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Samantha Wills

Gina Martin after brain surgery, to remove a tumour that had caused seizure whilst she was out walking her dog.

Gina Martin after brain surgery, to remove a tumour that had caused seizure whilst she was out walking her dog.

I've not written it yet but as friends and colleagues tell me all the time, write a book. You literally can't make this &%+! Up. It's true, and I felt compelled to reach out. While I’m certain my story is not as dire as others’ the saying that “everyone has their own cross to bear” really hit home with me in 2017.

I had a really cool loft apartment and was just getting my head above water after my divorce, bankruptcy, loss of my home, getting two daughters in college, etc.   

My professional position was eliminated Friday, April 28 with no warning whatsoever (despite being told I would be given at least 60 days notice). I was stressed beyond measure. How would I live? Where would I go?  How would or could I find a job within weeks?  How would I be able to help my daughters pay down college loans which I planned to do?

My life changed literally within one hour on a beautiful spring day. On May 3 while walking my dog Harper Lee, I had a grand mal seizure and passed out on the sidewalk in downtown hitting the cement and busting my head open for all to see. Two good Samaritans called 911 I was told later. Next thing I know I wake up in an ambulance with blood on my hands and jeans. I was asked by paramedics if I was addicted to heroin or crack. I laughed hard but little did I know that a seizure is a side effect of an overdose.  “Is that what happened I asked them. “Yes, you passed out and seized for about four minutes” the paramedic replied.

Off to the hospital I went. Two hours later, after a CAT scan and MRI, I was told I had a brain tumour. Location: right frontal lobe. Shock and despair were an understatement. I had worked out, I had run 7 days a week for more than 20 years, completed 6 marathons and 8 1/2 marathons, always healthy. This had to be a bad joke.   

A few weeks later I was told I had an Oligodendroglioma Grade 2 tumour (the best kind of tumour to have as if there is really such a thing!). Fast forward to June 6. I was admitted for a craniotomy in which 90% of the tumour was removed with 10% that remained. While these tumours are an extremely slow growing brain cancer, they are truly luck of the draw and unpreventable, I was told. After surgery, I sank into a severe emotional and depressive state due to side effects from the anti-seizure medicine, steroids, and painkillers and in general when your skull is sawed off and your brain operated on you basically don’t ever feel the same. 

My recovery continued throughout the summer. My employer allowed me to stay on part-time to retain my benefits. While I appreciated the gesture, I felt it was done more to mitigate risk on their part versus an authentic act of altruism. I felt pressured (self-imposed) to go back to work because of the “gift” of my benefits.  It was much too soon.  I wanted to be a surgery superstar, the one who goes back to the office two weeks later, good as new.

Not the case. My recovery has been grueling from the day I got out of the hospital. The best part of this experience was being encircled by an amazing support team of friends and family. My sorority sisters from decades ago banded together to form a carpool since I couldn’t drive. One by one, someone would pick me up and take me to the doctor.  A few came to the appointment with me to take notes and type them up as I had difficulty remembering instructions and facts. I would then file each document in my “medical binder” to refer back to the information.

Many friends made meals for me daily delivering them to my apartment building’s common room. Each night a scrumptious meal was left in the refrigerator along with a card, note of goodwill and often a beautiful bouquet of flowers. My friends from high school (yes, we still stay in touch more than 35 years later) started a GoFundMe account to which many thoughtful individuals in my life made donations. I was overwhelmed by the generosity and honestly had I not had this I wouldn’t have been able to stay afloat until going back to work part-time.

While these tumours are not as aggressive as a glioma (the type John McCain has), they are devastating nonetheless. I consider the most challenging after-effect of the surgery to be psychological. The fear of the unknown. The fear that the MRI you have every 3 months would reveal new tumour growth.

On top of these circumstances, I have another added pressure of finding a new professional position as I’m still quite capable of working full time. My current employer reminds me that “I’m not the same, nor is my work what it used to be.” Duh.
My skull was sawed opened and screwed back on for God’s sake.   

I do have a bit of short-term memory loss; however, I made this known to them about 8 weeks into my recovery. Somehow I knew my life would never be the same.

I worked part-time up until January 1, 2018, at which time I was then relegated to $25 an hour which isn’t enough to even live on. Fortunately my significant other let me move in with him.  My future is uncertain. I don’t know how I will live, pay bills or maintain my health with no insurance; however, there are good things which have come out of this situation.  My medical care team finally found the right cocktail of pills to combat my rollercoaster of emotions and depression. We are currently working to find an appropriate combination of prescriptions to mitigate the onset of seizures. Once you have one you are prone to them for life.

Despite the mind-numbing pressure of trying to figure out what my next move is and without exaggeration, how I will live, I continue to be in awe from the good which can come out of the worst situation.

I’ve learned valuable life lessons.  I’ve made discoveries. People are innately good. They want to help. Let them. I’ve always been the helper, not the helped. To accept help is difficult and humbling. Let go of the notion that you’re superhuman. You’re not. Any type of tumour, cancer, surgery and recovery is a bitch. Smile at people. Say thank you as often as possible. It goes a long way. 

I have written several lengthy notes of thanks to the highest level executives within organizations whose employees have gone out of their way to assist me. From my apartment property managers and maintenance personnel to my patient navigator at the Chemo drug company to the Verizon employees who came to my aid during a grand mal seizure I experienced in their store just two weeks ago.  I make sure to ask for everyone’s highest level supervisor and contact information so that I can recognize their amazing service and good deeds.

Pay it forward no matter how bad your situation. Sometimes this is the only thing that makes me feel better other than going to the gym which has been my haven.  Once I was able to start going back to my training in late August I was elated. My Terry Bryan gym mates are family and have lifted me up since the beginning of this journey.

I’m now part of a club I never wanted membership in. My primary coping mechanism is to believe there is a purpose for me to still be here. I pray daily it is revealed sooner rather than later. 


Despite it all, I remain grateful to every person who has come along with me on my arduous journey.