Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Why I hate country-western music

I realize that in the State of Texas, it is something you can be shot for, but I cannot stand country-western music. I do like bluegrass music, because of my past life as a clogger. But that's where the love ends, and I'll tell you the latest reason why.

I was in the store yesterday, and they were playing Christmas music (LOOOOVE Christmas music & glad they were even acknowledging Christmas instead of "RamaHanaKwanzMas" or "Generic Winter Season Greeting"). This was fine until I was assaulted by some sap-ola country-western singer going on about a little boy trying to buy shoes for his sick mom on Christmas Eve, and how he had to hurry because Daddy says there isn't much time, and he wants his mom to look beautiful "when she meets Jesus tonight".

Sap-sap-sap-sappy. Now, of course, any mommy/little boy song is going to make me think of my own little boy and tug at my heart, and the obvious relevance this year of going in for brain surgery sometime before Christmas was no help. So yes - I was crying like a fool in the middle of the store. But PLEASE! I went home and told my husband that if I were dying on Christmas Eve, please do not be an idiot and send my boy shoe shopping during my final hours. He should be HOME, where I can hug him until I take that last breath. And come on - since when does Jesus care what kind of shoes you wear? I'm thinking the shoes don't actually go with you when you die. (And by the way - no one sees them in the casket either! Bring on the comfy fuzzy slippers!) Sounds like this little boy and his family need to be spending more time reading the Sermon on the Mount (as in "lay not up for yourself treasures...") than picking through the Manolo's while one of their own is quickly going through the sand in her hourglass. redeeming thing about rap music is that you probably won't get a sap-ola song like this. Of course, you might get one where the little boy shoots his mom on Christmas Eve when she won't buy him the shoes HE wants - and okay, that's not good, either. I'm sticking with the Carpenter's Christmas Album and the Mormon Tab Choir!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What I want to remember and what I want to forget

I keep mulling over the neurosurgeon's comment that my memory may be affected by this surgery. It is a sobering thought.

Here are a few things I want to remember (in no particular order):
  • My family members & friends
  • My dog (and especially to FEED my dog)
  • All the reasons why I fell in love with my husband
  • What it felt like to hold my children the first time
  • All the funny things my children have done (yes, Mom - I hear you saying, "I TOLD you to write all that stuff down when it happened!")
  • How to sing
  • How to clog dance (not that I do it very often, but it's kind of cool, albeit harsh on the knees)
  • My clients and what I am supposed to be doing for them
  • The lessons I have learned from past adversity (self-imposed and life-imposed)
  • Where I hid the Christmas presents
  • My passwords for email and phone
  • When to pay the bills online
  • Important dates, like birthdays and anniversaries
  • Why I NEVER pump gas (simple reason: I never have, so why start now?)
  • How to get my daughter to fall asleep when she's overtired
  • All the silly "I love you" games I do with my son (like the kiss "pump spray", the "I super duper shmooper scooper flooper mooper - etc. - love you", and stuff like that).
  • Who is on the phone when they shout "WHAT?!!!" as their greeting (my brother, Jim).
  • My obsession with daily exercise (started nearly 3 years ago and will only allow doctor-ordered bedrest or brain surgery ICU recovery as excuses not to exercise)
  • How to make my favorite foods
  • What I gave people as gifts, so I don't give the same thing again
  • The fact that I am allergic to pennicillin
  • How horrifying my "fat jeans" are, and how much I want to get back into my "skinny jeans"

Things I'd like to forget:

  • Stupid mistakes (except for the lessons learned)
  • Embarrassing moments
  • What it feels like to wake up from brain surgery
  • Anything that makes me wake up in the middle of the night to worry about
  • How much money I spent on Black Friday
  • Painful experiences (except for the lessons learned)
  • How much I like cookies

I'm sure both lists will grow, but at least it's a start...

Buy lots of Mary Kay stuff

My husband works for Mary Kay. He doesn't sell the stuff, so no - he can't earn a pink Cadillac. He is a senior computer geek in their IT department and works miracles for their website.

Mary Kay is a great company. They believe in God First, Family Second, Job Third, and they really practice what they believe. We have seen many examples of these values being practiced throughout my husband's four-plus years with the company, and we are gratefully seeing yet another example.

