When You Have A Brain Tumor, It's Not Like It Is In The Movies

by Ashley Fuchs
Originally Published: 

I drove down the road, my son chatting at me about video games from the backseat.

“Um hmm,” I replied.

I drove slower than usual down the wooded road. I noticed how bright the sun shone through the leaves. Normally, I am a Mom on a Mission, and I have no time for noticing things like sunlight and leaves. But time was sluggish, because one of the errands on my to-do list that Saturday was picking up my recent MRI report before I took my son over to the library. The receptionist handed me the one-page report with a smile and told me to have a nice day. My son raced off toward the parking lot, and I read as I walked out of the building.

It’s not like it is in the movies.

In the movies, when a person finds out they have a brain tumor, they are sitting in a doctor’s office. They have family nearby, or the film cuts to the part where they are now surrounded by family and getting to the solution part. Instead, I found myself Googling words I didn’t know on my iPhone as I walked beside a 9-year-old whose biggest concern was whether or not he would get to play Terraria when we got home. The parking lot was too large and hot and smelled like new tar. “C’mon, Mom!” he urged. “You are walking so slowly. I want to get to the library!”

Right. The library. That’s what I had told him.

On the 20-minute drive over, my brain split in two: half of it developed an uncharacteristic Buddha-like calm and “Um hmm’ed” or simple-answered everything that my son threw at me. The other half had a completely different internal monologue running.

Fuck! Why did I come do this now, with my kid in tow? What was I thinking? What does this mean? I need to talk to my doctor. He’s not going to be in his office until Monday. How am I going to wait two days to get some answers? Oh shit. I’m going to have to go home and tell my family. They are going to freak out. What if I don’t tell anyone until I get some answers? No, I won’t get away with that. They will be angry when they find out I knew.


“Yes?” I snapped out of my haze.

“C’mon! We’re here.”

The car was sitting in the library parking lot. Oh. How did that happen? My son ran off, and somehow, I followed him. While he browsed the shelves, I browsed my iPhone, looking for any layperson’s article I could find on my type of tumor, the treatments and the prognosis. Most answers pointed to it usually being benign, and surgery having a high success rate. Brain surgery. WTF?

I pictured those characters in the movies with shaved heads lying in operating rooms, being put to sleep as the music swells and the concerned family sits in the waiting room. But the movies never dealt with the kind of questions that I now had.

How long will I be out of commission? Who is going to drive my kids to all of their activities? What if they nick something and I get a leg droop or weird eye twitch for the rest of my life? What if surgery wipes out our savings? Damn. We wanted to buy a new house and take the kids to Harry Potter World this year! Am I about the screw all that up?


“Yes, honey?” I tried to give him eye contact.

“I said I have my books, and I’m ready to go. Can I call someone to come over when we get home?”

“Um, I don’t know. Let’s talk about it at home.”

Somehow, I made it through two days of distracting my family and myself before I was able to talk with my doctor. We filled those days with a baseball game, a fireworks show, a sleepover (and panicked texts from a child who was having an issue and didn’t know that her mother had a brain tumor), an earthquake (yes, we were looking for the locusts and boils to come next), teaching Sunday school, taking a hike through the woods, and having my son’s friend come over for video games and pizza. We waited to tell the children until we had some answers, because we didn’t want to scare them any more than we had to.

I’m going to add “compartmentalizing” to my resume skill set, because I’m now a pro.

Monday morning, my doctor confirmed what WebMD had told me: probably benign, easily treated by surgery or radiation (what?). He referred me to a neurosurgeon and sent my records off to him. We started calling family members and close friends. We told the children over dinner and reassured them that I’m not going to die from this. And now, we wait.

It’s not like it is in the movies, where the problem and the solution happen in the space of two hours. I am going to have to wait and wait and wait to see how this all plays out.

It’s not like it is in the movies, because it’s happening to me.

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