Moxie's Story: The brain tumour that tried to kill me slowly

Moxie's Story: The brain tumour that tried to kill me slowly

The brain tumour that tried to kill me slowly & my transsphenoidal pituitary surgery

It's been 3 months since my surgery. I'm still trying to piece my story together.
 
I think it begins with the pregnancy and birth of my last child in 2012. After 3 exemplary pregnancies and home births, I never expected the cholestasis, a 36-week breech & manual turn, or a retained placenta, and near fatal delivery. After successfully nursing 3 children, I struggled to produce enough milk and gave up after 3 months. I was ashamed of my inability to have a healthy pregnancy and nurse my baby. I tucked it away. 
 
Normally a very thin and "bounce back" kinda person (5"8/130lbs), I was unable to entirely lose my baby weight and then noticed a gradual weight gain. My wedding rings no longer fit and when I went to get them resized, I was told my finger had changed by 2.5 sizes. I was embarrassed. I took them off. 
 
Moxie and her familyMy once angular face became puffy & round. I developed acne on my back and arms. Nothing healed. I started noticing dark facial and body hair on my blonde body. Normally a pink person, I didn't really notice when my skin turned red. Normally easy to bruise, my new ones didn't alarm me. Having not escaped my pregnancies without some stretch marks, I didn't think much about the excess ones I was sporting. Always complaining of feeling cold, I now felt like I was overheating and wanted to rip my clothes off. My cuticles cracked and bled and I chalked it up to winters in Canada. Two of my teeth broke and I figured they were just weak... it runs in the family. My newly prescribed glasses made everything look fuzzier... oh well, I've always had poor vision. I attributed my alarming hair loss to post-pregnancy normalcy. I figured the continuing lactation was just a left-over indignity. Pretty sexy stuff.
 
People asked me on a regular basis when I was due. My abdomen was completely rounded, my breasts were huge, but I still had comically thin limbs. It felt like my body was open to judgment and commentary. I was ashamed of my new appearance. I made light of it. 
 
I stopped attending social functions because I hated the way I looked. I couldn't bear going through the process of trying to find something flattering to wear and then having to field questions about my uncharacteristic weight gain. I felt like I always had to explain myself. It was humiliating. I withdrew.
 
I had a pathological, insatiable thirst. Normally not a large beverage consumer, I was pounding can after can of whatever I could get my hands on. I planned every excursion around knowing where there were restrooms and where I could buy my next beverage. My sleep was interrupted hourly. It became a joke among my family & friends. I limited where I would go and who I would be around. 
 
I oscillated between having super-human energy (16-18 hour self-imposed workdays) to being so bone-weary that I would fall asleep sitting up at my computer, mouse still in hand. When my symptoms began, I was working in senior positions in advertising agencies. It was a demanding & high-paced lifestyle. Also during this time, I left my career to open my own business. In the 5 years I was sick, I launched a successful children’s retail store. I assumed my exhaustion was a natural by-product of my workaholism. All working moms are this tired, right?
 
I couldn't understand... I was functioning at a high level... 4 happy kids, a great marriage, a clean house, a successful business; I was even freelancing as a strategist on the side. Why didn't I feel like myself? What was going on with my body? I surely couldn't be ill. I was doing just fine. Look. See? I should just try harder. 
 
I often said to my GP that I thought my hormones were outta whack. Nothing was severe enough to warrant a doctor's visit or alarm. Everything was manageable but there were so many small, strange things happening that I was sure something was off. Eventually, she ordered blood tests. I carried the requisition around for almost a year. I thought I was overacting and wasting people's time. In June 2016, I had a severe sinus infection and went to my doctor. Sheepishly, I promised to attend to the blood work I had been avoiding. 
 
A week later, my doctor's office called and told me to walk myself to the hospital emergency room. My sugars were 34 (Normal is 4-6, Coma is 16+). I didn't know what this meant but was assured it was severe. I called my husband and we went out for dinner. I sent him and my daughter home and walked to the hospital. 
 