My husband's boss sat down with him today to review the paid leave that would be available during my surgery and recovery. Between accrued vacation and family leave time, there is plenty. Plus, he added, the company would be "very flexible" with regard to working from home, if needed. Basically, the message my husband got was that he should do what he needs to do for his family, and they would figure out how to make it work. It was very reassuring.

SO - buy lots of Mary Kay stuff. Keep that company prosperous! They are good to their people, and deserve to be around for a long, long time.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Question for the Day

I just downed a very tall, very cold glass of milk in order to wash down my medication. The result was a brain freeze like I hadn't had in a long time.

So naturally, the question went through my mind - does brain freeze also cause tumor freeze? Can I ward off seizures by eating ice cream too fast?

(Just kidding - I know the answer, but it was fun to think about for a moment!)

Sunday, November 27, 2005

My Cup Runneth Over

The 23rd Psalm contains the following statement:

Thou preparest a table for me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

We sing the hymn, "The Lord is My Shepherd", which has a slight variation:

In the midst of affliction, my table is spread
With blessings unmeasured; my cup runneth o'er.

I have found that throughout my life, when I have been in the midst of affliction, my table really has been spread with blessings unmeasured. When I choose to look for them, I am always astonished at the more-than-compensatory blessings that have surrounded me during times of deepest trial. As though the Lord is saying that he cannot remove this necessary experience, but he can let me know that I am loved and watched over, nonetheless.

For example, right now my cup runneth over with an outpouring of love and help from family members, church members, and friends. Word of my situation has spread quickly, and I have been overwhelmed (and very grateful) for the many kind words and offers of prayers and other helps throughout this process. One very significant blessing was the realization that my visiting teacher (one of the women in our church assigned to have a stewardship over me) is a 9-year survivor of a brain tumor herself. It helped so much to talk to her today.

I have much to be thankful for. I have the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the gift of the Holy Ghost to provide a constant comfort to me. I have a loving family. I have friends who generously give more than they receive. I have access to competent professionals who know how to help me. I have a huge list of blessings that I could continue with, but I would not be able to complete it in the time and space that I wish to devote to this post.

The other day I noticed a billboard on the side of the road that said, "Wanna get rich quick? Count your blessings." I can only begin to count my blessings, because they appear to be innumerable. But to be sure, I am a rich woman in this regard. My cup runneth over.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Black Friday and VECTOR VISION

Black Friday is a family tradition. You know, that day after Thanksgiving when they have the doorbuster deals starting very early in the morning?

It began Thursday evening as I browsed through the circulars in the newspaper. Not being a newspaper subscriber, I sent Jared out to forage for a paper in a nearby machine, convenience store - whatever. After a long search, he finally came home with a paper in hand. Everyone had sold out of papers early that morning, but he noticed that a Firestone station (which was closed) had a paper sitting by the front door. Obviously it had been delivered, but no one had been at the station to pick it up. Jared took $3 from his pocket and put it with a note, saying that it was for the newspaper, and dropped it into the night drop slot before bringing the paper home. (There are many reasons why my husband is a keeper, and this is one of them.)

After a thorough scan of the ads, I decided that WalMart was the place to attack. Gotta get a $25 bicycle for my son and another one for the angel tree child that we are sponsoring this year. Left the house at 4 am and stood quivering by the pallet of bicycles until the clock struck the magical hour of 5:00.

One hour and an undisclosed but obscene insult to the American Express card later (didn't just stop at the bikes), my dad/shopping buddy and I were ready to go home. Normally I would be ready to hop to the next adventure, but: 1) my antiseizure meds make me tired; and 2) I have an 8:30 MRI appointment.

This MRI is something special - it has VECTOR VISION! (Is this like Wonka Vision, or will I become some kind of superhero now?) As I understand it, this becomes part of a helpful computer-aided tool during my surgery to help the surgeon know what is brain and what is tumor. This facilitates great accuracy, which is something I value as a future brain surgery patient.

