By Kiersten Aschauer
When I woke up in the hospital in 2002 – not knowing where I was or how I got there – the last thing I was thinking was “brain tumor.” Migraines, yes. Memory problems, definitely. But brain tumor? The doctors had no idea yet whether it was benign or cancerous (though they had a good idea that if it was cancerous, I was looking at a five-year lifespan).
I only knew I had one thought: Get this thing out of my head.
Perhaps I wasn’t as graceful as Sheryl Crow, who revealed she has a benign meningioma. “Please don’t worry about my ‘brain tumor,’ it’s a non-cancerous growth,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “Really appreciate everyone’s love and concern, I feel so blessed to have the support of all my fans, but I’m good – really!”
Knowing what I do now about brain tumors, my hope is that Crow doesn’t have to undergo brain surgery or radiation. I hope her condition doesn’t result in seizures, or vision and memory problems, as some meningiomas do. Of course, many symptoms have to do with where the tumor resides; what part of the brain it applies pressure upon.
According to the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA), meningiomas represent about one-third of all primary brain tumors, occurring most frequently in middle-aged women. They are often slow-growing — many people live a good majority of their lives not even knowing they have one.
My tumor, as it turned out, was orange-sized and cancerous. It wasn’t a meningioma, like Crow has. It was a stage II oligodendraglioma. But before I even knew that – before I went in for my surgery — I had a decision to make. I could go one of two ways:
- I could let my surgeon remove the tumor. The negative? I might lose my speech or other functions.
- I could elect for an awake craniotomy. In this case, the neurosurgeon uses brain mapping techniques to avoid cutting away parts of the brain that would affect my speech or motor skills.
I went with the latter. If I was going to live, I was going to I choose quality vs. quantity of life.
Unfortunately, my cancer only stayed quiet for two years after surgery, then returned again in 2004, resulting in many months of radiation and chemotherapy. Is it still stage II? I don’t even know, because my doctors haven’t had to go back into my noggin to see.
For now, I simply celebrate 8 years of “no change” MRIs. It’s the best I can ask for and I’ll take it.
Like so many women before me – and much like Sheryl Crow did with her breast cancer six years ago – cancer definitely changed the fabric of who I am. I’m stronger for it. I’m more empathetic. I’m just a completely different person. And I’ll take that, too.