By Moniqe Caouette, Connecticut Children’s patient and brain tumor survivor
It was October 2011 and I was away at college. I was in my junior year studying Psychology at the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford. In my free time, I was playing lacrosse for the University and trying to be a normal 22-year-old.
In the same month, I woke up one morning with a migraine. On my way to class I called my Mom, as I would most days, and told her about my really bad headache. It was just the first day and I didn’t think anything of it. As days passed, the migraine stayed and new symptoms came with it. I was experiencing blurred vision but also numbness in the right side of my face and body. It was almost 10 days with still no relief. Fed up with how I was feeling, I called my Mom once again that morning, asking to go to the doctor.
Sitting in the office of Bristol Pediatrics I was told there was nothing that was wrong. On the way home the doctor called and ordered an MRI scan just in case. Shortly after, I was at Bristol Hospital being put into an MRI machine. While waiting to leave I couldn’t help but wonder what they saw on that scan and what they were thinking.
A couple days later I was told to go back to Bristol Pediatrics but this time I was brought into the office. Who knew….an office…. this couldn’t be good. I sat there as the doctor said the words that will forever haunt me, “You have a brain tumor.” Time stood still, “What does this mean? Am I going to be ok?” I thought to myself.
In the office I was okay. I didn’t cry. I was emotionless. I was told I was expected at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center within the next hour to meet my neurosurgeon, Dr. Kanev. This was all happening so fast.
Walking in the parking lot after hearing this news, I broke down. I held my Mom and just cried right there in the middle of the parking lot. I remember sitting in the car texting my boyfriend Nick on the way to Connecticut Children’s, “I have a brain tumor” I wrote. Those words didn’t seem real to me. And who knew that those 5 words would be a part of my life from then on.
The ride to the Medical Center felt like an eternity. Walking in, I felt out of place. This was a children’s hospital and I’m 22 years old…why am I here?
Meeting with Doctor Kanev was a relief. He was an older man with a beard and white hair, almost like Santa Claus. He had a calm demeanor to him. I knew this was a man I could trust with my life. The doctor’s visit covered everything…where the tumor was located, what the MRI looked like, the options I had for surgery and how soon it needed to be removed.
For the next couple weeks my life was on pause. I was going to be having brain surgery for a tumor the size of a golf ball in my right frontal lobe. The scariest part was that I wouldn’t know until after surgery if it was cancerous or not. After weighing my options I decided I would rather have the incision in my head rather than in my eyebrow. Don’t ask me why or how I came up with that decision…it just felt right.
As surgery came closer and my diagnosis spread, people kept asking me how I was, and so I would respond with positive things to shed light on the situation. In front of everyone I was positive and cheerful. I wouldn’t show sadness or nervousness. I knew that I had to stay strong for my family and myself. At night I could hear my parents crying. Little did everyone know that behind closed doors I was not okay. I would sit for hours and cry as well. But I had to remain strong for everyone else. I didn’t want to show my fear. I would ask over and over “Why is this happening to me?”
The day of surgery I was surrounded by people I loved. My family even flew in from the South to watch over me. I was sitting, getting prepped for surgery with my Mom and Dad. I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to feel. I don’t remember much but I remember my Dad and I were laughing, making silly jokes to stay positive.
When heading into surgery I remember walking into the room, laying on the table and seeing Dr. Kanev. “Here goes nothing” I thought as I was put under anesthesia.
My surgery lasted 9 hours. In all of that time my family was updated frequently by the doctor. I can’t even imagine how they were feeling as this was all out of their control. When the surgery was done I was brought into the ICU. The next couple of days were a blur. I was in a lot of pain and was very swollen. I had over 100 stitches on the inside and 100 stitches on the outside of my head. I received 3 plates in my forehead with various screws and had a hole the size of a golf ball in my brain.
From this day on I was able to say that “I survived a brain tumor”. The healing process had begun. Little did I know that during this healing process at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center we were going to have a blizzard in the middle of October! Over the next week, I began getting used to my new scars, my new appearance and my new life ahead of me.
After being released from the hospital, I headed home to start my new life.
As of today I have been tumor free for almost 4 years. I may struggle with not having a short term memory but I am forever grateful to Dr. Kanev and his amazing staff. In my recovery I have found the Connecticut Brian Tumor Alliance. This foundation has inspired me to raise money and this past May I raised almost $2,000 for the Alliance.
In this new life I hope to be the best survivor I can be. I want to strive to dedicate myself to helping people that may have been or are going through similar situations. I hope that by spreading my story I am able to inspire people around me with my strength and positivity.