

Thats when you choose to be a success or give up. That’s when winners stand and move forwards, I know what it’s like down there to be in a mire of depression and seeming gloom. I have had to make those choices to give up or get up. Yes at certain times in my life, it’s been tough to get up. Life with cancer takes your lowest to a new low that I did not think was possible. I am talking about facing chemo, the procedures we have to have because of cancer. I saw a picture yesterday of someone fighting cancer that quite literally made me feel sick. So what if I was that person, how much worse would I have felt.


Many people will have stopped reading in the first paragraph, but if your reading still it’s because your battling something in your life. It may not be…

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Continued Hospital Stay

Release from the Misery of the Neuro-Observation & Continued Hospital Stay

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The day after the surgery, when I guess they realized nothing incredibly serious would happen, I was moved into a private room with a roommate.  I remained there another full 2 days.  I know I was in incredible pain, but I will never forget and always worship my day nurse.  She is not only my favorite nurse, but one of my favorite people!  God, did she help me get through those awful days.

The pain/pressure wasn’t controlled too well and I was purely miserable.  The body forgets the actual feeling of pain, but we remember it happened.  To add to that pain, my fear of nighttime continued.  As a blessing, my night nurse would walk the halls with me, once I could walk of course, while we talked about our lives, our relationships, work, what-have-you.  She is also on the list of top nurses.

A very tough moment was the first time they got me out of bed.  Again, I was an incredibly active person when this all happened.  It was insane to me that the simple act of getting my legs over the edge of the bed to stand was so hard, even though “hard” really can’t describe it.  I began to cry, saying, “I can’t do this.”  I felt so defeated by all of this.  What a blessing I had a wonderful nurse’s assistant who encouraged me saying, “I wouldn’t let you do this if I thought you couldn’t.”  So, with that, I garnered my strength and stood up.  I can frankly say, it was one of the greatest feelings and accomplishments of my life, and I’ve been pretty damn successful in everything I’ve done.

And so, with time and fantastic physical therapists, I was able to sit in a chair.  I graduated to using my IV stand to make it to the bathroom.  Soon after, I began to walk the halls although I couldn’t do the entire perimeter yet.  That came soon though.  During that time, I colored a lot.  I colored a beautiful cloth flag-type thing – I don’t know exactly what to call it – filled with butterflies.  I hung it on my IV stand, and walked and walked down those halls.  I remember people smiling as they passed by me.  I hope that picture of butterflies gave them some comfort and a tiny bit of happiness.  It did for me at least.

My hospital has a recreation center full of games, arts and crafts, books, painting materials, etc.  It’s a bit cheesy, but its such a valuable asset for patients.  It also has an outdoor patio.  Frankly, it’s a gift.  After being cooped up in a hospital bed, just minutes of sun and fresh air feels miraculous.  However, the first time I was wheeled onto that patio, I had a complete breakdown.  I think the joy of that little bit of freedom overcame me and it hit me like a ton of bricks all that I’d just been through.  I cried and cried until I asked to go back to my room.  Thankfully, I was able to pull myself together to eventually go back there.

Probably most important to my recovery was my attitude.  I didn’t want to stay in that awful bed.  I wanted to sit up.  I wanted to walk.  I wanted to get the hell out of there!  Sadly, my roommate did not have that same motivation and complained quite a bit when the staff tried to get her up.  Sometimes, she outright refused.  Her nurses would also tell her to call them before she ate anything because apparently she had diabetes or at least very high blood sugar.  She never listened.  In fact, her family would sneak her heavy, unhealthy food.  I also overheard that when she would actually be released, she would be admitted to a rehab facility.  Honestly, I felt damn lucky I wasn’t in that situation, or possessed her overall attitude.  I don’t blame her whatsoever.  We all handle cancer, and especially brain surgery, in our own way.  I believe it’s one of the most difficult experiences in the world!  I was just different.

Another overwhelming moment came when occupational therapy (OT) arrived.  The therapist asked me to draw a clock.  I just couldn’t.  My mind wouldn’t compute what a clock was and particularly, how to draw it.  I was asked to repeat several words.  Again, I couldn’t.  I graduated every school with honors, survived law school, passed two bar exams, yet I couldn’t do things kindergarteners learned.  However, the therapist determined I actually wouldn’t need OT.  She was sure it would all come back because frankly, I was fully communicating and was basically myself.  (Even now though, I have a hard time with that damn clock!)

My recovery progressed and every time the doctors evaluated me, I was on the right track.  Despite it all, I was actually doing great.  Remarkably well, in fact.  So, after the day of the surgery and 2 full days afterward, I was ready to be released that 3rd day.

Post-Op and the Dreaded Neuro-Observation Area

Post-Op

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I woke up in the post-op room, but I don’t remember feeling any pain whatsoever.  Frankly, I felt high as a kite!  Those were some gooood meds!  My whole family was shocked because I was wide awake, cracking jokes and acting as though everything was fine.  My surgeon came back to see me and I continued to joke telling him, “I’ve had worse hangovers!”  (My relationship with my neurosurgeon has always been light and sarcastic, which I love)

The nurse eventually told my family I needed to rest and once they left, I don’t remember much of that post-op room except for feeling strangely comfortable there.  (Again, they were some gooood meds!)

