Wendy's Story of Strength

Wendy's Story of Strength

It’s been a year of healing for a North Rustico, PEI family, as August 2012 marked the one-year anniversary of Charlie Dickieson’s passing. Charlie was a loving husband to Wendy and devoted father to his young daughter Moira. Looking back on their time together, Wendy says it was Charlie’s humour that helped their family find the strength to get through the tough times during his diagnosis and treatment. “He was fun, and a great friend and dad. Charlie could always make you laugh, even when he wasn’t feeling the best.”

The Dickiesons’ journey with a brain tumour began in late 2009, when Charlie started getting sinus headaches. Having had them for much of his life, Charlie thought little of the pain. Six months of severe headaches led to two “spells” where Charlie lost gaps of time. “He didn’t like to talk about them,” recalls Wendy, “but he was worried – Charlie said he felt like he would wake up 15 to 20 minutes later but not remember falling asleep.”

Unfortunately, Charlie’s schedule as a truck driver made it difficult to fit in a doctor’s appointment to look into his ongoing health concerns. It was while he was on a trip through Maine in July 2010 that Charlie had a seizure at a truck stop. Fortunately a passerby was in the men’s room at the same time and called 911. “I’ll never forget that call. Charlie phoned and said ‘Dear, I’ve had a spell.’ My answer to him was to ask if he wanted me to come straight away.”

After a preliminary check at a US hospital, Charlie was transferred to Saint John Regional Hospital in New Brunswick where he had an emergency CT scan. The results showed a golfball-sized tumour and two satellite lesions on Charlie’s brain. An MRI quickly followed, and surgery was scheduled for Charlie just four days after the seizure in Maine.

The doctors made a diagnosis based on the resected tumour: Charlie had Grade IV glioblastoma. “We weren’t ready at all for that kind of diagnosis,” says Wendy. “Charlie was amazing and handled everything in stride.” Recovery from his surgery was surprisingly quick, as Charlie and his family began preparing for treatment.

Charlie was to begin his radiation in mid-August, but his symptoms worsened as the first course of treatment drew nearer. He experienced weakness and had balance problems. Because Charlie was growing more ill, the doctors did another scan and found he had severe brain swelling and that the tumour had already grown back.

Prince Edward Island family affected by a brain tumour“They didn’t think he’d make it through treatment,” Wendy remembers. “We talked a lot about what was going to happen, and as soon as Charlie was well enough, we made sure to get our affairs in order.” As soon as medications helped control the swelling around Charlie’s brain, he started his radiation – 4 weeks of treatment, 5 days a week. “One morning he woke up and asked for coffee. That return to normalcy was how I knew he was going to pull through the radiation.”

After his treatment, Charlie continued to experience seizures that would throw off his balance or cause bodily weakness. Knowing the likely prognosis that came with glioblastoma, Charlie made it a priority to celebrate life and spend as much time as possible with Moira and Wendy, with their backyard bonfires and on their porch swing. The couple travelled all over eastern Canada and even got remarried in the small church Charlie’s family attended in Cavendish, PEI.

Wendy says it wasn’t until July 2011 that things escalated. The masses on Charlie’s brain had increased from one to two or three, and at his last MRI, there was a midline shift and the tumours had started growing together. “He kept a positive attitude through it all, it didn’t make a difference that it felt like it was only a matter of time. Most of the time Charlie was happy, he was a kind gentle soul. The prognosis didn’t change that.”

On August 20, 2011 Charlie passed away. There were good days and bad days, as the family learned how to cope with Charlie’s death. It was in April 2012 that Wendy came upon Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada online, discovering the Facebook and Twitter communities, email newsletters and Spring Sprint (now Brain Tumour Walk).

Charlie's Walk in PEI in support of Brain Tumour Foundation of CanadaIn Charlie’s honour and memory, Wendy took on the task of creating Charlie’s Walk as part of the 2012 Spring Sprint Virtual Run.

She found strength in planning the event as a tribute to her late husband, explaining, “It was surprisingly helpful in the healing process, more than I could have ever realized at the time. Charlie wanted to see more done in our community for those with brain tumours, and this way we could do something in his name.”

Charlie’s Walk took place on June 30, 2012, and survivors, patients and supporters of loved ones with brain tumours came from across the PEI region to participate in the day. Wendy plans to host another walk on the same date in 2013.

When asked what she hopes to see in the future, Wendy says an increase in support and information for patients and families is needed, especially in PEI. “I felt so alone at first, with Charlie’s diagnosis, like no one understood what we were going through. More volunteers and more resources would go a long way to helping others know they are not alone.”

Thank you to Wendy for sharing her story of strength in honour of her husband Charlie.

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 Story posted: October 2012. Since then, Brain Tumour Awareness Month has moved to May.

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