36: I Will Get Back Up Again

36: I Will Get Back Up Again

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

I Will Get Back Up Again

When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hold on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.

~Harriet Beecher Stowe

When I opened my eyes, I saw four of everything. They were saying, “Open your eyes, Sarah, open your eyes!” So I did, but all I kept wondering was, why would anyone hang four clocks on the wall? I dragged my eyes left and saw four doors. Something came into view in front of my face, but it was out of focus—four out-of-focus faces. Actually, it was one face out of focus four times. It was my doctor, but I only knew that by his comforting voice, which said, “Sarah, the surgery is over, and you are okay.”

Being diagnosed with a brain tumor is not something you can prepare for. It knocks you down like a giant wave at the beach hitting you from behind. You spin and flip and sputter and gasp for air. And then somehow, your head emerges from the water and you breathe again, with salt stinging your eyes and sand in your hair. You breathe and you walk toward the shore in tiny steps, hoping that another wave doesn’t hit you.

I was diagnosed with a meningioma in 2004. Meningiomas are benign tumors that can still have dire consequences. They have a similar survival rate as breast cancer. Mine was discovered when a neurologist sent me for an MRI for daily headaches that wouldn’t respond to medication. After the MRI, the technician handed me a copy of the MRI pictures. In the car, I pulled them out to look at them, thinking it would be neat to see what the inside of my brain looked like. In the middle of it, I saw a white blob. I picked up my cell phone and called my husband. “I have a brain tumor, and I think I’m going to die,” I told him.

The neurosurgeon told me that there was good news and bad news. The good news was that I was relatively young, which increased my chances of survival. The bad news was that the tumor was growing in a very bad place, pressing against my brain stem. If the tumor continued to grow against the brain stem, it could compromise basic functions such as breathing and swallowing. Because the surgery was very risky, the doctor wanted to be sure the tumor was in a growth pattern before proceeding with surgery.

By summer 2005, it was clear that the meningioma was growing, and the risks of waiting outweighed the risks of surgery. My surgery would be done at Johns Hopkins with one of the best neurosurgeons in the world. I had faith in his experienced hands. My greatest fear was leaving my three little girls, ages three, seven, and nine. The neurosurgeon was honest with me about all of the things that could go wrong in surgery and that there was a possibility of disability or even death. I spent the last month before surgery making memory boxes for each of my girls, so that they would remember their years with me if something should happen.

So, early that morning, I had walked into the hospital with my husband by my side, not knowing what the outcome of my surgery would be. It took a minute for what the doctor had said to register. I was okay. I had made it through the surgery. The Surgery. That was why it felt like the right side of my head had a spike driven through it. But I was alive.

“Can you see me?” the doctor asked.

“Yes,” I answered. “I can see four of you.”

He chuckled. “Oh, I think one of me is definitely enough,” he said.

The time in the hospital was a blur of pain and dizziness. After discovering I was allergic to the pain medications that were allowed after craniotomies, I was left to travel the ocean of pain on my own. I remember telling myself, if you can’t get through it from one minute to the next, then get through it from one second to the next.

I had to have complete quiet and darkness. Any sound, smell, or sight jarred my damaged brain too much. My husband sat quietly by my bed for all those days, waiting for me to be able to bear voices again. Slowly, my quadruple vision went to triple vision and then to double vision. My unbearable headaches became bearable. They took the sign off my door that warned I was not allowed to move out of my bed without assistance because of vertigo. And I fought my way back to the land of the living, all because I was desperate to see my daughters again.

When I was released from the hospital, I still had double vision and an unrelenting headache. Memory and processing problems haunted me, but the sight of my house and my girls healed me in a way that I never could have healed in a hospital room. The road to recovery has been long, and it has been bumpy, but I have never stopped believing that I could do it. I didn’t want that brain tumor to rob me of one more day.

I still go for MRIs every six months. The neurosurgeon is watching changes in the area of the surgery that may be re-growth of the tumor. There is talk about radiation oncologists and six weeks of radiation. I know there may be another wave looming, ready to knock me off my feet. But I am calm, and I am strong. I have learned how much strength there is in me, and I know that whatever knocks me down won’t keep me down. I will continue to get back up again.

~Sarah Clark Monagle

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