tumors, nerves and needles… oh my!

Happy November, chitlins!

In the spirit of my blog’s namesake, I’d like to tell you about a newish season of life I’ve been navigating recently. I say ish because the season isn’t entirely fresh to me; rather, it’s a bit of a resurgence of past experiences. I wish I could say this particular season has been the bee’s knees, but life’s not always rainbows and butterflies my feathered friends. Before I go any further, I need to know: am I the only one that immediately channels this Maroon 5 song upon hearing the phrase ‘rainbows and butterflies’? Please tell me I’m not alone in this.

Back to this gnarly season of mine. The main characters are as follows: a brain tumor (!), some nerve pain, and a whole bunch of needles (of the acupuncture sort). At some point, I’d really like to have a conversation with the casting director. But until that can be arranged, let me tell you their story — and maybe, just maybe, pepper in a little bit of wisdom along the way. Grab your Fitbits because we’re going to start with a walk down memory lane…

It’s August 2007. I’m living it up as a rising Junior in college. I’m (obviously) super cool and pretty much have life figured out. I’m relishing in that oh-so-sweet 3-month collegiate summer break. I’m also counting down the days until I depart for Madrid, Spain for my Fall semester abroad. That college life though.

The sub-par hearing in my left ear has become endearingly normal. After years of asking pretty much everyone to switch over to my ‘right side’ in a loud environment (read: basically-every-college-scenario-you-can-think-of), my BFF’s and family no longer need the reminder. So, it’s not surprising that I’ve given nary-a-thought to the hearing test and MRI I had earlier this summer.

That is, until I get the call. Ring, ring sistah.

The results are in. I have a brain tumor. It’s benign (thank God). It’s called an Acoustic Neuroma and it’s taken up a cozy 1.8 cm residence on my 8th cranial nerve. I’m told it spends its days chipping away at my hearing and beating up on my poor, helpless nerves.

I laugh. Because what else am I supposed to do? I’m 20 years old. Doesn’t that mean I’m invincible?

My doctors tell me it’s super slow growing. And did I mention benign? They say to go have fun in España and we’ll deal with it when I’m back. Well. If I’m going to be galavanting around Europe with this little accessory in tow, we’re going to need to be on good terms. Stat. I name him Pedro and do my best to embrace him as a welcome tenant in this ol’ noggin of mine.

Jetting off to study abroad with all of the essential accessories: a passport pouch, an exceedingly dorky laptop bag, and a brain tumah. Let's do this!
Jetting off to study abroad with all of the essential accessories: a passport pouch, an exceedingly dorky laptop bag, and a brain tumah. Let’s do this!

Fast-forward to May 2008. I’m home for the summer again (with a refined taste for jamón y queso) and we’re about to kick things off with some treatment for my pal, Pedro. My options are targeted, outpatient radiation (to stop him from growing) or brain surgery (to evict his boo-tay). I choose the former. This is not an easy choice, but that’s a story for another day.

When the big day comes, I arrive at the hospital at 6am. First patient of the day… boom! The procedure is over in roughly six hours and is performed with a pretty solid country playlist on deck. If I’m going to have to radiate my brain at age 21, I guess this isn’t so bad. Rest assured: we close out the morning with a lunch date at Panera. All in a good day’s work, right?

Fast-forward again. It’s March 2013. Boy Sam and I are married now and living in San Francisco. I’m working at Google and he’s kicking a soccer ball around for a living. Now I’m definitely super cool and have life figured out, right? My annual MRIs reveal that Pedro’s growth has successfully been stunted… and perhaps he’s even begun to shrink. #sorrynotsorry little dude! Again, I all but forget my little cerebral tenant for the time being.

Living that Northern California life. These views never, ever get old.
Soaking up every ounce of NorCal beauty with a day-trip to Carmel, CA. These views never, ever got old.

That’s when Tracy (the Trigeminal nerve) decides to join in the fun. Apparently she’s had it with Pedro hanging out in her ‘hood… growth-stunted-or-not… and she’s fired up. Literally. I start to struggle with relentless spells of Trigeminal Neuralgia. The pain radiates from the left side of my mouth up to my left eye and is triggered by any and everything… talking, eating, smiling, brushing my teeth. For lack of a better analogy, it feels like a lightning storm in my face. Streams of trickling tears turn into TLC’s waterfalls when my neurosurgeon presents me with two uninspiring options: a) deal with it and hope it goes away with time, or b) start taking some pretty intense medication with a whole bunch of not-so-fun side effects.

Neither sounds like a winner to me. At age 26, I’m still wondering why I’m not invincible. Feeling pretty darn low, I do the only thing I can think of. I pray. I ask for some sort of answer, some sort of relief from this malarky. I ask for strength and patience and hope too.

Not long after, a sympathetic Googley colleague poses the casual question: ‘What about acupuncture?’ Gotta love the Bay Area for that right there. I think to myself: poking needles all over my body seems incredibly counterintuitive to pain reduction. But, hey… survey says I’ve got nada to lose. Onto the chi-harnessing bandwagon I jump!

Yelp leads me to Franco from SF Acupuncture Group, whom I will later grow to appreciate more than I could ever predict. He spends months needling my face / hands / feet, zenning my chi (why not?) and testing out all sorts of groovy Chinese herbal concoctions. The pain begins to lessen. Suffice it to say I’m guzzling the kool-aid at this point. As 2014 approaches, Tracy finally chills out for good. No single word can justly articulate the significance of this victory. I can eat, drink, smile, laugh, talk, and generally-be-a-homosapien again! So many warm fuzzies.

