I was the type of person who persevered through all things and felt like I had super powers. I was always on top of things.
And yet, there are many reasons I did not discover my brain tumour sooner, despite more than 10 months of symptoms:
I was a busy mom of young children.
We just moved to another city and my focus was to get the kids settled in their new school.
I was very stressed about work and did not want to show any weakness.
And I often put others before myself.
However, the moment the doctor told me, “you have a brain tumour and we need to operate,” my life changed forever. That was November 2017. Now, I look at life from a very different lens.
By sharing the story of my journey, I hope to help others.
For a long time I brushed off my symptoms.
For eight months on and off I had severe migraines that over-the-counter pain meds could only provide short-lived relief for. The head-splitting pain would knock me out.
It was debilitating.
Six months before discovering the tumour, I was admitted to a hospital in Castlegar during a camping trip. I was suffering from a migraine, started to lose my balance and began vomiting. During my four hours there, I was put on an IV for dehydration and morphine for the pain, and then sent home.
Around this time, my upper lip and under my nose started experiencing occasional numbness. I just thought it was weird and brushed it off.
However, I started having unexplained emotional outbursts, and became more forgetful and confused over simple things. I was unable to process information and data at work that I normally would with ease.
Four months before my diagnosis, I could not function well at meetings, presentations and work events.
Three months before my diagnosis I started to go to walk-in clinics seeing a few different doctors. I was given painkillers for migraines that ended up making me feel worse.
During another visit, I was diagnosed with vertigo and given physio exercises to do three times a day. I also thought I was grinding my teeth too much, but had no luck at the dentist either.
All of these treatments were basically scrambling my brain in all different directions.
I hated them and they made me feel worse.
My medicine cabinet was overflowing with all types of heavy pain meds and it was not working. I just did know now what to do. During family nature walks, I would have to sit in the car as I did not feel stable and was unable to walk.
Two months before going to emergency, I’d had one car accident and a small parking lot fender bender. I did not realize it but my left peripheral vision was starting to go. I decided to stop driving before I hurt others or myself. I felt so scared and uneasy.
Just days before my emergency room visit I saw my family doctor in Vancouver and he prescribed that I get scans and take one month medical leave to deal the stress and fatigue I had been feeling.
In those days, I started having difficulty with balance and began falling over.
The night we decided to go to emergency I had already been in bed for most of the weekend. The pain was severe and I was very ill. It felt like my head was going to explode. I was unable to stand up on my own and I started vomiting.
In November 2017 I ended up in the emergency room and that night they discovered a large mass in my right frontal lobe the size of my fist. One week later I had a craniotomy, which revealed that I had brain cancer, a glioblastoma.
I was told that I had 12 months to live, as this is the worst cancer to be diagnosed with, and has no cure.
It was so devastating to hear those words. I could not imagine my husband having to raise our girls alone and for the girls to grow up without a mom. This was not in our plans.
It is crazy to think back on how I had never heard of brain tumours or brain cancer until I was diagnosed with it.
In the years since my diagnosis I have had a craniotomy, radiation and chemo. When I had a recurrence in June of 2018, it was decided that I stop the chemo and have a second craniotomy.
Since then I have been trying to live my life with purpose and joy.
Every day I count my blessings.
I am so grateful that I am able to attend my third Brain Tumour Walk event. The past few years have been about continued healing, self-care, living and trying to help others.
I’ve since tried many forms of exercise and healing treatments from dragon boating to reflexology and massage. It has not all worked, but reflexology, massage, yoga, meditation, and walking seem to be the best for me.
I have come to realize that I have been through a lot of physical, mental and emotional trauma over the past five years. I had a hysterectomy in 2015, breast cancer in 2016, brain cancer in 2017, two craniotomies and treatment in 2018. I am not the same person and accept that there are limitations to everything I do. I know to rest when I am tired, fatigued or not feeling well. I am much more kind to myself.
Awareness is so important in helping people advocate for their own early diagnosis.
Tell your friends, family and anyone who will listen. At first I was so scared I kept my illness to a close circle of friends and family. Not now! I tell whomever I can.
I am fortunate to overcome the stats and initial prognosis of Glioblastoma. I do have some difficulties with processing and retaining information, moods, memory, noise, and “hit the wall” fatigue. I am not fully healed but am hopeful that I will continue to make progress.
My focus is on my family and myself. Again, I try to live life with purpose, joy and meaning. As I continue to put my efforts into healing of mind, body and heart. I am more tuned into the important things. I am blessed for every day I am given and I cherish each one.
I am blessed with family and friends that have given me so much love, encouragement and support. My husband has been an amazing caregiver and has supported me everyday.
He is my rock.
It has been hard for the both of us but we have grown closer and understand how precious life together is. I am thankful for my medical team, treatment, support groups and care I have received.
Still, there is way more work to do.
We can help those who have not yet been diagnosed and get the information to doctors so they know what symptoms to look for.
We can better support the patients and caregivers.
We can #EndBrainTumours.
As more and more people are being diagnosed with brain tumours I will continue to raise funds and awareness.
Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada is proud of Anna and her work as Victoria ambassador for the 2020 Virtual Brain Tumour Walk. Her story of perseverance and positivity embodies the hope and courage of the brain tumour community.