It's a Wonderful Life, Again

Pittsburgh, January 14, 2014 -- (Note: The following article was written by the wife of a brain tumor patient. It appeared in the fall of 2013 as a two-part article in the Hubbard (OH) Soaring Eagle newspaper and highlights the couple's experience from discovering the tumor to successful treatment. The article is reprinted in its entirety with persmission from the Hubbard Soaring Eagle.)

by Deborah Shields

Deborah and Harry ShieldsMy husband and my life changed over night with my husband Harry’s diagnosis of a massive brain tumor. We were happily planning to leave in 6 days for a much needed vacation in Maine when we got the news that not only did he have a brain tumor, but he needed immediate surgery if he was to survive.

Harry had gone to Dr. Gerdes in Hubbard, Ohio, for an eye exam. He had blurry vision in his right eye and thought he needed stronger prescription glasses. Dr. Gerdes suspected something was pressing on his optic nerve and asked our family doctor to send him to a neurologist.

We met with a neurologist, who thought Harry probably just had inflammation of his optic nerve, but ordered an MRI to be safe. Since we were leaving on vacation within the week they did the MRI the very next day.

The neurologist called us and asked us to come in to his office that same day, and said, “Do not allow Harry to drive.” That didn’t sound good. When we got there he started asking us some questions. Did he have confusion lately? Was he lethargic? Was his personality changed? Yes, Yes, Yes! His behavior, his confusion, his lack of energy, his inability to concentrate, there was a reason!

We have had a very stressful life the last several years. Harry lost his job twice within 10 years due to outsourcing. He was unemployed for three years. He went back to school full time and got his Associates Degree. He got a new job working midnight turn, 12 hour shifts. He lost his father and step-mother, both dying from Alzheimers, within a few months of each other.

It was easy to attribute the changes in Harry to stress. What we never suspected was a frontal lobe brain tumor 3 inches by 3 inches, by 2 ½ inches. These were all symptoms of a frontal lobe tumor, and amazingly Harry, by sheer willpower, kept functioning and working. His brain and his body were shutting down. We learned of his tumor at 5 o’clock on Friday and met with a neurosurgeon at 8 a.m. Monday morning in Pittsburgh.

Luck was on our side, one of the best neurosurgeons with experience operating on large frontal lobe brain tumors happened to be Dr. Friedlander, Chief of Neurosurgery at UPMC. The largest brain tumor Dr. Friedlander had ever operated on was a 5.5 centimeter tumor; Harry’s was over 7 centimeters.

We were advised of all the risks in trying to remove a tumor of this size. He could have a massive stroke, bleed to death, his legs could be paralyzed, one side of his body could be paralyzed, and he could suffer brain damage, seizures, on and on.

But Dr. Friedlander felt confident he could not only save Harry’s life, but give him his life back. And we had no choice. This was going to be fatal if not removed, and time was running out. He needed surgery within days, not weeks, if he was to survive.

One thing you find out when you receive a diagnosis like this, you have more people that care about you and love you than you ever realized. People were praying, prayer chains were started, and he had a constant stream of visitors during the seven days he was waiting for his surgery.

He was admitted to Intensive care Monday, exactly seven days after first seeing Dr. Friedlander. He was scheduled for an angioplasty to seal off feeders to his tumor that day, and his brain surgery was performed on Tuesday.

To say it was a success is an understatement. He not only survived the surgery, but he has made a total recovery. He is once again the man I married, the man who is always kind, laughing, and happy. His vision is returning, he is full of energy, and he is thinking clearly. He says he realized the things he was doing and saying, but could not stop himself, it was as if he was trapped inside watching someone else and being powerless to stop the behavior.

They say his tumor had been growing for over 20 years. Looking back we remember the changes to Harry starting about 10 years ago. The last year or two he was no longer the man I married. I am so blessed to have him back, and he is so happy to have his life back. We are so looking forward to the rest, the best, of our lives.

There is always hope. Believe, stay positive, pray. Let your family and friends help you, take care of you, and do things for you. Go to the best doctor for your diagnosis, even if it means having to travel. Fight, beg, do whatever it takes to get your insurance company to cover your surgeon and hospital and treatment.

This is not the time to settle for second best. There is always hope, and you can beat the odds. Harry has found peace within himself again, and it truly is a wonderful life again for him. And as for me, I am looking forward to another 39 years with the man I married.