Hi! I’m Dr Bea. Thanks for stopping by.
Over the last three years I’ve been given the opportunity to contemplate my mortality several times. What became very clear for me was that a bucket list was not the answer. A bucket list is a list of all the things someone wants to do before he or she kicks the bucket. This seemed almost selfish to me. After I kick the bucket, I doubt I will care what was on it.
Rather, I see legacy moments as being important. Legacy moments are the memories I want to leave with friends and family. It would be the moments, activities and occasions they could look back on after I’m gone.
Recently, I heard a description of heaven and hell that deeply resonated with me. Heaven is if people look back on you fondly after you’re gone; hell is if they don’t.
So what, you are probably wondering, brought on these deep reflections?
About nine years ago, I started losing the hearing in my left ear. It got bad enough that I went to a doctor who referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist (ENT). After a multitude of visits and tests, the ENT concluded I must have had a virus that killed the cilia in my left ear; I should just get used to the hearing loss. Fast forward to 2016. The hearing loss was getting significantly worse. I went to a different ENT. After several tests, this ENT decided to check for a deeper problem. He discovered a brain tumor that was larger than a golf ball crushing my middle ear and pressing on my brain stem.
Jan 17, 2017: I was operated on in an attempt to remove this tumor. They worked for about eight hours until my brain started to swell and they had to stop. After 11 days in ICU, I was finally released but still had a major portion of the tumor remaining.
June 6, 2017: They went in again. This time, they had to go in ‘through my ear’. The inner workings of the ear and the vestibule were removed to get a better angle at the tumor. The removal of the inner workings of the ear, meant complete hearing loss in that ear. The removal of the vestibule meant everything related to balance needed to be relearned.
Another consequence of this second surgery was the facial nerves were disturbed, causing complete paralysis of the left side of my face. Nearly two years later, the nerves are still slowly regenerating. A secondary consequence of this paralysis was that my left eye stopped blinking, which in turn left my cornea dried out, cracked and infected. We still have hope the vision will return.
After two surgeries, I am still left with a significant portion of the tumor. I having been seeing an oncologist to plan radiation treatment to get rid of the last of the it. The chunk that is left is wrapped around the nerve for swallowing and pressing on my brain stem so we have decide radiation makes more sense than invasive surgery – surgery which could damage the nerve. As long as the tumor does not start to grow again and the facial nerves appear to be healing we wait. Every six months, I get an MRI and visit my oncologist. After the second such visit, it was becoming apparent we were all getting antsy to move on.
Before we got the chance to start the radiation, I became aware of a cyst-like something on my back. It was tender and bruised, which didn’t make sense as I had done nothing to cause it to bruise. I saw the Nurse Practitioner at my doctor’s office. She said, “It’s a pimple you’ve been poking at; leave it alone and it will go away.” This was exactly the diagnosis I had hoped to hear as I was getting ready to go to Germany to meet my new grand baby.
Upon returning from Germany two weeks later, the spot and bruise were still there. I called my dermatologist, she had a cancellation and I could get in the next day. She looked at it and said, “I have no idea what it is but I want it out.” I met with a surgeon the next day, she said, “I have no idea what it is but I want it out now.” Again, I was leaving town, this time for my other daughter’s wedding. We were able to squeeze the surgery in the next day.
The wedding was planned for the coming Sunday. I was sitting in our condo the Friday before when the doctor called. The pathology showed a sarcoma, a highly aggressive soft tissue cancer. On the upside, we had caught it super early. Weeks of radiation and surgery later, a new pathology was done and showed they had gotten it all.
The upside to the cancer diagnosis is that it has put the tumor treatment on hold – giving the facial nerves much more time to heal. The upside to the brain tumor is it has me much more in tune to my body and had me respond quickly to the cancer.
Before all of this, the last surgery/ major illness I had was 55 years ago. I come from good stock and had planned to live forever. These last 3 years have given me a tremendous amount of time to contemplate my mortality and think of what legacy I want to leave behind. Particularly in terms of the memories I leave with my children, grandchildren, family and friends.