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Brain Cancer Survivor Navigates the Year of the Pandemic to Her Wedding

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Brain cancer survivor, Nicole and fiance in hospital
Nicole K,
Michigan

“It was surreal, like an out of body experience. Then they rushed to do it because of the size, and they were so concerned about it. They rushed my surgery. I only had a day to come to terms with that before I was going under the knife.”

Nicole and fiance2020 was supposed to be a memorable year, a year full of joy. Nicole was engaged to be married in September, but the year started horribly and just got worse.

Nicole is a social worker, working with the state. For the first two months of the year, she was having really bad migraines daily. Her fiancé kept encouraging her to go to the doctor, but she was blowing it off and saying they were just headaches. But the headaches got so bad that she started having strange double-vision with images in her peripheral vision. She once even passed out during a training session at her job. Finally, she relented.

Nicole lives in a very small town in Michigan. The small town’s hospital wasn’t well-equipped, so they told her that she needed to go to a larger town to have a CT scan. When she went to the larger town’s hospital, that place didn’t have a neurologist. So, in the end, she was transported by an ambulance to an even larger hospital, which finally ran MRI scans and CT scans. A five-centimeter malignant tumor was discovered on her frontal lobe

“I was terrified. I’ve never been in a hospital before this. I’ve never had a broken bone. Nothing. So they’re telling me I had to have surgery. It is almost like a disconnect because it’s kind of surreal. You don’t expect to hear something like that. I’m 31… It was surreal, like an out of body experience. Then they rushed to do it because of the size and they were so concerned about it. They rushed my surgery. I only had a day to come to terms with that before I was going under the knife.”

Fears swarmed through her mind. She didn’t know if she would be able to talk after the surgery. She worried that she wouldn’t remember anything, but she had to put her faith in the neurosurgeon who had been performing brain surgeries for 50 some years.

On March 2nd she had a four-hour procedure to extract the tumor, which was removed successfully. Following the surgery, she was put in the ICU for two days. Apparently, seven people came in to see her, but her memory of those first couple days was completely lost. She remembers only waking up a day and a half after the surgery and almost vomiting on her best friend, who was in the room. Following her ordeal, she had a headache, a shaved head, and staples that made her look like a Viking, but it seemed that she did not suffer any neurological damage. She could speak and had no problems with motor control. It seemed positive. The headaches were still concerning, though. 

Brain cancer survivor, Nicole after surgery

In the beginning of March, Covid-19 was making more headlines, and she was in the hospital. The hospital wasn’t taking it seriously. It didn’t seem like she needed to either.

“I was talking to the resident neurology student that was there at the hospital. The news was on in my room and there was the news about it. I was talking to him and he kind of laughed it off. He was like, oh, this is like a flu. It’s not a big deal.”

Around March 7th, she was sent home to recover. There, she spent three to four days on the couch, and then she started having severe chest pains and pain behind her shoulder blades.

“I ended up going back to my little small town hospital where they took what the large hospital called a very fuzzy image of my lung. But they could see like little dots. And I had blood clots in my lung.”

On March 10th, Nicole had to be admitted back to the hospital. Certain types of surgeries, like brain surgery, make people more susceptible to clots. She needed blood thinners.

“I was back in for two days, and then they started with the statewide mandates. The hospitals weren’t allowed to have visitors anymore, so my fiancé, who had been with me since day one, got kicked out of the hospital at midnight and had to go home. Then I was there by myself.”

Just within five days, the hospital had gone from not taking Covid seriously to locking down, requiring PPE, and putting in place a lot more restrictions.

“At that point, you could tell it had changed. The first time they kind of laughed at it, and then the second time being in the hospital, the nurses and everybody — they were in the gowns. They had face shields, the N95 masks. They wore gloves. I watched them every time they walked in the room or out of the room, they took their gloves off. They changed their gloves. They were hand-sanitizing. There were no visitors allowed, not even normal visiting hours. No visitors allowed at the hospital. They told me the only way I could have my fiancé come in with me is if I couldn’t walk by myself.”

When she got back home the second time, she was fortunate that her fiancé wasn’t working because of the stay-at-home order. She was required to have radiation and chemotherapy. Every day from Monday through Friday for 16 weeks, she had to get to her treatment center. Cancer treatment made her have a weakened immune system. She was immunocompromised in the pandemic, and that was frightening in itself. She was forced to become more cautious. 