Taste of turmeric, anyone? Just one of the slam-dunks Franco introduced me to over the course of 2013. This is the stuff of miracles for treating TN.
Taste of turmeric, anyone? Just one of the many slam-dunks Franco introduced me to over the course of 2013. This is the stuff of miracles for those plagued by TN.

Fast-forward (for the last time) to the present day. We’re living in Colorado with a chunktastic babushka in tow. Pedro is still successfully frozen-in-time and Tracy’s been lightning-free since late 2013. I’m back to living my days without a second thought to these crazy characters. Life is ColoRADICAL. Get it?

Alas, the winds of change decide to blow one more blustery gust my way. One very recent October morning, I’m sipping my morning coffee (with the TODAY show on, no doubt) when it suddenly feels like I stuck my head into an electrical socket. A few minutes later it happens again. Almost instantly, my heart drops. Here we go again.

I’m officially stepping into a new season of adventure with the dynamic duo, Pedro and Tracy. The uncertainty of it all totally freaks me out. I mean, who knows? Maybe this time the pain won’t stop with acupuncture. Even better, maybe the Great Casting Director will decide to add a new character to the playbill this time around.

The way I see it, I have two options here: 1) obsess over the endless uncertainty and let it swallow me whole or 2) cling tight to the lessons I’ve learned along this weird little road of mine and choose to see my next season with P+T as an opportunity. I’m going to go with door #2. And, if you’re wondering, here are the lessons I’ll be chanting to myself on repeat as the adventure unfolds.

    • Pain is a slice of humble pie. Despite the terribleness of it all, every time I battle this pain I am reminded that I’m not invincible. In a fast-paced world of rat races, ladder climbing and ‘me mantras’, it’s healthy to remember that we still need other people. It’s also healthy to get knocked down every once in awhile. Despite what we’re wired to think, none of us can do this thing called life alone.
    • Pain is a gratitude-inducer. Suffering spells of debilitating pain has given me an enormous amount of appreciation for the pain-free moments. It’s helped me to slow down and find beauty in the mundane, every-day life happenings. Just last weekend, I was brushing my teeth after being pain-free for the ENTIRE DAY and found myself thinking: “Whaaaat! This electric toothbrush is literally amazing. Thank goodness for it; my teeth feel awesome!” This day in age, it’s far too easy to forget that our lives are a gift. I’m grateful to my pain for giving me a renewed acknowledgement of the little things.
    • Finally, pain is a catalyst for productivity. Being down-for-the-count with pain is a real wake-up call. Having been there before, I’m more driven than ever to spend my time doing what matters and making the most of every minute I’m given. As one Dave Matthews once said, “The future is no place to place your better days.” Health (and therefore time) is not guaranteed for anyone — so if you have a dream, might I ask what you’re waiting for?

I don’t have much figured out, but I do know that these three concepts have been integral in helping me navigate this craziness without going totally crazy myself. It is my sincere hope that by sharing them here, I might help shed some light on someone else’s painful path too one day.

To Pedro, Tracy, and the inevitable silver lining,

Girl Sam


12 comments on “tumors, nerves and needles… oh my!”
  1. shaelynberg says:

    Sam, you are one tough cookie with a stellar attitude about life. Your courage and positivity are inspiring. Most people, including myself, aren’t half as brave as you. I pray for you and your health, and for T&P to chill out pronto. You’ve got this.


    1. Thank you, Shae (both for reading this post and for your kind words)! It really means a ton. You rock!


  2. Laurie says:

    I didn’t know this had reared its’ ugly head (get it?!) again and I DON’T LIKE IT ONE BIT!!!! Your writing, however, is superb in that it captures, with feeling and meaning, so many of the emotions you face as T&P figure out their role in your life. Thus, just as you say, pain is all of the above and you are a gifted young lady in so many ways. My prayers are always with you. Love you!!


    1. Reading this comment made me smile. Thank you so much for the kind words! Love you too 🙂


  3. Awww im so sorry to hear, you’re inspiring Lady Samantha! I recently read the book “Nothing Changes Until You Do” and there’s a part about worry that I really liked- that it does nothing and most of the time what we worry about doesn’t happen anyway so why bother. stay strong!


    1. Love you Feather!!!!! Thank you!


  4. Patti says:

    When I was 24 years old and just home from my honeymoon in Hawaii, I was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer. After 4 operations and 2 years of Chemotherapy I was finally released from the program and told the cancer was not completely gone but I could not undergo any more chemo and I would just have to be watched closely. Well I am here to tell you that now at age 50, I am married to the same man and have 2 children. There are issues from those days that I still deal with like side effects of hormone replacement therapy etc but hey at least I’m here to complain about it. So stay strong and hang in there. Your positive attitude is key.


    1. Amazing! Thank you so much for reading and for sharing your story. Positivity is key! Xoxo


  5. Maureen Jordan says:

    Hi Sam,. It’s Taylor’s neighbor in NJ. Taylor shared your blog with me. I had several thoughts after reading this. One is, you are amazing!!Two is, thank you for sharing and reminding us all to take time to appreciate everyday moments. I wish you well and admire your strength and positivity. I’ll be thinking of you. Maureen


    1. Maureen! Thank you so much for reading and for such a thoughtful comment. I really appreciate it. Miss you and that cute family of yours!


  6. Carole Holt says:

    So many memories your blog brought back- the frantic early days of trying to devise a plan to allow you to go to Spain- the anxiety with the procedure – the support of family and friends- as the parent the view is ,of course, different than the person affected- but it is a reminder of how interconnected we are and so lucky when we have such a support system. I have always admired and been so proud of your coping skills and to see your growth and development as an adult and see it expressed in your writing is amazing. It seems so connected to my work in oncology and the transition I am making in my life/career- Cudos to Patti and her struggle that has been successful- Let keep “bringing it on”


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