Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Dealing with pre-operation nervousness (Part 1)

The phrase “brain tumor is big and scary to most everybody.  There are good reasons for this – there’s nothing about the words “brain tumor” that implies “good health” or “long life.”

In addition, in case you sublimated the heart-to-heart post-MRI discussion with your surgeon, the pre-surgery papers you sign make it absolutely clear that all bets are off. The surgeons will do their best and they are really good, but there are lots of reasons, beyond their control, that really bad things can happen once they cut open your skull.

And in this case, really bad things are really bad.

So, how do you handle it (while waiting for the operation)? 
From what I can tell, most folks react in one of three ways:
1.  Obsessing about it
2.  Pretending it isn’t happening
3.  Becoming an amateur expert on brain tumors 
Let’s take a quick look at these obvious but, in my opinion, flawed emotional responses.

Obsessing about it

This is the most natural and immediate response – “Ohmigod, I have this thing growing inside my head and it’s going to kill me - ieeeoooww!!!”
While this may be true, it doesn’t seem to help anything.  You may find some sort of temporary tension release by making everybody around you crazy, but they may just strangle you before the operation.

In that vein, I imagined this conversation with my deceased, no-nonsense aunt.
            “Aunt Bertha, I have this big, scary tumor and I could die”
“Well dear, it’s time to take this like a big boy.  After all, you are 57 years old.”
“But, Aunt Bertha, the idea of a big tumor in my brain gives me the willies!”
            “Now John, while we’re all sorry about this, you are becoming rather tiresome.”
“But I could die.”
            “Well, if that shuts you up, then please hurry up about it.” 
Pretending it isn’t happening
When I was in high school and had what I was sure was terminal acne, pretending that you didn’t have acne just didn’t work.  For example, I’d walk up to some girl in the hallway and say:
Me: “Gee, isn’t trigonometry tough enough without Mrs. Butler giving us five pages of problems every night?”
Linda: “John, your zits are disgusting.”

Now the analogy doesn’t quite work when you have a brain tumor because, unless she’s Supergirl and has X-ray vision, she won’t know that you have a brain tumor.  (Actually, she might need MRI-vision to really appreciate the tumor.)

Whether you acknowledge your problem or not, I don’t know of any serious issue that gets “better” if you ignore it.
President Kennedy: “Robert, if we ignore the Russian missiles in Cuba, will this whole thing just blow over?”
Robert Kennedy:  “John, ‘blow over’ could turn into ‘blow up’ if we don’t do something.”

As best I can tell, problems only get worse, not better, the longer you ignore them.

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