The Gareaus' Story: “Stay Positive and Count Your Blessings”

The Gareaus' Story: “Stay Positive and Count Your Blessings”

Mike and Danka are childhood sweethearts who have faced life’s hardships time and time again. Throughout 30 years of marriage, two children and several health scares, the Deep River, ON couple has stayed strong, choosing to be positive about their circumstances, no matter what. And even when Mike and Danka heard those two heart-stopping words, “brain tumour,” they didn’t let it change their outlook on life.

The Gareau family’s brain tumour journey began when Mike had a seizure on September 12, 2013. “At first, everyone thought it was a stroke,” Danka explains. “But when Mike had a second seizure in the ambulance and then another in our local emergency room, a stroke no longer fit the bill.” A CT scan followed, and then came a videoconference with a Toronto-based neurosurgeon. That’s when Mike and Danka were told the seizures were caused by a large lesion on Mike’s brain, near the area controlling his motor functions. With lots of swelling around the mass, no final diagnosis was given at that time. The couple was put into another ambulance and sent to Ottawa Hospital for further care. There Mike had a second CT scan to rule out the possibility of lesions elsewhere in his body. As he underwent his third scan, this time an MRI, Danka and other members of their close-knit family anxiously waited for the results. Gathered in a cubicle in the hospital’s emergency department, a resident shared the news about Mike’s health. “She said it was an invasive brain tumour and it wasn’t good,” recalls Danka. “It was September 13th and that’s when the world went still. Our lives changed forever.”

A long five days lay ahead as the swelling in Mike’s head had to go down before surgery was an option. Danka and Mike took that time to tell their children about the brain tumour, and every night Danka would squish into Mike’s hospital bed and drift off to sleep with him. “They weren’t the most comfortable nights we’ve ever had,” Danka adds laughingly, “but it was good to be together, to be each other’s towers of strength.” Goodbyes were shared, just in case things didn’t go well with surgery. Finally, on September 18, Mike had his awake craniotomy and most of the tumour was removed. Recovery from the operation went well and three days later, the couple was sent home. After the surgery and a tumour biopsy, Danka and Mike were given the official diagnosis: the mass in Mike’s brain was glioblastoma multiforme.

Six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation were next for Mike, and support for the Gareaus began to pour in from family and friends. The freezer, still stocked months later with casseroles and soups made by loved ones, stands as an example of the immense care the community has for Mike and Danka. “It isn’t always easy to accept compassion, but the little things, the meals and such, have been so helpful to us,” says Danka. Also helpful was the couple’s discovery of Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada. They first heard about the organization from Mike’s neurosurgeon, and then saw a poster for the Ottawa brain tumour support group on a hospital bulletin board. “We are so happy to have found this organization that has provided us with so much information and support. We went to our first support group meeting and that was the best decision we’ve made. It’s great to talk to others that are in the same or similar position.”

With Mike’s initial rounds of treatment complete, the couple is learning to manage the changes that come with a brain tumour diagnosis. Ever since the surgery, Mike’s speech is slightly different. He also struggles at times to choose words that fit with his train of thought. Despite these challenges, Mike and Danka are grateful for each day they have together. When asked her advice for anyone else on the brain tumour journey, Danka had three things to share. “Know it’s ok to feel overwhelmed at times; be the best advocate you can be for your own health care; and, above all, stay positive and count your blessings.”

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Story posted: March 2014

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