December 06, 2017
How a brain tumor taught me to embrace myself
BY Brooke Kotrla
My whole life changed in June 2017. I had just finished my sophomore year at Texas Tech University. My life seemed pretty simple. I went to class, worked out, hung out with friends, and focused on my body and on fitness.
Then, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.
Staying in shape, despite difficult brain tumor symptoms
For a few years before my brain tumor diagnosis, I’d had some strange symptoms. I was always tired. Things just seemed to be so much harder than they used to be. During my freshman year of college, I had terrible headaches and a fever for over a month. I was diagnosed with mono, so I never got an MRI. I’d always enjoyed dancing, but I left my dance team at Texas Tech after the season ended because I knew I couldn’t commit to the extensive schedule. I just didn’t feel good enough.
My body and appearance were always extremely important to me. So, in 2016, I switched from competitive dancing to lifting weights, which didn’t require as much memory or focus. Then, I started getting headaches almost every day. By spring 2017, I could barely get through the day. I stopped hanging out with friends because I didn’t have the energy. I would go to class, nap, workout and go straight to bed. My right arm started to go numb fairly often. I began to have visions that looked like blurry rainbows and often felt like I was floating. After finals ended I had so much pressure in my head that I couldn’t move my neck.
Coming to MD Anderson for brain tumor treatment
My symptoms continued after I came home for the summer, and my mom knew something wasn’t right. In May 2017, we went to a local emergency room, where I was finally diagnosed with a 7-cm brain tumor. The doctors wanted to transfer me to another hospital, but my mom knew that I should go to MD Anderson for the best brain tumor treatment.
A few days later, I had a 10-hour brain surgery under the care of neurosurgeon Fredrick Lang, M.D., who’d met us at the hospital when I was transferred to MD Anderson at 2 a.m. a few days earlier. I had 34 seizures during surgery, so some of my tumor was still left in my brain. After surgery, my brain tumor was diagnosed as a grade II diffuse astrocytoma. This fall, I finished six weeks of proton therapy with radiation oncologist Erik Sulman, M.D., Ph.D., and egg harvesting to preserve fertility with Terri Woodard, M.D.. Now, I’m undergoing a year of oral chemotherapy (Temodar) with neuro-oncologist John de Groot, M.D.
A new perspective on body image
After my brain tumor diagnosis, I realized I didn’t know how long I had here on Earth. I regretted being so focused on my looks. Over the last few years, I was always tired, and I spent the only energy I had in the gym. Working out is good for you, but I took it to a level where it ruled over my life. While I’m proud of my fitness accomplishments, my life was unbalanced.
Because of surgery and radiation, I lost half of my hair. I have my normal hair on the right and none on the left. Being half bald is pretty cool. It’s part of who I am in this season of my life, and it shows how strong I’ve become through these past months.
Going through this emotional summer made me embrace who I am. I still exercise to keep in shape and for general health, but I’m not obsessing over it anymore. I’ve had time to dive deeper into my relationship with God, and I have faith in a greater outcome in the end. Looks don’t matter, but family, relationships and life experiences do. I’m not thankful for cancer, but I am so thankful for what it is teaching me.
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TopicsSupport Diagnosis Proton Therapy Symptoms Brain Tumor Treatment Diagnostic Imaging Fertility Surgery Chemotherapy
I’m not thankful for cancer, but I am so thankful for what it is teaching me.