I was first diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 19 on February 11, 2008. I was having headaches so my pediatrician sent me to get a CT scan. He said it’s "probably nothing" but go get one anyway. I went in to get my CT scan with my brother and my mom that Monday night. I was still in my work clothes because I assumed it was going to be quick and they‘d call me with the results. Well, when I got out of my scan, I remember putting on my jacket, getting ready to go home and wait for a phone call with results reading "normal." But, the receptionist came up to me and said, “You can’t leave.” I got a little scared but I was more confused than anything. Then my pediatrician was called and he got on the phone with me and explained that they saw something on my scan and I had to go to the ER. That’s when I got freaked out. In the five-minute walk to get downstairs, the rest of my family and my then-boyfriend (now-husbnd) were informed. When I met the neurosurgeon he informed me, “You have a brain tumor and it needs to be removed.” I was horrified; I balled my eyes out. Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma. He told me that “if you have to have a brain tumor, you want this one,” because it was benign (a funny word in the wolrd of brain tumors/cancer) and it would be cured with surgery. Two short days later, I went in for surgery. I didn’t wake up for 2 weeks, and when I did, my head was shaved and I couldn’t walk. I was lost. Thats really all I remember, my brain blocked out all of my time in the hospital. I guess its a coping mechinism.
After several months of hard work, I was able to get my life back on track. I relearned how to do almost everything through occupational and physical therapy. I was able to walk again and I was able to return to school. Taking only one semester off due to brain surgery wasn’t too bad in my book. I went back to COD that fall and transferred to ISU in the spring. I graduated with my bachelors in 2011, and thought life was good.
Fast-forward to August 2013. Life was even better: I was getting married to the love of my life in 2 short months, we just bought our first home, and I finally got my first teaching job. I went in for a routine check up MRI. I went home, thinking nothing of it. “A watched pot never boils.” Plus, this thing isn’t supposed to come back. It’s cured. About a week later, I get a call from my neurosurgeon’s nurse asking me to come in the next day. I try to explain to her I just started a new job and I don’t feel like taking sick days. She said my doctor said it was urgent and I had to come in. So in my second week of school at my new job, I have to explain to my boss my medical history and how I am so sorry I am already using a sick day. My fiancé and my mom come with me to the hospital to meet with my surgeon who tells us, “It’s back.” Those words made my heart sink and the three of us just cried. We didn’t know what to do or think. Although the phone call made me suspect it, I was still shocked.
The doctor wanted to plan surgery for the next month. I obviously didn’t want to because I was supposed to get married in two. The doctor said it would be fine and told me to enjoy the happy things in life. So I did. I got married, spent time with my family that came in from Italy, enjoyed the holidays with my families, and went on my honeymoon. The doctor said recovery should be easy because I’ve been through this once before. I had planned to return to work by April.
On January 14, 2014, I had another craniotomy to remove my second tumor. Recovery wasn’t as easy as planned. Although the amount of time spent in the actual hospital was less, I went through speech therapy until April, Occupational Therapy until May, and Physical Therapy until August. I was challenged with double vision, inability to walk again, ataxia and weakness in my left side (just to name a few of my challenges). This one was called a Ganglioglioma. Still "benign," although they later told me its Stage 1, Grade 1. I'm blessed to know its not life threatening and that it's not supposed to come back.
I went in for a post surgery MRI in early June where they found another bright, white dot on my MRI. The doctor suggested proton therapy, which is the most advanced type of radiation. After several second opinions, we decided to do proton therapy for 6 weeks and began at the end of July. All of this forced me to yet again put my life on hold, and take a year leave from work. Treatment didn’t go too smoothly, because the machine broke and I had to go to Oklahoma City for a few days to continue treatment. I returned home and “graduated” from protons at the end of August.
Things were finally beginning to look good again. I was done with protons, done with therapy, and I was able to drive again. Slowly things are getting back to normal. In December, I returned to speech therapy in hopes of getting back to my old self and hopefully return to work full time soon. Shortly after, I took up some more physical therapy, in hopes of getting back some balance and coordination.
With my second surgery, I faced several more complications. Even today, 3 years later, I’m still fighting challenges caused by this beast. My life has changed a lot in these past 3 years and I’m still learning my new normal. I am determined to never give up; never to take this sitting down.
I’ve participated in this walk every year since I was first diagnosed. I walk for many reasons: I walk for me. I walk for other patients/victims/survivors. But most importantly I walk to raise awareness in hopes of finding a cure. I pray that I never go through this again and that no one else does either. It is a terrible disease that ruins lives. Please support myself, with my family and friends as we walk!
Thanks for visiting my American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) Team Marialisa page. I've committed to participating in the ABTA Run/Walk on April 23, 2017, and fundraising for this worthwhile organization. The money I raise will help support the research and patient/family support programs of ABTA. I'll be one of thousands participating that in this amazing and successful event.
I hope I can count on your support. You can make a donation to my fundraising campaign here by clicking on the button. If you prefer to write a check, just contact me.
About the American Brain Tumor Association
Founded in Chicago in 1973, ABTA was the first national, nonprofit organization dedicated solely to brain tumors. Today, ABTA is a leader in research, education and support. In 2008, ABTA awarded more than $2.6 million to brain tumor researchers searching for better treatments, and ultimately, a cure, and more than 1.3 million services and resources to brain tumor patients and their families.