In February 2007, I began having headaches. My youngest daughter was about six weeks old and did not have a sleeping routine, so I blamed my headaches on lack of sleep.
In April, I went to see a family physician for a neurological exam; everything was normal. I felt relieved.
However, my headaches got worse. I blamed it on stress and anxiety. In September, I went to a neurologist and, again, everything came back normal.
On Nov. 15, I decided to have a CT scan of my brain.
My scary diagnosis and surgery
My cell phone rang and it was the neurologist. There was something very large in my brain and I needed an MRI.
The MRI confirmed there was a tumor located close to where my headaches had been. Looking at the images of my brain, I thought my life as I knew it was over.
Within three weeks, I had surgery and a diagnosis -- grade 3 anaplastic ependymoma. The first two days after surgery were pretty rough. I was scared out of my mind.
My first night in the ICU, I had a nervous breakdown. My ICU nurse sat with me, held my hand and said he would pray for me. I still pray for him every day.
The good news was that my neurosurgeon removed the entire tumor and the cancer had not spread to my spine, but I would need further treatment.
In January 2008, six weeks after surgery, I started radiation. My hair fell out, but I had a hat from my honeymoon that I thought brought me good luck.
In April, I went to MD Anderson. My neuro-oncologist, Mark Gilbert, M.D., said that my MRI looked good. There were post-radiation scars, but no cancer.
I had a wonderful summer.
Return of the tumor
In September, I had a standard follow-up MRI, which showed the tumor had returned. I started chemotherapy -- a combination of Lapatinib and Temodar. It made me very sick at first and then really tired.
In December, I had another MRI, which showed that the tumor in my brain had grown. Doctors stopped the "cocktail" that I was on and started me on a different chemotherapy drug called Cisplastin. I also took a medication that blocks the growth of blood cells called Avastin.
After six months of treatment I returned to Dr. Gilbert, who said, "The tumor is gone. Now we watch." For more than three years now my MRIs have all been good.
Cancer is life-changing
From the time of diagnosis through treatment I was really depressed. Although my depression lifted after my tumor was gone, moving forward after treatment was really hard for me.
Cancer caused me to lose a significant part of my vision -- I am half-blind in both eyes. I can't drive, I need large print books and my daughters like getting away with things that I can't see them doing.
I also had to stop working as a lawyer. I could not keep up with the amount of small-print reading that my job required. I still miss my job and the people I worked with, but I stay in touch; social interaction is very good for me.
The upside is that I spend a lot more time with my family, especially my daughters. After my diagnosis, the thing I feared the most was that I would not be here with my girls as they grew up. Now, I walk them to school every day and volunteer at their school.
I've also tried to do things that I did not have time to do before. I learned to cook, got back into yoga, started running and took a French class.
My cancer experience has made me a better person. I'm more confident. I trust myself and know that if something goes wrong, I can fix it.
My two cents
"Never, never, never give up." -- Sir Winston Churchill.
When I am waiting for my imaging test results -- I have MRIs every six months -- I always tell myself, "If it comes back, then I will beat it again."
I'm a survivor. There are other survivors and you can survive, too.
Give yourself time to freak out, cry, believe that all is lost, but then start acting. Talk to your doctor, get a second opinion and make an informed decision about your treatment.
After my first visit to MD Anderson, I learned about the CERN (Collaborative Ependymoma Research Network) Foundation. I get on the website regularly to learn about new clinical trials, events like the butterfly release and read about other people who've been affected by ependymoma.