Meet Courtney Burnett
While I’ve never met this serious #bossbabe I would love to one day for sooo many reasons! Courtney Burnett is a physician, a young adult, a blogger, and even a published author all while living with brain cancer.
“We’re not worthy! We’re not worthy!”
Courtney Burnett, MD, states:
I am a thirty-year-old internal medicine physician living with brain cancer. My brain tumor journey started in January of 2020 when I was studying medicine in Chiang Mai, Thailand. While there, I began to have strange neurological symptoms and ended up diagnosing myself with a brain tumor.)https://www.elephantlotusbraintumor.com/
Yes! She diagnosed herself with a brain tumor!
At the very least, I was so medicated when they found my first lesion, I didn’t and/or couldn’t fully process it all. Amen for whatever “cocktail” I was given while unconscious after my grand mal seizure, which brought me to the E.R. I underwent both a CT and MRI of my brain, which I have no recollection of, I was told those fateful words:
“There’s some kind of lesion in your brain and you’re going to need brain surgery as soon as possible to remove it.”
A BRAIN TUMOR/CANCER DIAGNOSIS CAN BE CONFUSING, OVERWHELMING AND terrifying
I love this quote! Courtney writes that:
Even as a physician, a brain tumor diagnosis is confusing, overwhelming, and terrifying.(Emphasis added)https://www.elephantlotusbraintumor.com/
NOTHING CAN PREPARE YOU FOR THE WORDS: “THERE IS A TUMOR IN YOUR BRAIN”
While I was not a physician, I grew-up watching my father care for animals as a DVM (veterinarian).
Thus, I watched my Dad perform all types of procedures and intricate surgeries. My entire life, I listened to my parents who own the practice together, discuss medical conditions, medications, medical treatments, etc. I watched puppies and kittens being born. However, I also watched sick pets being put to sleep.
Plus both my Golden Retrievers from childhood passed away from cancer. I was in high school after our first Golden died, who happened to have the same name as my husband. Although, it’s probably the most common Irish name, it’s at least one of the most common. We still find it funny though because our first Golden was truly the best ever! I loved him so so much and he never left my side. In fact, unless he was with me I could not sleep. (Don’t tell our dog, Quinn, though. She’ll be very hurt).
Nevertheless, that was the first time I saw my father cry.
Anyway, you’d think I would have been more prepared to handle my brain cancer diagnosis, but like Courtney I was also confused (Me in my head thinking:“No, you must have the wrong patient! I’m perfectly healthy!”) , overwhelmed, and absolutely terrified.
Courtney Burnett, MD – THE WRITER
Very much like I do, Courtney, uses “writing as a therapeutic way to cope with my unexpected diagnosis“.
Thus, she created a Blog (info below and in quoted citations).
Then, she published her first book, a memoir, Difficult Gifts: A Physician’s Journey to Heal Body and Mind released on February 8, 2021.
Question: “Girrrrl, where do you get the time?“
In her words, Courtney explains:
The words I write are honest, intimate stories of my real-life journey to find happiness, joy, and compassion in a crazy and mysterious life. Even if my story seems unique at first, really, it is not. As humans, we are all trying to find happiness in a life we wish we had more control over.
I hope my words bring you happiness in even the smallest way. None of us need to suffer alone.https://www.elephantlotusbraintumor.com/ (Emphasis Added)
IN HONOR OF BRAIN TUMOR/CANCER AWARENESS MONTH – A POST FROM COURTNEY’S BLOG:
DISCLAIMER: THE WORDING IN ORANGE IS JUST MY ADDED EMPHASIS ON COURTNEY’S THOUGHTS.
“Chapter 84: May Means Grey“
May is here once again. In Minnesota, we were blessed this May Day with an 80+ degree sunny spring day. Glorious.
MAY IS BRAIN TUMOR/CANCER AWARENESS MONTH
For brain tumor fighters, survivors, caregivers, and loved ones, however, May holds special meaning.
May is brain tumor awareness month. “Go grey in May” is often shared on social media, posted on t-shirts and flags, etc. I wish brain tumor warriors got to rock a slightly better color, but what can you do?
THE FIGHT IS 365 DAYS A YEAR FOR US!
Personally, I’ve been feeling quite down recently. Although May brings awareness to brain tumors, it’s recently occurred to me that being a young adult cancer warrior/survivor is not something I can turn on in May and turn off the rest of the year.
ONE OF THE HARDEST LESSONS I PERSONALLY LEARNED: SOME PEOPLE WILL SURPRISE YOU IN THE BEST OF WAYS; OTHERS WILL SURPRISE YOU IN THE WORST OF WAYS – SO, GO OUT & “FIND YOUR TRIBE WHO WILL ALWAYS BE THERE TO LIFT YOU UP!
For me, this truth is something I live every day and always will. Many young adult cancer survivors write and talk about how lonely they feel after “winning” moments of their battles. I never understood this, until recently.At the beginning of a cancer diagnosis, family and friends (sometimes even acquaintances you hardly know) step into the battle ring with you, holding you up and rooting for you. For the first few months of my battle, there seemed to be a constant stream of love, gifts, and support.
