My Brain Tumor

On September, 1981, I was hired by St. Mary’s Medical Center in Saginaw, Michigan, to work in Administration as a secretary.

Three months later, I met John Skaryd at a meeting for single parents.

From our first introduction, I was smitten. At the end of the evening, he walked me to the car and kissed me gently on the cheek. We made plans to go to dinner later in the week. That date was followed by many more.

In January, 1982, only a month after we’d met, I found out I had a brain tumor. Talk about bad timing! A new job, a new guy, and a life-threatening brain tumor!

I had gone to a specialist when I felt something with my hearing wasn’t “quite right.” From the audiologist, I was sent to one of best neurosurgeons in the world. He diagnosed my condition as an acoustic neuroma, a non-malignant tumor on my brain stem. It took about a month of tests and a hospital stay to confirm and map the tumor. Without the surgery, I would die, with it I had a 50/50 chance of facial paralysis with many side effects. My doctor explained that he hadn’t been successful removing these tumors and felt I should go to the center where they’d had the best outcomes and were making the greatest advances: St. Vincent’s Medical Center, in Los Angeles, California.

I was frightened. I’d never been across the country. I couldn’t lean on my parents because Mom was incapable of becoming “involved.” (I now believe her inability to deal with difficult situations may have been part of the very early stages of Alzheimer’s.) Dad was dealing with a major heart problem and couldn’t handle anything further. My teenage daughter had her own life.

So I confided in John, my very new gentleman friend. I shared my innermost thoughts with him. I cried. I felt vulnerable.

A surgery in California presented logistic problems. I had to stay for three weeks following the operation. Since my finances and paid sick-time were extremely limited, there was no way I could cover the costs for my daughter to accompany me.

I prepared to go across the country alone. Although John wasn’t able to get much time off work, he said he would be there for the surgery.

I arrived on the weekend so that I could have lab tests and work-ups. John came in on Wednesday just before I checked into the hospital. The surgery was scheduled for Thursday.

The night before my operation, I received a call from Sister Mary, Administrator of St. Mary’s Medical Center in Saginaw. At that time, I’d only worked for St. Mary’s about six months but we’d become friends. She was at a retreat and had requested a special mass for me. She also arranged for my care after the surgery.

I am not Catholic, but I was glad that I had her and her strong beliefs behind me.

The next day, everything went fine. John was with me in intensive care. He called my parents to fill them in, and then left to go back to work in Michigan.

Eight similar surgeries were done the week I had mine. I was one of only two patients who had a successful outcome. (Sister Mary’s prayers had helped.)

The next three weeks, I had to stay in California. My recovery progressed smoothly under the care of the Daughters’ of Charity, the nuns of Sister Mary’s “order.” Her pull had really helped with my accommodations. After I was discharged from the hospital, I was invited to stay in a vacant nursing school. It was empty except for me. She’d even arranged to have my meals delivered.

Six weeks after my surgery, I was back at work.

I’d met John in 1981. On September 10, 1985, we were married.

That’s the brief story of our romance… Or maybe you could say it’s the story of my brain tumor. I know my health crisis drew us closer. He was there for me.

This past September, we celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary.

Because of the surgery in 1982, I’m totally deaf in my right ear and my balance is lousy. I have found that the loss of my inner ear produces dizziness which isn’t always easy to deal with. Sometimes I am disoriented, especially after dark, but I am fortunate to have come through it as I did. I’ve had a grand life.

When Sister Mary died in 2003, I asked to speak at her memorial service. All of the others who took the podium were high-level community leaders and political figures. They talked about how Sister Mary had made the hospital financially viable and credited her with the introduction of high tech services that made St. Mary’s the second most intensive care facility in the state of Michigan. Because of her leadership, Saginaw now has a reputation as a hub for excellence in medical services.

The room was filled and noisy when I started my story. As I told of my experience, the room quieted. My account explained how Sister Mary had made sure I had the best possible treatment in California. She may have been an icon of business success, but it was clear that Sister Mary was more importantly a warm, caring friend, who lived her beliefs.

There was total silence … then applause when I finished.

In 2004, I retired from St. Mary’s. Over the years I had advanced from secretary to an administrative position in charge of hospital planning and the authority on certificates of need for most of hospitals in central Michigan.

In those 23 years, I’d only missed one additional day because of illness.

Boy, that Sister Mary had some powerful prayers!

Comments are closed.

Click here to go to the Skaryd's Biography and a link for emailing.