Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Mass Invasion

In September 2009, I was 15 years old and a sophomore at Jackson High School. I was excited to have several classes with my friends and I really liked some of my teachers. School-wise it looked like it would be a good year. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to be at school as much as I’d like because of debilitating migraine-like headaches accompanied by intense nausea and vomiting. I went to the doctor and he prescribed a migraine medication called Maxalt, which provided limited relief.

By the third week of October I had missed 10 days of school.  My doctor tried several more migraine medications to no avail. He ordered an MRI. Just in case, to make sure there wasn’t anything else going on. The test was scheduled for the following Tuesday, October 27th.

That weekend was our homecoming weekend. Friday the 23rd I made it to the homecoming football game with green stripes in my hair. I had a really fun time with my friends and hoped Saturday would be a good day too so that I could attend the homecoming dance. My friends and I had been planning to go as a group and I was looking forward to my first high school dance.

Somehow Saturday was a good day and I was able to go to the dance. My friends came over to my house first and we had dinner before driving to the school. I remember being very excited that I got to go and had fun with my friends. However, I also remember how the music seemed to pulse inside my skull and needing to sit down most of the time because I felt light-headed and fuzzy.
Tuesday October 27th came and I was scheduled for the MRI at 4:00 PM. Around eight that night we got a call from the doctor’s office. There was a mass and fluid in my brain. The doctor said we should go to Seattle Children’s Hospital immediately.

As I listened to my mom’s side of the conversation from the other room, I was in a state of calm. I was relieved that the MRI had found something. If there was something there then there was probably something we could do about it and the excruciating pain would stop. I also knew that something was really wrong with me and that it wasn’t just migraines. I figured that the most likely thing to be in your head that wasn’t supposed to be there was cancer. The MRI seemed to confirm my suspicion.

My mom and brother Brandon, however, were in a state of shock, practically frozen in place. My mom asked my brother to get directions to the hospital, but he couldn’t move. I was already going upstairs to pack an overnight bag. Then I went downstairs and printed the directions to the hospital.

I remember the car ride to the hospital being very quiet. I thought about a lot of things on the way, but what I remember most is coming to terms with the fact that I would probably lose my hair. I loved my thick ultra-curly hair. It was one of my identifying features and some people even seemed to think of it as part of my identity. I was the girl with the curly hair. I wondered if losing that trait would change who I was. I realized that it didn’t matter to me if I lost my hair and that was all the mattered. Besides, I liked wearing hats anyway.

When we arrived at the emergency room, we were first screened for swine flu (this was during the crazy H1N1 epidemic).  Once we got into the crowded ER we waited and waited and waited some more (This was the beginning of a year of waiting rooms).  Finally, after several hours I was admitted.  When I was brought back I went through neurological tests (track the finger, balance tests etc.) several times. Each doctor that came in seemed perplexed that I performed so well on the tests. I guess they thought if they kept doing them over and over they would get the result they were expecting. I remember thinking, “You have seen the pictures of the mass in my head. You know something’s wrong. Can we be done with the testing already?”

Finally I was admitted to an inpatient room sometime around two in the morning. That night was the only night I spent alone in the hospital because Dad was out of town and Mom and Brandon couldn’t both stay with me.

The next day consisted of many more tests including an eye exam and an MRI of my spine that showed that my tumor had metastasized to my spine…

To Be Continued,

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  1. Thank you for sharing your journey Sammy. You have extraordinary strength, wisdom and humor. I truly look forward to seeing where you go from here ... it will change lives.

  2. I know your story, but I love that you are writing about it! Keep up the good work! You continue to inspire me...