I am Chosen

Brittany Truitt

I had recently turned sixteen. This was an exciting milestone for me. Getting keys to a car and being able to drive to and from school was a huge responsibility but one I had eagerly awaited. I was a cheerleader, tennis player, swimmer, involved in youth in government, student government, and piano. I was doing it all and life was great. Spring break was in a couple of weeks and I could hardly wait. One afternoon, I was doing homework on the island in our kitchen and laid my head on my books. My mom was cooking dinner at the time and looked over. Another headache honey, she said. Yeah, I replied. Why don't you take Tylenol and lie down for a while. Yeah, I think I'll do that. I laid down on the couch and around an hour later my mom asked me, "Headache gone?" I replied, "Better but ". They never really go away." Puzzled and a bit concerned she said, "Never?" I again responded, "No, they never really go away, it's just that...sometimes they are worse than other times." Mom did not say much but made a doctor's appointment for that Friday.

Over the last two years, I was plagued with headaches, fatigue, loss of hair, and amenorrhea. It was Friday and we saw the doctor. My mom mentioned to the receptionist that she felt that I was still having symptoms and just wanted to check them again. They did the usual tests; looked in my ears and throat, checked my heartbeat and took my pulse. After taking my pulse, the doctor looked up and said, "Brittany, has an unusually low heart rate at rest. Sometimes a low heart rate can indicate trouble with thyroid or the pituitary gland. Let us do more tests," she said. They did blood work that day and ordered other tests to be done the following week.

On Monday, I went for an EKG. My heart rate was still low. The office set me up with a halter monitor to be worn for twenty-four hours. After analyzing the readings the next day, the doctor saw a minor issue with the sinus node but didn't think it was a significant concern. Wednesday, a sonogram of my ovaries was performed. The doctor called that night to say the sonogram was within normal limits. I did not really think anything was wrong, but did wonder why I was having so many headaches. I do have a habit of overextending myself. I was sure that this was probably the reason for the headaches.

The week was coming to an end and Friday was the last day of school before spring break. The doctor had set up an appointment for a MRI to check the pituitary gland. I went for the scheduled MRI on Friday. It was supposed to last forty minutes. My dad sat with me during the procedure. We waited a while, and the radiologist came in. At that time I thought we were done and I was ready to leave. The noise was incredibly loud and my head was pounding. "We are going to have to inject some dye but should be done soon." Disappointed, but respectfully, I smiled at him and said, "That's okay." I really didn't think anything was wrong, however, I wasn't excited about going back into the tube. The time passed quicker than before, and I was ready to be done. "Okay you're done." Relieved, I smiled again and got dressed. My mom had been calling wondering why it was taking so long. My dad just said he wasn't sure but that he wanted to stay to hear what the doctor had to say. More time passed, my headache had worsened. My mom decided to pick me up and take me to lunch. My dad was not going to go with us.

I walked to the parking lot to meet my mother. I was famished. After such a long time in the MRI, my mouth was dry and I was antsy from being in the MRI machine so long. We ordered our food and I wanted to wash my hands. When I came back, I spotted my mom across the room as she was walking quickly toward me. She had a terrified look on her face. I said to her, "What's wrong?" My mother was uneasy. Stumbling over her words, "I'm not really sure. Your father asked us to stay here and he will be here in five minutes." We both instinctively knew something was wrong. We left our food, sat in the car, and he arrived minutes later.

We were sitting in the front seats of the car, he opened the door and stooped down. Hardly able to get out the words he said, "The doctor saw something on the film." "What is it?" I asked. "It is a spot on the film." Wondering what he meant by a spot, I asked again, A spot?" He could no longer speak and began to cry. "It is a brain tumor but it is the best kind you can have." I curled up in the seat of the car, cried and rocked myself. A few minutes later, I looked up at my mother, tears streaming down her face, and asked, "Am I going to die?" There was silence. I don't remember what her answer was but recall the insurmountable peace I felt. There are some things in life you cannot explain; well this was one of them. God had wrapped me in his arms and peace ran through my body. I sat up and stopped crying. It is going to be okay. When you think of having a brain tumor, you wouldn't necessarily consider yourself chosen. But think again.

Over the course of three months, we would visit different surgeons and hospital facilities. Each appointment would bring a slightly different diagnosis and approach to surgery. My parents and I opted for Children's Hospital in Boston because the facility had an intraoperative MRI and we especially liked the neurosurgeon. The surgery was scheduled two months later. Our doctor was Chief of Staff and well-known surgeon, Dr. R. Michael Scott. The surgery was performed on August 8th, 2006. I checked in the hospital at 6:30 and was in recovery by 3:30. My family came into the recovery about 4:00. When I woke up my first words were, "Are we done?" My mom nodded. "That was quick." I said in relief. I guess for me it was because, I had been asleep for 8 hours and did not realize how much time had passed. My mom, dad and three aunts were hovered over my bed. "It went great honey, they got it all," mom said. My throat hurt, I really couldn't speak any more but nodded in approval.

