Good Will Hunting
36 hours before Mary’s scheduled CyberKnife procedure (radiation surgery), we learned that brain surgery was a possible option. We had to make a quick decision to delay the procedure in order to pursue a second opinion.
We were clumsy and timid at first, but we grew confident in our search. We consulted with 5 different chief vascular neurosurgeons in 5 different states.
The prep work leading up to each consultation took about 2-3 days of our full time attention. Brad, Mary and I would listen to all of the details together. They were overwhelming, serious, and difficult things to hear. But we recorded audio, took notes and discussed all of it as a team.
The last surgeon we consulted gave us some great counsel on making our decision: take all of the information we had and set it aside for awhile. Usually within just a few days, the answer will come and we will know what is best for Mary.
The pressure and stress of all of this was almost too much for Mary to bear. We decided that she needed to escape and get away from it and from us! So she flew to Provo, UT for a long weekend with Catherine, Kris and close friends. That was the best decision we had made so far.
A Beautiful Mind
We learned so much about Mary’s AVM. It is specifically located in the ‘Sylvian Fissure.’ This is the area between the frontal and left temporal lobe, which is behind her left eye. Dr. Lawton at UCSF, told us that ‘Mary’s AVM has some really nice features. When it bled in June, it separated itself nicely from the brain, sitting in the fissure.’
The Sylvian Fissure is in the eloquent part of her brain. This consists of the areas of the brain that allow us to communicate, perceive, interact, and have movement. These regions of the brain regulate our senses, movement, and speech.
Her AVM has a massive volume of blood that rapidly flows through it. It is nearly 5cm long and 1 inch in diameter. It is a cluster of blood vessels and arteries all tangled together. With surgery, the tricky part is to stop that blood flow, choose the best vessels to tackle first, and avoid any damage to vital features in that area.
The surgery to remove an AVM in this location, is the most difficult surgery that a vascular neurosurgeon will ever do.
A Star is Born
Over that long weekend, Brad found a great diversion. Every Christmas for the past 10 years, he has hung a 25 foot star that he built in the sky above our house. It has become quite the symbol of Christmas for our little Felida community. It was even featured in The Columbian one year! If the star isn’t lit by Thanksgiving weekend, he starts receiving calls requesting it to be turned on as soon as possible! It is visible all the way across the Salmon Creek bridge and calls attention to all who pass by.
Last year, the star had too many technical difficulties and it was missed by all of Felida! Our grown kids said its absence really made a difference in their Christmas. So Brad took that quiet weekend to build a new and better star! The timing of its inauguration could not have been better.
On Monday, December 6, Mary returned from her getaway to Provo. While she was gone, Brad and I realized we had each come to a decision. We wondered if Mary would have the same answer as us. We decided to not talk about it until she had been home for 24 hours.
Mary spent a few minutes telling me about her weekend and in conclusion she said, ‘Mom~I’m not afraid anymore! I need to have surgery. That is my answer.’
I immediately fell into her arms with tears. After 18 extremely difficult days, we had an answer! But more importantly, all 3 of us had the same answer:
Mary will have surgery to remove her AVM on Friday, January 21 at 7:30am at UCSF in San Francisco. Dr. Michael Lawton will perform the surgery. She will begin pre-op appointments on the 19th and is expected to make a full recovery within 2-3 months.
Within a few moments of this amazing discovery, Brad asked us to come help him hang the giant star. Mary and I could hardly contain our excitement and relief, but we put that energy into pulling the ropes. It took our combined strength to hoist it up as Brad directed and kept the ropes from tangling.
Soon it was taller than the giant fir trees, back up in the sky for all to see its great message of peace, joy and hope! The star will be our symbol of this great Christmas gift for Mary.School of Rock
On December 15, Mary took her New Testament final exam online. It signified the completion of an impossible goal: to return to BYU for fall semester. It was a tough semester being so far from home so soon after into her recovery. But with strong support from Catherine, Kris, and very dedicated friends, she was able to live independently and complete her goal.
She began insisting to us the first week in the ICU, “I am going to BYU on August 30.” She never doubted that it could happen.
But there is an important reason that Mary was supposed to return to school. Delaying CyberKnife gave us the opportunity to learn that surgery was a better option for her full recovery.
Mary has given us more gifts than she realizes. Being close to her during this trial, we benefit from her strength and determination.
She gave Thomas the impossible chance to be a ‘big brother.’
Catherine said this year she has gained more knowledge than ever before.
Mary can still make Phillip laugh louder and with more joy than anyone else!
I have had the opportunity to become a better mother. But I am most grateful that Mary and I now have a stronger friendship.
Getting to the Heart of the Matter
These past several months, we have worried more about Mary than ever before. She has had to endure so many challenges and it began to weigh heavily on her heart. At times, discouragement crept in and she lost hope of her future. She wasn’t able to drive, run, or taste food~and then she even had to leave school. Not mention the fact that she was facing risky surgery of one kind or the other. She had a lot to be angry and frustrated about.
I am so thankful for a particular friend who stayed in touch with Mary this fall. Zane was sympathetic to her situation and listened carefully when she needed to vent. He didn’t give up on her when she had to abruptly pack up and leave school. In fact, we woke up that morning to find he had loaded all of her belongings into the truck for us.
All during the difficult surgery decision process, Zane helped to give Mary courage in what she faced ahead. Her sincere explanation is, ‘While everyone was so concerned about my head, Zane warmed my heart. He helped me to be brave enough to take the biggest risk so that I can have my life back. He saved me.’
City of Angels
‘When god can’t be there he sends an angel and when an angel can’t be there he sends your friends.’ Anonymous
Countless times I have endured a really tough moment because of one of you. You have been inspired in one way or another to reach out and show love and support to us. A simple text, email, card, call or encouraging words have often been what has boosted me to help Mary endure such a terrifying ordeal.
We continue to count on your sincere prayers for Mary and all those who will be a part of this surgery. Your faith will add to our faith. This surgery will work for Mary!
I want to be more like each of you and be the one to give solace and strength to others. This Christmas day, our family truly knows that our faith and love for each other are all that we need to carry on. This has been our most meaningful Christmas.Better Days
“And you asked me what I want this year
and I try to make this kind and clear
just a chance that maybe we'll find better days
'cause I don't need boxes wrapped in strings
and designer love and empty things
just a chance that maybe we'll find better days…”
by Goo Goo Dolls