Overworked, or something more?
During the summer of 2015, I was working as the vice president of external affairs at a nonprofit legal organization in Washington, D.C., when I noticed a distinct change in my energy levels. More and more, I was coming to work late and leaving work early with debilitating headaches.
“I was coming to work late and leaving work early with debilitating headaches.”
After consulting with 4 different doctors, I was told I was suffering from anything from dehydration to sinus infections. My family, friends, and colleagues thought I was overworked, overstressed, and in need of rest. Deep down, I knew it was something more. Following my intuition, I resigned from my high-profile job and moved to Texas to be near my family.
How a doctor’s visit became a trip to the ER
In December, I said goodbye to my colleagues, packed up my office, and left the job to which I had passionately devoted the past several years of my life. All that was left was for me to attend a final appointment with my endocrinologist and then make the drive with my friend from D.C. to Texas, following my dad in the moving van.
That day, as I parked my car at my doctor’s office, I suffered a seizure. Instead of going to my doctor’s appointment, I went to the emergency room. A CAT scan revealed the bad news, and an MRI showed a lime-sized tumor in my right frontal lobe. The neurosurgeon agreed that my best option was to get treatment in Texas where my family could be present to support me.
The move back to Texas … and a diagnosis
The weekend of my arrival was a blur. I was still completely ignorant of just how bad the news was. I recoiled every time I heard a story of someone with a brain tumor surviving after 2 years, 5 years, or even 10 years.
I was only 36 years old. I had visions of living well into my nineties, like my grandparents had. It was hard to imagine I might not make it to age 40.
“I could no longer deny my prognosis, so I became determined to do everything I could to survive.”
After my surgery, I recovered well enough to have a late Christmas dinner with my family. As the new year began, I received the diagnosis of glioblastoma (GBM).
I could no longer deny my prognosis, so I became determined to do everything I could to survive, which started with a 6-week course of radiation concurrent with daily chemotherapy. It was horrific, but perhaps not for the reasons you might think.
Acceptance and treatment
After spending years tirelessly serving others through my nonprofit efforts, accepting that I had to be selflessly served by others was a complete shock to my system. I found myself having to suddenly stop, reluctantly rest, and let others take care of me.
It took everything within me to see the radiation and chemotherapy through to its conclusion. But I was so grateful to have my family there.
The question we all had was, “What else can we do beyond chemo and radiation?” So, I was encouraged when my neurosurgeon told me about Optune at a follow-up appointment.
I liked the idea of a treatment that wasn’t a pill or radiation because I didn’t handle chemo very well. I didn’t worry about shaving my head. The bottom line was that I wanted to do whatever I could do to survive.
Naturally, I was concerned about how using Optune would impact my lifestyle: How would I sleep, drive, bathe? Would I be able to travel to my alma mater to accept my award? Would people stare at me in public? Would it generate unwanted comments? How would I respond to questions?
Learning to use Optune
My nCompass™ Device Support Specialist (DSS) came to my home and trained me as well as my mom, my dad, and my sister-in-law. Gradually, I learned how to integrate Optune into my life.
“I can easily sleep, drive, and bathe while using Optune.”
I found I was able to use Optune for the recommended amount of about 18 hours a day. I can easily sleep, drive, and bathe while using Optune.
If it’s a day where I am changing out my arrays (about every other day for me), I remove the arrays, shower, and wash my head before placing them back on. Other days, I disconnect the wires and wrap them around my head and place the shower cap provided by nCompass over my head and the wires, so the arrays don’t get wet.
A return to work and travel
As time went on, I began to see blessings in this otherwise unpleasant experience. With my doctor’s permission, I started working again, and I could even travel.
I was able to fly to my alma mater where I accepted that award. In light of what I’d been through the past year, the award took on greater meaning. That day, I quoted my personal hero, Olympic gold medalist Eric Liddell, who was portrayed in the Oscar-winning movie, Chariots of Fire:
“Circumstances may appear to wreck our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins. Our broken lives are not lost or useless. God’s love is still working. He comes in and takes the calamity and uses it victoriously, working out His wonderful plan of love.”
A new way to live
Out of the calamity of being diagnosed with GBM, I have found a new way to live. Today, I am happy. I embrace my reality instead of denying it. With the support of my friends, family, and physicians, I am beating GBM. I look forward to many more joyous years of being with family, doing work I love, and serving others.