I started to get an idea of how serious it was when the hospital staff rushed me in and started giving me insulin shots. No-one could understand why my sugars were so high and how my body was tolerating it without shutting down into a coma. They tried unsuccessfully for 24 hours to bring my sugars down to acceptable levels. With no history of family or gestational Diabetes, I was diagnosed with Type 2. 
 
Dealing with this diagnosis was hard. It was my belief that only fat, lazy people with horrible lifestyles developed this disease. I went home and had to learn how to live like a Diabetic. I cut sugar completely out of my diet. We had to relearn how to grocery shop and cook. I had to start reading and understanding food labels. My husband made me disgusting quinoa muffins. Being a Diabetic became a full-time hobby. And the medications wreaked havoc on my digestive system. 
 
The road to finding out what was causing the resistant Diabetes was in full throttle. I met dozens of doctors, nurses, technicians, and specialists. I had CTs, MRIs, X-rays, diabetes management & dietician appointments, urine tests, blood tests, hormone tests, pre-op & pre-admitting appointments, visual tests, Neuro-opthamology appointments, ENT consults, Endrocrinology reviews... It was constant and exhausting. I developed a deep hatred for medical tape.
 
So, Diabetes symptoms led to a Cushings Disease diagnosis, which eventually led to a pituitary tumour diagnosis. I had a 9mm Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-producing tumour. Surgery was booked. Jokes were made. All of a sudden, I needed everything about as much as I needed a hole in the head (They really did drill a hole in my skull. It’s held back together with glue!). But being diagnosed with a brain tumour was a relief. Something beyond my control was responsible for my current condition. I didn't do this to myself because I was incompetent, lazy, or deserving. This was done to me and now we could try to fix it. 
 
My surgery was booked at St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto for April 21. Due to a hospital error, my surgery was cancelled at the last minute and re-booked for May 1. After my family travelling here to be with me, getting my house in order, making arrangements for my store, childcare, packing my bags, saying cryptic goodbyes to my loved ones just in case, and even shaving my legs, I was crushed. I had mentally prepared and now I had to wait another 9 days and do it all over again. 
 
Getting prepped for surgery was terrifying. I was in surgery for just over 3 hours and in intensive care for 3 days. I slept a lot during my immediate recovery. I had a bout of Diabetes Insipidus. But the good news? My cortisol crashed immediately. This assured everyone that the tumour was gone. The bad news? I felt like absolute garbage. My mom, my husband, my brother, and my best friend were there with me. I let them take care of me. I let them take care of everything. 
 
Surgical recovery is manageable. Getting the stitches & stints removed from my nose was absolutely horrible and I had what I thought was a panic attack directly after the procedure. It really scared me (I now know it was my adrenalin crashing. My surgery has left me with an adrenal insufficiency which means my body cannot handle any stress, illness or injury). Scar tissue has formed around one of my nostrils. It is affectionately known as "Mini Nostril". And I can tell you that not blowing your nose for 3 months is one of the most annoying things in the universe. I went back to work 8 days after surgery. I shouldn't have, but I'm a show-off. Everybody that sees me is stunned at the transformation thus far. My skin is a normal colour and I have lost nearly 30 lbs. People that knew me before I got sick say, "Welcome Back". People that didn't know me previously ask me if I am ok or don't even recognize me.
 
Moxie around the time this story was writtenChemical recovery is terrible. My sugars are behaving more normally and I've been able to discontinue one of my three medications. I started my hormone weaning a few weeks ago and it is so hard. My latest blood tests show that my body is still not producing it. Every muscle and joint aches. I barely eat anything. I have headaches. It takes me hours to fall asleep. I'm dizzy. I'm weak. I'm exhausted. I'm not sure my digestive system will ever be right. I'm so tired of complaining. This will be my reality for at least a year.
 
But, I am hopeful. I know that I will heal. And most of all, I am grateful... for the love of my friends & family, the health of my children, the healthcare system of my country, and the chance to reset my life. I put my wedding rings back on yesterday. They fit.
 
And what of the tumour? The hospital adopted him. I had to sign papers and everything. You’re welcome, science.
Thank you Moxie for sharing your story! 

Story was written: August 2017
Story was posted: November 2017 

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