In May 2022 I was diagnosed with a golf ball sized brain tumor on my brain stem. This photo was taken 2 weeks before the surgery. My husband took me to dinner the evening this photo was taken. One of several he planned before the big day. A craniotomy was scheduled on August 24th 2022, three months after my diagnosis. The surgery was to attempt to remove a complex skull based meningioma. The location of the tumor was problematic as several crucial nerves were in it. Cranial nerves 6-12 were effected by the tumor including my jugular and vagus nerve. I was fortunate that we found a neurosurgeon in the Seattle area that would operate on this difficult tumor as most wouldn't touch it. Dr. Manuel Ferreira, MD, PHD is the UW Medicine's chief of Neurological Surgery, and specializes on this type of tumor. After a 16 hour surgery, I am forever grateful for his expertise and his team. Without them my outcome wouldn't be the same.
To say I was surprised to find out that I had this complex tumor is an understatement. I had such minor symptoms. They were all easy to dismiss. The moment I heard this was growing in my head. I was more curious than scared. I put my energy into a seek to understand mindset instead of worry. I believe the reason I wasn't fearful was that I never felt really ill. I figured if this is what it feels like to have a brain tumor. I got this. But trust me, throughout the journey there were moments. I had my moments. When they would fill my mind and distract me. I found a way to overcome them. I viewed this journey as an adventure, curious of where it will take me.
This leads me to today, 5 months after my surgery. Finding my way back to painting, and emerging this adventure into the life I live everyday. Finding my new normal and rewiring my brain to do as much as I did before surgery. I woke up from surgery with complications, that should heal over time. My neurosurgeon is confident I would have 100% recovery. Only 40% of the tumor was extracted, the rest is inoperable. But at least it not putting pressure on my brainstem that could have caused paralysis. Today I have limited ability to swallow, facial paralysis, a speech impediment and hearing loss. These are all huge improvements from the weeks after surgery. At that time, in addition to losing partial hearing, I couldn't swallow or speak. I had double vision and had to learn how to keep my balance as I walked. I went home from the hospital with a feeding tube and on a new adventure on how to heal. I had to learn to be still and rest. Something I was not used to doing. I also had to learn how to rely on others. I was no longer in the driver's seat in my life. I was the passenger. Each day, week, month, I am amazed on what comes back and heals. Nerve recovery is a long, very long process. Waiting can be the hardest thing at times. I may not be 100% yet, but I'm more focused on how to live today, with who I am in this moment. I laugh more and find humor in the way I look and talk. I'm still curious, but now curious on where I go from here. I'm eager to share my experience, as I hope to help others catch their tumors sooner as well as share how I've taught myself to focus on what I can do instead of what I can't. We have a choice. We just have to embrace it. I'm looking forward to sharing my art that will be a record of my healing and journey as well as a reminder that we can still create beautiful things, even when our bodies are under construction.
Photo at the bottom was taken 5 weeks after surgery. I was celebrating the win of walking up the driveway and walking to the entrance of Fort Ward Park. A little at a time. I would practice walking at least once a day and resting. Healing from brain surgery is an exhausting feat. Typically sleeping 20-22 hours of the day. Slowly gaining energy back as well as strength.
The photo in my studio was taken 3 months after surgery. My first painting post craniotomy. I still had double vision and was wearing an eye patch. This painting resembles finding my way back to things I love, revisiting the familiar fall landscapes that I enjoy creating. Reteaching myself hand and eye (one eye) coordination while balancing myself and energy. It was a glorious triumph that day and a reminder that I'm still here and still have more to share.
Written by - Kimberly Adams Tremper, Feb 20 2023