Having had an MRI the week before, I figured I was a seasoned pro. However, not all MRI facilities are the same. My first MRI was at a facility that really had the comfort thing down. After all, MRI's are not the most enjoyable experience, unless of course you really fantasize about living the life of toothpaste crammed in a tube that someone left lying on a runway where jet engines are taking off. But MRI place #1 was a tranquil office with waterfalls and a matronly assistant who saw to my every comfort, and even the comfort of my supportive husband in the waiting area. The technician talked me through every detail before proceeding. He placed headphones on my head and let me choose my favorite type of music. He put me in a halo with an angled mirror in front of my face, so when I looked straight ahead I could see out the tube. And he placed a "panic ball" in my hand, where I could eject myself at any time. Then he slid me into the tube just to my shoulders and paused while I had my "oh, dang, this is claustrophobic" moment. Once I adjusted, he proceeded until I was in up to my elbows. He described every sound that was coming, and let me know how long each picture was going to take. It wasn't fun, but it was much more tolerable than I expected it to be.

MRI #2 was different. It was at the hospital where my surgery will be taking place. No matronly assistant (although the radiology receptionist was very nice). No plasma screen TV on the waiting room wall with my choice of channels. No offers of drinks or other comforts. The technician calls me back, injects the contrast media, and tells me it should only be about 10 minutes or so. He sticks earplugs in my ears (I guess this means no music), puts my halo on (with the angled mirror again, thank goodness), and rolls me right in up to my knees. No warning - just "try not to move or swallow". (FYI - this will make you want to swallow like crazy!) Luckily I was so exhausted from the early morning shopping that I took the opportunity to nap despite the jet engine noises blasting around me.

So now I have an MRI with VECTOR VISION. Another step toward my treatment. I meet with the neurosurgeon on Thursday to get things set up for my surgery.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Meeting the Neurosurgeon

Today I met with the neurosurgeon. "Yep, looks like some kind of 'glioma'" (another vocabulary word).

Definitely wants to take it out. No, a needle biopsy is not the way to go with this one. Open surgery to remove and biopsy the tumor.

I'm right-handed, which is good. The tumor is in the right temporal lobe, so removing it won't affect my speech or other things controlled by my left brain. But it may affect my memory. (Dangit! Should have kept a better journal!)

They have cool tools to help them be very precise in removing the tumor and minimizing trauma to the rest of the brain. They will do a quick screen of the tissue during surgery, and if there is evidence of malignancy they will put a chemotherapy wafer in my brain before they close it up. Chemo wafer is supposedly better than IV chemotherapy - fewer side effects.

Yes, it does appear to be primary. Yes, they rarely spread beyond the brain. But they can spread within the brain, and that can be bad. So we are hoping that doesn't happen.

Surgery is about 5-6 hours from the family's perspective (from kiss good-bye) and about 3 hours from the incision time. Recovery in the hospital is about 48 hours (first day in ICU, next day in regular bed), and then recovery at home is a couple of weeks. (Note to self: get Christmas shopping done early!!!) There is obviously a lot of pain expected, as they will be making a hole in my skull and digging stuff out of my brain.

I asked the ever-important question about my new highlights, and he said that they will need to shave a good chunk from the side of my head. But since my hair is long, I may be able to hide the spot.

Next steps: another MRI (I pretend I am in astronaut training or something), and an appointment next week to plan the surgery.

Monday, November 21, 2005

I Have a Brain Tumor

It's okay - probably/hopefully - but I have a brain "abnormality" that the neurologist believes is most likely a tumor. Saw it myself as clear as can be on the MRI films. (Guess what? MRI is much more sensitive than a C-T scan, which is why the C-T scan in the ER came back normal. Lesson for the day.)

It's a little more than half the size of my eyeball, in the temporal lobe (which explains the sensations I have been experiencing during seizures). The EEG showed definite seizure activity in the brain, most probably caused by this "abnormality".

Next steps - I have an appointment with a very highly recommended neurosurgeon on Wednesday morning. Although he normally takes months to get into, my neurologist worked his magical influence to get me an appointment before Thanksgiving. He said this is so I can have time to make plans over the holidays, and not because of any urgency relating to the condition. (Trying really hard to believe that...) The neurosurgeon will likely schedule surgery to biopsy (and hopefully just go ahead and remove) the tumor, and we'll see where we go from there. I am still digesting this news, which is somewhat overwhelming, and while I am understandably emotional and feeling quite violated by the presence of this foreign growth in my head, here are some things that are reassuring to me:

1. Based on its appearance, I am told that it is likely to be a "primary" growth, meaning that it probably started in the brain instead of having spread to the brain from some other cancerous source. They may still want to do an organ scan on me, but it's not a major concern at this point.
2. As a rule, tumors in the brain tend to stay in the brain, so at this time there is not a concern that this will quickly spread somewhere else.
3. The location of the abnormality is surgically accessible. The neurologist confirmed this without hesitation.

