It was August 1997.
I had just turned 18 and was fresh out of High School. My mom was 44 and about to have her complete world shattered, twisted and broken.
In July of ’97 my mother switched doctors, she wanted a second opinion about headaches she was having. The new doctor ran some tests and discovered that my mom had a grape fruit size tumor located on the top of her brain. It was a Benign Meningioma (non cancerous brain tumor). The doctor told her she needed immediate surgery and could stroke out and die anytime between now and then. They scheduled surgery for August 25, 1997. In that month before the surgery she got all of her testing done to get things ready for the big day.
Surgery took place at Broadway Methodist in Merriville Indiana and was done by Dr. Hytham Rifai.
Dr. Rifai is associated with many hospitals in N.W. Indiana and The University of Chicago.
Many family members gathered in the waiting area the day of surgery. We were told there was a 50-50 chance of survival and that they had no idea how she would recover or what parts of her brain may be affected. Surgery lasted about 10 1/2 hours. Friends and family passed the time waiting anxiously to hear any news.
Surgery was done, my mom had made it through. She wasn’t out of the woods yet, they still didn’t know how she would be affected. During surgery they had to shut down her complete system. The tumor was attached to the main artery in her brain. The couldn’t remove it all because it would have caused her to bleed to death. They had to use the defibrillators twice while she was on the table to keep her with us. They removed what they could of the tumor, placed a titanium steel plate in her head and closed her back up.
I will never forget seeing my mom for the first time after her surgery. She opened her eyes to look at me and it shook me. Her eyes looked scared, wild even. Like an animal that was confused and hurt. She couldn’t talk yet and I can’t begin to imagine how she felt. She doesn’t remember this first encounter with me but I will never forget.
They let us in to see her in small groups and as she slowly came around she was able to nod her head slightly as the nurse asked her if she knew who we were.
Gradually her voice came back to her. Her balance and abilities to walk didn’t. Where the tumor was located on the brain stole her balance from her. She had to learn to walk all over again, and will never regain her balance. She has to use a walker, wheel chair or some other form of support to get around for the rest of her life. She can’t bend over to pick something up without help. She can’t stand to dress herself.
She spent a total of 9 weeks in the hospital. 3 weeks in ICU and 6 more weeks doing in-patient rehab. Upon coming home she had to bring a hospital bed with her, couldn’t go to the restroom alone and needed a lot of help.
Unfortunately the struggle was just beginning.
Once my mother was released to come home, within a couple weeks she had to move out again. My father decided to divorce her and have his new girlfriend move in. My mom had to take her hospital bed, medical equipment and broken body to go live with a friend. The house belonged to my father’s parents and my mom had no strength to fight to stay there. She was focused on her physical recovery. I have two older brothers and while both have helped her out here and there, they were not able to take her in at that time (nor could I being so young myself). Her friend Karen was an angel taking her in and continues to help and support my mom today. My mom and dad didn’t have the best relationship and would have eventually divorced anyway, but if the situation was reversed, my mom would have stuck by my dad and cared for him. My dad could have waited and handled the whole situation with a little more grace and class. They were married for 23 years before he split right after her surgery.
While trying to recover from being physically broken down, she now had to deal with heartbreak and an ugly divorce. Her world was completely flipped upside down and shattered. Everything she had known before was ripped from her and she was left trying to build herself back up the best she could.
It wasn’t long before I also moved in with my mom and her friend. The three of us did what we could to get by, while Karen and I did what we could to help my mom heal in all ways possible. Divorce can be hard to begin with – add to that becoming disabled and physically restricted and your whole perspective and world changes. Both of my oldest brothers had already started their adult lives and were out of the house when this happened and while they did try to help occasionally, they were preoccupied with creating their own lives. As her only daughter and the youngest I have often felt the responsibility has naturally been left up to me. I thank God for her friend Karen who has helped her through it all and in doing so has helped me as well.
My mom didn’t come out of this whole situation unmarked. She will be on seizure medicine for life and will never have any balance. Besides her now permanent physical disability, the emotional trauma she suffered has impacted her life just as much. While various family members have helped a little here and there, it has been myself and her friend Karen that have gotten her though the day to day and the moments when she was wanting to just give up. I will never forget those 2am conversations, giving her reasons why she’s still here, and should take her meds. Hours spent convincing her life was still worth living. While I was not able to physically support my mom during the first years ( I was young and irresponsible) I was always there for her emotionally. I have helped carry her emotional burden for years. More so than anyone in her life. I still try to help her carry it from time to time. She has some issues, we all do. I can’t fix them for her, but I sure have been there to help her bear them and I will for the rest of her life. She’s my mama, and she’s a fighter. One of the strongest women I know. I don’t always agree with her, but no matter what, she was there for me growing up, I’ll be there for her while she gets old. Problems and all. She didn’t give up on me, I won’t give up on her.
My mom still goes through yearly testing to monitor the piece of tumor left behind. In 2003 they found it to be growing again and preformed the first ever Gamma Knife Surgery in Northern Indiana on her. It was a success. It shrunk the tumor back down and stopped it’s growth. She is still monitored every year. She will need physical therapy for the rest of her life as well. While she was able to recover more than they thought she would (they thought she would never walk again even with support) – she will never be the same.
It’s been over 20 years since her surgery. The affects will last her lifetime. She is a huge risk for falls (no balance) and if she were to hit her head just right, it could be over for her.
She turned 67 this last January and every year I can wish her a Happy Birthday is a blessing. Life isn’t easy for her, she struggles still emotionally and physically but she is a survivor.
I can only hope that I would be able to overcome what she has if I were ever to be put in her situation. No matter the struggle, you can keep fighting.
Some words straight from my Moms (Kay’s) mouth:
What was the scariest thing about going into surgery: “I wasn’t scared. I figured if God wanted me to live, I would live. If I was gonna die, at least I would be put under and have no idea…”
What are your first memories after Surgery: “I remember going every night at 11pm to have an MRI done… Every. Single. Night.”
What was the Hardest thing about Recovery: “Learning everything all over again like a newborn. That and dealing with what your Dad was putting me through. I never would have done that to him. I felt very, very alone in the world.”
This piece published with permission. This piece covers personal experience from someone closest to the situation. Mine. It is my own point of view and it is shared with my mom. We both discussed this piece in great length before posting. If you feel offended or left out, perhaps you need to ask yourself why – and where you really were during the hardest times because I surely didn’t see you that much and I lived in the situation. I’ve written what I witnessed for myself, not what people wish to believe.