October 07, 2015
Neurocytoma couldn't keep me off the stage
BY Amy Rankin
Hi, my name is Amy Rankin. I am a coffee-loving, music-making, photo-taking identical twin. I also am a neurocytoma survivor.
In 2008, after weeks of headaches and dizzy spells that left me sitting on the floor of my office break room, I was diagnosed with a grade II neurocytoma, a type of brain tumor. Mine was the size of a walnut.
Facing neurocytoma at the age of 26, all I could do was focus on the positives, which were:
- It's operable.
- It's benign.
Choosing happiness in the face of my neurocytoma diagnosis
From the moment I stepped foot into MD Anderson, I felt at ease. When I met Sujit Prabhu, M.D., and my nurses, Betsy Hossan and Lori Tolentino, I knew I had the perfect team to help me get back to doing what I loved: singing. My twin sister April and I had just started a country band, and no brain tumor was going to stop me.
April and I are the type of people who choose to be happy every day. Life is messy and we can't control the outcome, but we can control how we react. That's why the day after my diagnosis April threw me a surprise "going away" party for my tumor. Friends and family flew in, we enjoyed cupcakes with walnuts on top (to represent the size of my brain tumor), and April and I even performed with our band in the living room.
My tumor, Wally
Surgery is scary, but not once did I ever think negatively. In my mind there wasn't time for that. I didn't drown myself in research on my condition. I don't think I even wanted to know.
Instead, I decided that I needed to name my tumor. Referring to my brain tumor as a person with my friends and family made a very serious situation a little less serious. It was the one way I could take a little control in a situation that was largely so out of my control. We named my tumor Wally since he was the size of a walnut. Oh, and Wally is a he, because he was causing so many headaches!
Celebrating my tumor-free life
Sept. 23, 2015 was my seventh anniversary of being tumor-free. Although I did have a second surgery that November to remove a cyst caused by Wally, Sept. 23 is a very important day to me. It's the day I can look back and say: I LIVED, I FOUGHT, I WON.
Before surgery, I decided that I was going to be smiling when I woke up. I was determined not to let it take my happiness and attitude away from me. As you can see from my photo, Dr. Prabhu (Love your guts, MD!) was smiling along with me. I can't say enough wonderful things about Dr. Prabhu and the entire ICU floor.
I celebrate my anniversary of being cancer-free every year and try to give back by playing music for others who may need that break from reality. April and I often play at our local children's hospital, and we recently did the same at MD Anderson Children's Cancer Hospital.
While I was preparing for neurocytoma treatment, I don't think I knew what a positive attitude could truly do. But now that I'm on the other side, I realize that the encouragement that I got from my care team, friends and family gave me the confidence to get back on stage as quickly as possible. And I hope my music helps others get back on their own stages -- whatever those may be.
Life is messy and we can't control the outcome, but we can control how we react.