All in all, the information I have right now makes me think that this is probably (hopefully) not life-threatening, but it is serious and needs to be taken care of. So we are taking care of it. Once the tumor is gone, I will still likely need to stay on antiseizure medication for the rest of my life, which is not my favorite news, as the medication makes me really tired. The doctor said it may get better as my body gets used to it, and we may play with different dosages to help make it more tolerable. But the temporal lobe of the brain is more epileptogenic (vocabulary word of the day) than other parts, and so will likely continue to be seizure prone despite removing the tumor.

So, naturally, after going through all this information, the next very important question I had for the doctor was whether I should keep my haircut and highlight appointment for tomorrow afternoon, or whether it would be a waste of money if I am having my head shaved soon anyway. (We all know our priorities, right?) He said that the way they will probably do it, they won't likely shave me completely bald, so I think I am safe in keeping my appointment!

SEIZE the day

It started with what I call "smell nightmares". Every so often I would awaken in the wee hours of the morning smelling a distinct chemical smell and feeling like I was having a nightmare (except with no memory of a nightmare). My brother later teasingly commented, "Well, you know, with Jared next to you, smelling an unusual smell shouldn't be that surprising!" (Waiting a few moments for Jared to mentally punch my brother!) But it was a weird smell that I can't describe very well. Kind of like cookies, but more chemical-like. Strong enough to make my nose sting and my stomach feel sick.

I don't remember when they started. Maybe a few months ago. Then on a Sunday morning not too long ago, I was getting my daughter ready for church and I suddenly felt very ill, like I was going to faint. I sat down to compose myself, and the smell was there again. I had also had a deja vu type of feeling right before it happened.

After about a minute, the feeling passed, and I was okay for the rest of the day, albeit a little icky feeling and nervous. I called my brother that evening (the one who joked about my husband and the smell) because he is a dermatology resident and the designated person in our family to abuse with requests for free medical advice. He said I should see my doctor, commenting that "maybe you have a brain tumor".

Monday and Tuesday passed without event. I even ran on my treadmill without any problems. I figured it was just one of those things. Maybe an anemia thing, since I am prone to being anemic. They hate that at the bloodmobile when I try to donate.

On Wednesday I had several "episodes" - deja vu, then sick feeling/near faint, then smell - including one while driving. That was scary. After the third episode my husband came home to take me to the emergency room. I had another one on the way there, so he was able to observe me. I never lost consciousness, and was even able to describe what was happening while it was happening.

In the ER they did an ECG, chest x-ray, and C-T scan, all of which came back normal. Bloodwork was also normal. The ER doctor said that it sounded kind of like a seizure, but since I was lucid throughout the episode, and since the C-T scan was normal, he figured it wasn't a seizure. My brother said they should have done an EEG, but they didn't. They sent me home with a big question mark on my forehead. I had another episode that night, and several more in the following days.

On Friday I met with my primary care doctor, who suggested a Holter monitor screening (for possible arrhythmias not detected by ECG) and referred me to a neurologist for an EEG. He didn't think it was seizures either, but thought it would be prudent to check anyway.

The neurologist listened to my description of events, and said, "Sounds like you're having seizures." So much so, that he sent me home with samples of antiseizure medication to hang onto, pending the EEG results. He ordered an EEG and an MRI, which (miraculously) were both accessible that day.

On Saturday night the neurologist called and said to start taking the antiseizure medication, even though he was having some computer problems to prevent seeing the results of my testing.

On Monday morning he called me again. Even though I had a follow-up appointment scheduled for Tuesday, he asked if I could come in that day. He would fit me in somehow. Wanted to talk about my MRI results. I knew this couldn't be good news. Later, his nurse called me to say that she had cancelled the Holter monitor appointment with my primary care doctor. I knew the culprit had been found.

My husband came with me to the neurologist's office, and held my hand while the doctor told me the news. EEG showed definite seizure activity, most likely due to the "abnormality" that could be clearly seen on the MRI film.