Anytime she or her fiancé went to the store or outside, they both wore a mask. She also kept abreast of the news and knew where the hotspots were.

Nicole in Mask

“I’m in a very rural area. If I don’t want to see anybody, I don’t have to see anybody. So when I was home, I felt very safe because it was just myself and my fiancé. I didn’t have to worry about outsiders bringing germs. Then I had to drive into Royal Oak, where I was getting my treatment, which is a very populated area close to Detroit; so a lot of people I don’t know where they’ve been. I don’t know who they’ve been around. I have to go and I carry multiple hand sanitizers on me. I had like five masks at a time in my purse in case one got dirty or something. It was scary going in. The first time I had to get gas, I was so terrified to stop at a gas station and touch a gas pump. I didn’t have plastic gloves on me, but I had winter gloves, so I put my winter gloves on and I pumped my gas, and I got home and threw them immediately into the washing machine.”

The hospital in Royal Oak took Covid very seriously. They had a very large radiation oncology unit. When anybody walked in, temperatures were taken at the door. She had to write her personal information. In the back, the technologists were wearing plastic gloves and face shields. Everyone was in masks. The regulations were strictly enforced, and that was comforting.

Nicole ended up being put on medical leave for six months, which took her fully through the radiation treatments and extra month afterwards. Her job as a social worker had meant visiting people at their homes and meeting people out in the public. However, her oncologist didn’t want her doing that anymore because of her weakened immune system, so she was put on restrictions. She could only meet with people if she were at the office and everyone was wearing PPE. That wasn’t possible with her previous position, so she took another position with a lower classification that was safer but it came with a pay cut. A lot of contacting clients would just involve phone calls.

As the months passed by, after being a brain cancer survivor, a different stress came back. She was planning a marriage during a pandemic.

“There’s stress when you’re planning a wedding as a wedding is stressful to plan anyway, so you’re trying to plan that. Then it increases that stress level because you have to deal with state mandates. Where before you didn’t have anyone telling you how you had to run your wedding, now the state is saying you have to do this, you have to do that. You have to keep on the legal side. You have to keep in the safety and the health of everybody. Then you still want to go and have a good time.”

On September 5th, Nicole and her fiancé got married. The ceremony was on her grandfather’s property in front of an old barn. Regulations required that no more than 100 people be at the ceremony, so they cut those invited to 90 and 95 showed up. They had 100 chairs in a really big area, set in an arch by twos with six feet between them.

“The officiant did make an announcement at the end of our ceremony about social distancing: ‘Everyone wants to hug the bride, but don’t hug the bride.’ And my family is more strict about everything. His family didn’t really take any of it seriously. So we had all of my family, for the most part, being cautious and they were waving at me instead of hugging. Then his family comes up with open arms and they’re like hugs. ‘I’m sorry,’ but for the most part, they were understanding.”

The reception was in her mom’s backyard. They hired a tent company. They hired a caterer. They had wanted their meal to be plated, but regulations required that it be a buffet. People were called up by their table to be safe. There were a lot of precautions.

“We had to wear gloves. We had to wear masks. Whenever we were in a small area that confined people, if we couldn’t be six feet apart, we had to wear masks. I never envisioned myself in a wedding dress in a mask, I tell you.”

Her brother’s friend became their DJ.

“We did have dancing. We have the biggest dance floor you could get from the company, it was like 18 feet by 18 feet. So it’s still not that big. But there weren’t a whole lot of people that danced throughout the night. And most of the people that did, they were couples that would dance. Yes, those are together. Or my friends, my bridesmaids, were out there dancing and everyone kind of picked a corner out on the dance floor, and they’re out there doing their thing.“

The wedding was stressful, but for Nicole, it was worth it. They had a lot of fun. Some people did not take the precautions as seriously as others, but for most part, everyone had a good time.

For such a horrible beginning of the year and being a brain cancer survivor, Nicole found joy. The year looks to have finished wonderfully.

Read another family’s epic story of delivering twins while fighting the coronovirus. Or watch more stories on fuconomy’s youtube channel.