I was in the ICU for two days. After that, I moved to another room with a roommate. My mom, dad and aunts stayed with me playing tag team. I felt as if I had an entourage. I loved it and appreciated having them there. They had left their own families at home to be with me. One of my aunts flew all the way from China to be present. My brother and my parent's close friends also came to Boston to visit. My friends, church and family were a great support with cards and flowers. One nurse commented, "It looks like a nursery in here. I have never seen so many flowers in one room before."

It was such a nice balance, and truly something I looked forward to. I loved when the nurse came in and said, "Brittany, you have some more flowers. You must really be loved back home." Yes, it was a nice bridge between Boston and Florida. While the flowers and balloons were beautiful, it was certainly the love I felt from home that in a big way made a difference.

The community of family was amazing and at this time it was great to have. I really couldn't not articulate much other than that I was miserable. They joked with me, read to me, sat with me and tried to feed me. It is truly amazing how much we take for granted. Until, you can't do something, it is hard to realize what it's like to not be able to do it. During the surgery, the doctor had severed the neck muscles in order to remove the tumor. The recovery was painful and I did not have any range off motion with my neck for about a week. I can remember, when the therapist came to see me, she asked that I move my head up and down and back and forth. I remember looking up and down and looking back and forth and she said to me, "Can you do that with your head and not your eyes."

I think my answer was, "No, but I'll work on it" and diligently, I worked. It was a very slow process, and it took at least a month to get full range of motion back. I never really had to think about walking, but after the surgery, I would have to think about putting one foot in front of the other. Swallowing was also another challenge. It was like a big knot was in my throat. I knew how to swallow, my brain knew what to do as I had been doing it for 16 years of my life, but the connection from my brain to actually performing the task was not in rhythm. A week after surgery, I flew home. It was a most uncomfortable trip. Up until this point, I had not had to sit up straight for a number of hours. I cried and didn't feel I could make the trip. My father couldn't miss any more days of works so we had to make the flight. I was surprised how unfriendly the flight attendant was. It was a long trip home.

I continued to progress every day. My spirits were good most of the time but there was a lot of pain for three to four weeks. I started school around four weeks after surgery on a part-time basis. The school was incredibly accommodating letting me move at a pace I felt most comfortable. After five weeks, I was able to cheer at a football game and although, there were restriction, like not being able to build or jump, it was an important part of my recovery. I needed socialization. Even though my neck hurt while being out there, I didn't care because I wanted to be there. I needed to be there, to keep me focused on something other than my pain.

After months had passed, much of my life had resumed to its normal routine. I was still having pain in my neck but it was minor compared to what I had been through. It was time to have my first check-up and MRI. We flew to Boston. While waiting for the MRI, I ran into the girl whom was my roommate after surgery. What a coincidence. She had surgery a few days before me and was my roommate during the duration of my stay in the hospital. We had become friends during our short stay after surgery. What was the chance that we would end up in the MRI facility at the same day and time! I was so happy to see her. She had trouble remembering me, but the part of the brain where she had surgery affected her memory. It hurt my feelings at first, but I totally understood. I will always pray for her because I know she has to deal with more post operative issues than myself. The results of the MRI for myself were great. They did not see any residual tumor nor did they see any re-growth of the tumor. For now, I was relieved and could finally relax.

I was now motivated. During my recovery, I had conceived the idea of raising money for the Childhood Brain Tumor Foundation. I wanted to help other children that were not as fortunate as myself. I wrestled with my options to raise money and decided to host a tennis tournament as the vehicle. I was a tennis player along with the other members of my family. Tennis was close to my heart and a passion of mine. The tournament would be named "Tennis for Tumors."

I contacted several friends and asked them if they would be interested in working on a fund-raiser with me. We formed a committee and began working on the tournament in February. There was a great deal of work to be done in a short amount of time as the tournament was scheduled for May 5.

The committee established the purpose of the tournament was to raise money for research via a grant. The way for better treatment is through advanced technology and research. It is the means to provide safer, more effective treatments and a possible cure for children with brain tumors.

Our goal was to raise $15,000. In my heart I aspired for more. The tournament was a huge success and raised $50,000 along with sponsorships. It was an exciting event. The support and participation of family, friends, and local residents was overwhelming.

I recently had my one-year check up. After three-month intervals of MRIs, the results continue to show no re-growth. I thank God every day for giving me life and a purpose. He carried me through a scary and unsure time in my life. He gave me incredible peace during that time. He has also blessed me with the awareness of a need and an opportunity to do something about it I feel I was chosen for this purpose. It was no accident or overlook on his part, but a part of his perfect and divine plan for me. I hope my story will be an inspiration to others.

Written by Brittany Truitt, brain tumor survivor, Founder and Chairman of Tennis for Tumors. Brittany serves as a Community Representative for the Childhood Brain Tumor Foundation, www.childhoodbraintumor.org.

The Childhood Brain Tumor Foundation and the families of children with brain tumors express deep appreciation to Brittany; her family; the Tennis for Tumors committee; sponsors; participants; and volunteers for their support.

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