Post-Op Neuro-Observation

It was when they moved me to the neuro-observation room that hell broke loose.  The meds began to ware off.  I could feel the intense pressure of the awful gauze turban.  (I HATE that thing)  It was also nighttime.  I had a horrible fear of nighttime/bedtime suffering from years and years of insomnia.  I also had new nurses, who I particularly didn’t like much.  It was dark in there.  I was closed off in my own little section, curtained between three other patients who themselves had just survived brain surgery.  It was not a pleasant space.

The worst came when they advised I would have to undergo a post-op MRI.  It was then I suffered the first panic attack of my life.  I’ll be honest.  Looking back, the nurse and the nurse’s assistant did not handle it well.  The nurse said in a slightly obnoxious tone, “She’s having some sort of panic attack.”  The nurse’s assistant, a very large and aggressive woman, held me down.  Kindly, they at least IVed some meds and I did calm down.

Thankfully, and because my neurosurgeon is A-mazing, there was a total resection of the tumor.  I was technically “cancer free” which is a term I still don’t apply to myself even now.

Although I understand it and accept it now through therapy, my husband refused to stay with me that night.  Was it the best, kindest thing to do?  No.  Did he handle it well?  No.  However, I forgive him.  It was all just too overwhelming for us.

So, after he left, the second panic attack of my life came on.  I don’t remember much of it or how the nurse handled that one, but I know it happened.  Maybe I’ve blocked it out, for good reason.

Eventually, it came time to leave that dreaded area.  I hate that I’ve returned there two more times since.

Operation Day and the Surgery

Operation Day!

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I vaguely remember waking up that morning, getting to the hospital and walking onto the surgical reception floor.  I also vaguely remember, practically whispering, “I am here for surgery.”  I waited in the reception area with my husband and parents before they called me back.  My mother would not sit still.  So, I was the one who kept having to calm her down, never mind that I was the one facing surgery.

I was the first scheduled case, so there wasn’t too much time before they called my name.  I walked into a whole new world.  The pre-op room was huge with lines of curtained-off beds.  Could all of these people seriously be going into surgery this morning?  I felt very lucky to have a nurse from Ireland.  It led to easy-going conversation about what parts of Ireland we were all from, and what brought us all to the States.  It helped me forget just a bit where I was and what I was facing.  However, I stayed very quiet.

At that point, I was still scared of needles and IVs (oh, how times change!).  So, they were not fun.  The anesthesiologist came back to talk to me.  He was also comforting and calmed me as best he could.  However, when the moment came to send me into the operating room, I completely and utterly lost it.  I was hysterically crying and found it hard to breathe.  The nurse immediately told the anesthesiologist that they needed to IV some meds ASAP.  It probably wasn’t a good idea to send a patient into the operating room like that.

The meds did work fast, thankfully.  However, I remember being wheeled down the hall and into the vortex of the operating room.  I could hear the MRI machine, as it was yet a noise I was used to – oh, that would come with time.  I stared up at all of the fluorescent lights.  I saw numerous people hurriedly walking around in scrubs.  Then, I saw the anesthesiologist looking down on me.  He asked me to start counting, but I think I got to about the third number before I lost consciousness.

The Surgery

Obviously, I remember nothing of the actual surgery.  That’s surely a blessing, as I’ve heard some patients actually do recall slight moments.  As far as I understand, they used a twilight anesthesia so that they could test my neurological functions with the MRI.  I vaguely remember it coming up, but I can’t confirm that at this moment, nor do I really want to.

So, I underwent a 3-hour craniotomy, defined as “a surgical operation in which a bone flap is temporarily removed from the skull to access the brain.”  The entire tumor was removed, referred to as “full resection.”  A titanium plate was placed in the area and I was then all stitched up.  They placed an awful, horrible gauze turban around my head to prevent swelling.  Amazingly, just a line of hair was shaved, so it was barely noticeable once the turban was removed.  (Getting that turban removed after 3 full days was an incredible physical and mental release).  Then it was off to the post-op recovery room, where I would remain for several hours.    

The Night Before Surgery

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The Night Before

Knowing I was heading into possible, life-threatening surgery the next day, my friends and family were quite a mess.  I found myself trying to manage them, as opposed to dealing with my own worries.  However, one of the most beautiful moments was when a close friend came over.  As she was leaving, she handed me a frame with a photo of our group of girlfriends from our recent trip to the Caribbean celebrating my birthday.  She teared up, but she spoke the most simple, wonderful words, “We love you.”

That night, I decided to google information on brain surgery.  I had been soooo good at avoiding Google, but I couldn’t help myself that night.  I was just too incredibly frightened of the unknown.   I came across some disturbing photos of actual surgery.  Oh no!  I was not going there!  However, I found a blog (I wish I could remember what it was) of a young woman, who detailed her experiences leading up to and after her surgery.  It gave me so much comfort, so I am truly thankful for that little indiscretion from my google ban.

I really don’t know whether I was simply numb to the fact that I was facing surgery, or all of the meds, or just simply blocking it all out, but I wasn’t actually that nervous once it came time to go to sleep.  I recall my husband commenting how calm I seemed.  Who knows?  The mind is a powerful thing after all.  I popped a sleeping pill and slept until that horrid alarm went off sometime around 4:00 a.m.  No turning back.  The time had come.