Feeling Mortal


Nothing like upcoming brain surgery to keep a person humble.

Photo by National Cancer Institute on Unsplash

My, what an interesting place to find myself on this journey of life.

I think I have mentioned that I have a benign tumor on my right acoustic nerve. It’s called an acoustic neuroma. It’s pretty rare, as it happens in about 1 in 100,000 people in the US annually. Lucky me!

Because I am always worried about how my reactions will impact other people, I have been working very hard to stay calm since my diagnosis in April. It wasn’t hard, actually, because I don’t have a lot of symptoms, and it was easy to pretend it wasn’t there. Sure, I have lost about half of the hearing in my right ear, but that can be alleviated by sitting to the left of my friends. I am off-balance, but as a clumsy, chubby old lady, that hasn’t been so hard to deal with, either.

I have made my doctor’s appointments, gone to my CT and MRI scans, talked with audiologists, ENT specialists and PTs. Calm, on top of things, that’s been me.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I’ve said to my kids. “It isn’t cancer.”

But.

I am now two days away from meeting “my” neurosurgeon. And at odd moments in the day, I think, “Wait, I have a NEUROSURGEON??????” I have researched the upcoming procedure and have talked to my ENT. And I know that I have to go into a Boston hospital (only 1 1/2 hours away, but it feels like a foreign land). I will undergo roughly 8 hours of “microsurgery” through the bone behind my ear. When I wake up in the ICU, I will be dizzy, nauseous and in pain.

I’ll have to stay in there, far from home, for about 4-5 days. I may not be able to walk without assistance for a few weeks. I may not be able to drive for months. I will lose all of the hearing my right ear,, becoming totally deaf on that side.

I have been a singer with various local choirs for years. I love to sing. I am learning to play the violin and have made a lot of progress. I am a speech pathologist; I live by the auditory world. All of that feels threatened now.

None of this is life-threatening. I should be much calmer. I know two young, brave moms who are facing life-threatening cancer. I have a brother undergoing cancer treatments and a nephew undergoing years of treatment for leukemia.

But I am realizing something this week:

I do not know how to be that brave.

I’m afraid of being unconscious for a whole day. I’m afraid of being out of control. I’m afraid of the pain and the weakness. I am terribly afraid of who is going to come home from the hospital.

None of this feels like “me”.

I want to get up in some strange public place and shout out, “Wait!!!!! I can’t have brain surgery! I’m Nonni!”

Mostly, I am so terribly afraid that I won’t be strong or stable enough to take care of my sweet baby Max. I am so terribly afraid that after I have this surgery, I won’t be me. I won’t be myself.

All of this has me thinking about life. And about death. About what is really important.

I feel so mortal.

I am sad, too, that I’m going through my first medical crisis without my Mommy. Sure, I’m 66! I’m gray-haired. I’m a grandma! But as I try to be brave about the scariest thing I’ve ever faced, I I still wish that had my Mom to tell me it will all be OK.

If any of you have been through acoustic neuroma surgery, can you let me know how it went???