Anyone who works in sales or marketing understands the power of words. The right words can change minds, close deals, and create a brand.
Some words however can change your life. For us these words were spoken by my GP, “Sorry Mr Hannah, but you have two tumours on your brain”.
It doesn’t hit you immediately, but those words changed everything. Everything that I thought I knew about our future was gone. The certainty of growing old with my wife, gone. The certainty of watching our grandchildren grow up, gone. Suddenly you have no certainty of what will happen and a creeping panic sets in about what is to come.
Once the words have sunk in, you have a couple of choices. You can collapse into a self-pitying heap and sob, or you can give yourself time to sit calmly, clear your head and accept that life has changed.
I chose the second option.
After a few minutes I found that an unexpected feeling of calm came over me. Faced with the very real possibility of an untimely and not too distant demise, I was surprised to discover that I am not actually scared of dying. In fact, of all of the potential events triggered by the news, death was very low on my list of concerns, with my bigger worries being how will my wife cope and how would my absence affect our children. The emotion that I did get was anger at what we, as a family, would miss out on.
Wednesday the 13th of October was officially the last day of normality for us. Mid-morning on Thursday the 14th, my wife was telling a friend on the telephone that we were feeling happy and were finally settling into retirement. We received the fateful call from the doctor just 15 minutes later. Our lives were now to be defined by life before the call and life after the call.
So, what led to the call that changed everything for us?
I retired in January 2021 after 10 years doing a job that I loved, working for a Swedish tech company. We took early retirement to leave us free to spend up to 6 months a year in New Zealand with our daughter, Charlotte and our first (and probably only) grandchildren. Of course, the pandemic stopped us going and as I write we are still not sure when we will be able to go.
A few months ago, I started to experience the sensation of being hot even when my body temperature was normal. At that time my GP attributed it to the stress of retiring. The heat sensation then moved to my right side only but the GP continued to believe that this was stress related.
Eventually, in addition to the hot flush, I discovered that I had lost a lot of sensation in my right side. I was running a bowl of hot water but only my left hand could feel the heat whilst the water felt tepid to my right hand. This triggered a series of tests, including a full blood analysis, as the GP now became concerned that I may have had a stroke. When the blood tests came back as normal, the last remaining test was an MRI.
We currently live near the Harrogate General Hospital, where the MRI scan was to be done so when, on Wednesday the 13th I got a call asking if I could be at the hospital for a scan within 15 minutes, I was really pleased. I happily walked to hospital and within 15 minutes I was filling a locker with all of my more magnetic possessions that I had on me before going in for the MRI scan.
MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanners seem to be a big cause of stress for a lot of people, my own late father had to be removed from the machine due to a panic attack. I personally don’t have problem with it. The MRI scanner is basically a large white floor mounted doughnut and the dreaded scan tunnel is only a few feet long and open at both ends. When you are in the scanner, you could reach up and feel the other end. You could easily get out even if the moving table failed for some reason.
I was asked to lay down on the scanner table, earphones were put on me followed by some padding to keep my fat head still. Finally, a plastic cage was placed over my head which is fitted with a small periscope so that you can see what is happening in the room. The radiographer hit a button and I gently slid into the scanner.
The only problem that I had was that the room was so warm and I was so comfortable in the machine that I was soon fighting the urge to doze off! Even I would have been embarrassed if the table had slid out of the scanner with me gently snoozing like a hibernating sloth. Anyway, scan done, I wandered happily home, expecting a call to tell me that I had a trapped nerve and to book me in with a physiotherapist. Well, as it transpired, I was partly correct.
When the call came, less than 24 hours after the scan, we knew that this did not bode well, especially when the doctor began the call by asking if I was at home and did I have anyone with me? After passing on the good news, he then described what they believe that we are dealing with.
When I said that I thought that I had a trapped nerve I was in a way correct, but what I have is a trapped spinal cord.
At the base of my skull, at my brain stem, I have a 25mm Meningioma. This is a benign (non-cancerous) tumour but because of its size and position, it has compressed my spinal cord from its normal 8mm down to 2.3mm and this is the cause of my loss of sensation and feeling hot.
In looking for the cause of my problems, the MRI scan also showed a second tumour. This is of a different type know as a Glioma, located in my right frontal lobe. Although in children, a Glioma is typically a distinct mass that can be removed, in adults, even a benign Glioma is what is called infiltrative which means that the bad cells are mixed with the good cells and therefore impossible to remove completely. If left, even benign Glioma cells will mutate and become malignant and deadly.
One way or another they both have to go and sooner rather than later.
So here we are, after one short phone call our peaceful and relaxing retirement is on hold and I have gone from gently poking fun at my Mum-in-Law in my blog, to having long periods of contemplating the possibility of not making it through my 60’s.
PS: In the posts that follow this one, I will chart my trip through the “It’s a tumour after all” ride. I think it will help me to keep things clear in my mind and maybe help anyone else who find themselves where I am today.
In Part 2 I’m going to talk about my first encounter with two people who are about to loom large in my future, my Neurosurgeons.