Helping my husband through brain tumor surgery

My husband, Richard, likes to say, “If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!” That’s what he said to me when I first noticed the small bump on the right side of his head while we were dating.

I’m a physical therapist and have dealt with patients with musculoskeletal, orthopedic and neurological issues, so I knew to ask him about headaches and vision changes. But he didn’t have any other symptoms at that time.

Brain tumor symptoms increase

I noticed some little changes around Christmas 2016. The bump had grown bigger, he had some weakness on his left side, his smile had changed and he started to get headaches with dizziness. By then, we were engaged and busy preparing for our wedding. We got married on March 11, 2017, in Magnolia, Texas. Richard had short-term memory loss at that point and can barely remember the events of our wedding. But he knew he married me!

Richard saw his primary care physician the week after our wedding and was immediately referred to a neurologist. By then, Richard had started vomiting and had terrible headaches.

I was at work when Richard called and told me the neurologist had confirmed what I’d already begun to fear: Richard had a brain tumor. I cried in my car and prayed, “We just got married and have so many plans together; please don’t take him away from me now.”

Brain tumor surgery at MD Anderson

Richard’s neurologist recommended we go to MD Anderson and see Dr. Sherise Ferguson, a neurosurgeon in the Brain and Spine Center. Soon after, Dr. Ferguson performed a craniotomy to remove Richard’s tumor, which turned out to be a baseball-sized grade II meningioma, a benign brain tumor.

Because it all happened so quickly after our wedding, we didn’t get to go on our honeymoon. We stayed five days in the ICU and teased the nurses that we were having our honeymoon at MD Anderson.

We snuggled in the hospital bed together, took a trip up to the MD Anderson observation deck to see the city and just appreciated that his surgery was successful.

Our belated honeymoon

In September 2017, we were able to finally go on our honeymoon in Hawaii. Before our trip, we asked Dr. Ferguson’s advanced practice provider, Ufuoma Avbovbo, what Richard could and couldn’t do after surgery. She told us, “Live your life like this surgery never happened.”

So we did. We snorkeled, parasailed and even swam with sharks. We had a blast!

A brain tumor strengthened our marriage

After Richard’s meningioma surgery, most of his symptoms improved remarkably. Since it was a benign tumor, he didn’t have to go through any further treatment. He still has issues with short-term memory loss and sometimes loses his patience. Being a physical therapist, I had the advantage of being exposed to brain tumor patients before, but it’s different when it’s your own husband.

Richard is a fighter – that’s why I fell in love with him. He survived childhood leukemia and still hasn’t given up. He may fall and stumble, but will always stand tall.

Although I can’t understand exactly what he’s going through, I’ll always be here to ease his burden and help him. I’m his wife and his motivator. If we’ve survived a brain tumor and all the physical, emotional, social and financial consequences, then there’s nothing we can’t surpass, as long as we do it together.

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