By Danielle Endres
In 2012, I was given news that would change our lives. I was diagnosed with Acoustic Neuroma, a benign tumor on the acoustic nerve in the brain. It was already large at about 3 cm and I was to have surgery as soon as possible. Within the next few weeks I would visit several doctors and have various tests before the inevitable brain surgery.
Some call it nerves, some call it premonition, but four days before my surgery I knew something wasn’t right. I was feeling nauseous, dizzy, couldn’t sleep and was restless. My sister had just had a baby and I wanted to confide in her and see what she thought about my symptoms. Instantly she asked, “Have you taken a pregnancy test?” After work that day, I ran to the drugstore to pick up a test and, sure enough, I was pregnant. It was a mixture of joy and dread. Before the diagnosis, my husband and I were newlyweds trying to start a family.
Needless to say, I was to share that information with the rest of my family who knew my surgery was coming up. Our mothers squealed at the prospect of being grandmothers, but my father-in-law, ever practical, expressed deep concern. Was it even safe to have this baby? Would she develop properly? Would I even be alive to see her grow up? Despite his disappointment, my amazing neurosurgeon at the Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute at the Texas Medical Center, Dr. Roc Chen, was able to empathize. He had an 18-month-old son at home. He was able to reassure me that I could have this baby, and if things got bad we would operate in the second trimester.
The following months were filled with worry and changes in my body. As the third trimester began I was developing weakness and pain in my right hand, loss of cognitive function and could not walk independently. My balance was severely compromised and I was unable to walk safely without aid such as a walker and eventually a wheelchair. Like any new mother, I had started making preparations such as a birth plan and medical power of attorney.
Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center was truly a godsend. They had the facilities and expertise to deliver my baby and, if necessary, provide an emergency brain surgery. On June 18, 2013 I delivered my healthy baby girl only a few weeks early via C-section at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. I wish I had a great delivery story, but honestly I was put to sleep and then woke up to my new baby. After an hour of having skin to skin with my little girl, I was whisked away to ICU for observation and she went to the nursery. At that point I was deemed ok to go home in a few days. Over the next couple months I was able to breastfeed and spend some quality time with my new baby girl.
In July we got a sneak peek at my tumor. It had almost doubled in size thanks to the pregnancy hormones. My first brain surgery was scheduled for August 2013 and ended up taking around 21 hours. Due to the complexity of the tumor, which was near several important nerves, Dr. Chen and his team decided it would be best to remove part of the tumor and get the rest a few months later. The length of time to remove the whole thing was too long to do in one procedure.
After the next several weeks I had to re-learn how to swallow, drink liquids, walk, balance, deal with single-sided hearing loss, and just plain adjust to my new normal – even with a newborn. The therapists and staff were amazing. They were able to empathize and provide me the best care possible, both at the hospital and then in the months I spent at TIRR Memorial Hermann Outpatient Rehabilitation at The Woodlands. I had daily visits from physical and occupational therapists, and my doctors and students were able to come by and review my case and speak with me.
In addition, there was silver lining to my situation. The brain tumor had been growing on my auditory nerve, which caused me to become deaf in my right ear prior to the surgery. Now, I could simply lie on my good ear and not hear a thing. This proved extremely helpful having a very fussy newborn who would cry at all hours of the night! After all, rest was important to heal.
I wouldn’t stop my therapy sessions or my in-home visits for another several months. I was so grateful not to be alone. It was easy to get depressed and worry about “why me” in the situation, especially having a newborn that I could barely hold and walk just a few feet. Instead, I was determined to get back to the healthy 30-year-old I knew I could be. That year was a blessing in disguise. Since I could not work, I was able to stay with my daughter for her first year. Friends, family, and medical staff were able to carefully watch over me. That year was also a gift so I could focus on building back my strength and stamina- ultimately improving after so drastic a change.
After that year, I returned to work. A short year later I was given the opportunity to do University Development and Counseling for Grand Canyon University’s College of Nursing and Health Care Professions. This is a perfect way for me to give back and still use my gifts to build up and encourage others.
I’m happy to report that my baby girl is healthy and almost 4 years old. For that, and so much more, I am eternally grateful to be given a second chance. In a few months we are preparing to go on our first true family vacation to Destin, Florida. The beach has eluded me because of my balance issues, but now I am looking forward to chasing my daughter on the shifting sands!
To learn more about brain tumor treatments, visit Memorial Hermann Mischer Neuroscience Institute’s Brain Tumor Center.