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A Thank You to My Brain Tumor

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In August 2012 my life was going very well and I was happy. I was 35, had two great kids (my daughter was nine and my son was six), I had been with my husband for 18 years, had a great job and a master’s degree, a house and two cars. Everything in my life had fallen into place. After a wonderful family weekend vacation with lots of love and bonding, I went to the doctor, who sent me for a cat scan.

Before I got home I received the call that would change my life forever. “There is a mass.”

One week later, on August 28, 2012, I had a 14-hour brain surgery to remove the golf ball-sized brain tumor called a hemangioblastoma. They couldn’t get the entire tumor because it was attached to my brain stem. I was planning to be home within a week, but I had so many complications that led me to death’s door, I ended up being hospitalized for two months.

I was sedated for most of the first month as my brain was trying to fight after being opened up and hassled. Thank God I had one of the world’s best neurosurgeons, or I am sure I would not have made it out of surgery or through the plethora of unexpected life-altering complications that continue to affect me today.

After I got home, from what I remember it was a hallucinating, disorienting and very painful two months. I couldn’t walk. I was just able to start moving my left arm again. I was so worried something was going to happen and I was going to die in front on my husband or kids. I didn’t feel stable, definitely not completely healed (I could feel my skull moving in my head where it had not yet fused back together) and I was in pain, sick and weak all the time.

I felt like what I would imagine it feels like just before death.

But, I was determined to recover and improve and get back to the person I used to be. Little did I know that there was going to be a new normal — I was never going to be the same wife, mother, daughter, sister that I was.

It took a while, but I finally came to the realization I need to grieve the life I used to have and learn to accept the new me.

This took years. I shed so many tears. I had been supermom — tried to be the best wife and everything changed and I had no control. I have been suffering and in pain since I had surgery. But there was no alternative. My tumor had been growing in there most of my life and was so big that if I didn’t have surgery, it would have ruptured and I would have dropped dead at any time.

After years of physical therapy, counseling, radiation, getting back to work (after only five months off) I felt like I could actually live with all of the pain and side effects. It would be hard, but I could do it.

But, my marriage had taken quite a beating. My husband and I were no longer on the same page, communication had broken down, and I felt like a burden to everyone around me. I needed more help with everything, as I was no longer the supermom that I used to be.

In February 2016 my husband realized he couldn’t live like this anymore, he was not willing to go to counseling, and it was time to call it quits after being together for 22 years.

It was devastating to my kids, my family and me as well. Even though I knew we had our problems, who doesn’t? Why couldn’t we make it? Weren’t those vows that we promised to God all those years ago still applicable? I would take care of him in sickness until the day he died.

Once we separated we decided to sell our house — which was another huge blow to our kids. This is where all of their memories where. But it had to be done, and I couldn’t live there anymore (it was too sad) and I couldn’t afford it. The kids and I moved into a nearby condo in the same town so they didn’t have to switch schools.

I have worked incredibly hard to provide as much stability, love and security in their lives — and it is paying off! Both of them struggled terribly, first with my health and learning how to handle the new me, then moving after separating from their father and then the divorce.

I can say that there is nothing more painful than watching your children suffer because of something I was apart of. I want to protect my kids from all harm. I want them to be happy.

I am so thankful to say that although it took a long time of adjusting, my kids are thriving again. They are doing well in school socially and they laugh again!

I have made it my life’s mission to make sure my kids have all of the love, support and stability I can possibly provide so they have the best future. It helps that my ex-husband and I remain friendly and civil for the kids. They don’t need to see us argue or have problems. They just need to be allowed to be kids and innocent as long as possible.

Even though this brain tumor has been the worst thing that has ever happened to me, it is also the best. My kids have learned more about compassion, empathy, and loyalty, and they will be better human beings because of what they have experienced.

I am closer than ever to my kids and my family. I would not have made it through the last few years without the love and support of my family. We have all realized how quickly life can be taken and/or changed significantly. We have a deeper understanding and love for one another. My faith has become stronger than ever.

I have grown and learned so many important lessons:

Enjoy every day because it may be your last. My motto is Carpe Diem — Seize the day!

Stop and smell the roses every chance you get.

Enjoy the little things: Hearing my kids laugh, taking a short walk when I can and enjoy the wind in my hair and the sun on my face.

Never take anything in life for granted.

Take care of yourself. It is not selfish. It is a necessity.

Realize we have a choice: Am I a victim or a survivor of my circumstances? I am a survivor!

Live a life of gratitude!

Nothing has brought more satisfaction and happiness to my life. I focus on the positive, find ways to turn bad things into good things, I tell people how much I appreciate them, and I say thank you. I am even thankful all of the negative that has happened in my life because I am a better person and appreciate everything — especially the fact I am still alive and breathing!

Dawn Koedyker-Beck and kids

Thank you, brain tumor!

“Gratitude and attitude are not challenges; they are choices.” — Robert Braathe

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Originally published: November 25, 2017
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