I wasn’t planning on writing about my benign brain tumor, but it’s been four months since the diagnosis and things are good. It was after reading an article in the New England Journal of Medicine (Volume 357, No.18, Nov.1, 2007); I figured it was time to talk about it. It turns out that 1 in 60 people over the age of sixty are walking around with “incidental brain tumors” — they are benign and totally asymptomatic.
Sometimes, however, they do become symptomatic, as mine did this summer when I experienced pounding headaches and dizziness. Because it was Phoenix at the peak of summer heat, I thought I was dehydrated and drank lots of fluids which didn’t help. My wife insisted I have it checked-out before I left to work in Europe.
My doctor immediately ordered an MRI of the brain. When he called with the results, he said there was nothing keeping me from making the trip, but that there was something . . . “You have a brain tumor.” He went on to say that he was almost certain it was benign, sitting at the base of my skull and pressing on my auditory nerve, which explained the dizziness. But I didn’t hear much after the words “you have a brain tumor.”
My first reaction was maybe they misread the films or they belonged to somebody else. My doctor, an old friend, assured me he was 99% sure it was benign, but wanted me to see a neurosurgeon when I returned from Europe. It gave me time to reflect on life, the choices I’ve made (and those still to be made), fears, unfinished business, hopes, and to talk about it with my family and friends.
The neurosurgeon agreed the small mass was benign and did not recommend surgery. If anything had to be done, he suggested the new cyber-knife (highly focused, external beam radiation). He referred me to a Neuro-otologist, an ENT surgeon specializing only in the inner ear, who said I should do vestibular exercises. These exercises alleviate symptoms in at least half his patients; they retrain the brain to compensate for the confusing signals it is getting. I’m a strong believer in non-interventional medicine, but I had considerable skepticism that moving my eyes rapidly, rotating my head, neck and torso, turning, and balancing would cure my vertigo. There was also the nagging sense that even if it was benign and slow-growing, why not just get it out and over with.
I did the exercises twice a day, and asked my relatives to join me in a healing circle. I was prayed for, danced with, blessed by distant healers, and ate tumor-shrinking mushrooms that my daughter farms. Within weeks the dizziness disappeared, and I’ve been symptom free for three months. They’ll do another MRI in six months to see if the tumor is growing, but they think it’s been there for many years and won’t grow.
What I understand is this: whatever my afflictions, I only have to pay attention to them when they interfere with living. Then I have to decide it’s I who have it, and not it that has me and choose to do the work it takes to get better. Whether the work is a physical exercise, or a dietary, mental, surgical, or spiritual one, do it with commitment and the support of others.
Nobody makes it alone. I want to say thank you to all my relations and to my Uboontu. I am because you are.