LOOKS CAN BE DECEIVING. THE CLICHE IS TRUE – “NEVER JUDGE A BOOK BY ITS COVER” IN FACT, I NEVER FELT OR LOOKED HEALTHIER THAN WHEN MY TUMOR RECURRED IN 2015. PERSONALLY, I WILL NEVER BE “DONE WITH CANCER”! HELL, I’VE HAD 9 SURGERIES & ONLY 3 WERE TO REMOVE TUMORS. I TREAT AT MULTIPLE HOSPITALS IN NYC, DUKE BRAIN TUMOR CENTER AND THE NIH FOLLOWS MY CASE. I ACTUALLY JOKE THAT AS A YOUNG ADULT WHO HAS BEEN IN THE TRENCHES FOR OVER 7 YEARS NOW, I DESERVE AN HONORARY MD 😉
As time went on and I started to look less sick, however, this outpouring of kindness became less of a power wash and more of a leaky faucet, spilling a few drops here and there but leaving me mostly dry.
I don’t say this to invoke pity, to ask for cards or gifts or apologies. I say this because I’ve come to understand what so many young adult cancer survivors have been telling me. When the “hard” parts of cancer are behind you, loved ones see you as healthy. You look healthy, you act healthy, your hair has grown back, you move on with life. Well, at least this is what I assume it looks like on the outside.
But, internally, I am still a young adult cancer warrior. It is a battle that will never finish for me, at least not while I’m alive. Someday I hope to be a not-so-young adult cancer warrior, but regardless, this is how it will be for me forever.
100% TRUTH – YOU MAY NEVER REALIZE HOW STRONG YOU ARE UNTIL YOU HAVE NO OTHER CHOICE!
I write this blog for my fellow young adult cancer warriors, survivors, and caregivers to say- I understand. You are not alone. You are stronger than anyone will ever realize.(EMPHASIS ADDED)
CANCER IS NOT JUST PHYSICAL – IT’S MENTAL, EMOTIONAL AND IF YOU ARE SPIRITUAL/RELIGIOUS, THEN IT MAY CHALLENGE YOU THAT WAY AS WELL.
YOU CANNOT JUST TREAT THE PHYSICAL WITHOUT TREATING EVERYTHING ELSE
May is brain cancer awareness month. May is also mental health awareness month. I fight both of these battles. As I type this, I wonder if there is a cancer equivalent for PTSD. There certainly isn’t a named medical condition that I know of, but really, shouldn’t there be? Cancer (and all chronic illness survivors) are warriors. We have fought battles that take strength, determination, discipline, and often force us to face horrific, fearful situations. Even when these situations end- when we are in “remission,” or (for brain cancer patients) when we are “stable,” we have still lived through a perilous battle. We still have the battle scars. We still have the battle memories. We cannot escape them, no matter how much we try.
Even when we look fine, when our treatments have finished, we still live every single day with the fear that the cancer will return. This is a challenging way to live, especially when “outsiders” stop seeing you as fighting a battle and start seeing you as how you were “before.”
All warriors know there is no such thing as “before” once there has been an “after.”
ATTN: ALL RESEARCHERS, PHYSICIANS, ETC.
If any fellow physicians are reading and want to do a study with me on what I’m naming “PCDS,” let me know. Post-cancer. Post-traumatic. They are different, of course, but they are also not so different.As many readers already know, I am a fan of scientific research. So, naturally, I looked into this idea. There are some small studies looking into PTSD in cancer survivors and these studies seem to imply that yes, indeed, there is a higher level of PTSD amongst cancer survivors than the general population. However, there doesn’t seem to be much (if any) research into the special psychological and psychosocial effects cancer has on a person. I would argue that the effects are widespread and long lasting
REMEMBER, YOU’RE ONLY HUMAN – “IT’S OKAY TO NOT BE OKAY”
We can’t be Superwoman or Superman everyday. We’re human. Sometimes, “it’s okay to not be okay.” As long as you keep yourself in-check and take care of your emotional and mental health and your feelings do not rise to the level of needing serious intervention (i.e. if you’re having suicidal thoughts, then get help ASAP). NO ONE CAN BE STRONG 100% OF THE TIME AND THAT’S OKAY.
Overall, I find myself a positive and optimistic person. I am usually able to think of a difficult situation as a lesson instead of a punishment. But, I am not perfect. I am not able to do this 100% of the time and feel incredibly thankful I’m at least able to do this a good portion of the time. Mindfulness is a practice for a reason, it is never perfected. (EMPHASIS ADDED)
I am not haunted by daily flashbacks of surgery or battles as some PTSD warriors are. I am lucky- I am still alive, feel great, and am on a break from treatment. But, not all those in my cancer community are so lucky.
Today, I met an incredible group of people being honored at the “Humor to Fight The Tumor” non-profit gala this fall (yours truly included, an honor I am incredibly humbled by and thankful for). Meeting fellow warriors, survivors, and family of fallen heroes in person touched me in a powerful way. In an age of virtual connection, here I was, in a room full of (safely vaccinated and masked) people who will also never be able to go back to their lives “before” now that they’ve seen an “after.”
I RESPECTFULLY BEG TO DIFFER. I BELIEVE THERE ARE HUGE LESSONS FOR ALL OF US IN THIS POST
I have no lessons to teach in this post. May is a month for awareness, and that is what I will try to bring to the table. Awareness of the reality of being a young adult cancer warrior. Awareness of being a mental health warrior. Awareness of living life to the fullest, even when our internal demons threaten to bring us down with every move.
I AGREE wholeheartedly
To my fellow fighters, May is for you. My fight is for you. I won’t be around forever, but if I can raise awareness to the battles we are fighting, the scars we have learned to hide, and the fear that we bury deep inside, I will have filled a purpose I just recently realized I had. (EMPHASIS ADDED)
THANK YOU, COURTNEY. YOU ARE AN AMAZING, TALENTED PROFESSIONAL. YOU HAVE AND WILL GIVE HOPE TO SO MANY! ❤️