My Brain Tumor Story


Before
1

After
2

PSALM 30:11-12 (NIV)

Ps 30 Wailing 2 Dancing TL

Life Interruptions are often Divine Interruptions. I am amazed at how my life has changed since July 23, 2011.  Let me start at the beginning.

I am a retired teacher and single mom. I adopted one of my fourth grade students and have known God all of my life. I have served Him in several ministries including as a member of the worship team, prayer groups, and counseling women with sexual abuse issues. My life was full and I was happy in my small southern Oregon town…. Until I had a break down.

I became clinically depressed. I had to take a leave of absence three times from my teaching position. Every time I returned to work I failed to finish the school year.  Eventually, I went on disability and quit my teaching job.  Humiliation and hopelessness were my constant companions.

For over six years I struggled with guilt. Christians have so much to be thankful for and yet, my behavior and emotional state kept spiraling downward. I went to my medical provider many times and the real problem was never identified. I was told that the stress of my teaching job, a family history of depression, perimenopause, and bad genes were the cause of all my trouble. It took the love of my parents and a bold step on their part to get to the bottom of my health issues.

On one of the many occasions in which I visited my medical provider, I recounted the following strange event. I was in a parking lot when suddenly my walking turned into running. I could not stop my jog, so I intentionally crashed into a parked car and fell to the ground. Getting myself back up on my own was impossible. It took two strong men to place me on my feet again. My brain was functioning enough at this time to realize something was amiss. You will not believe the response my Nurse Practitioner had to this story. Her comment will send shivers down your spine. “Well,” she said, “If it happens again let me know.”

She made no mention of a test or MRI. She did not ask me if I was having balance issues or any other strange symptoms. She sent me off more concern about my low Vitamin D levels! When my parents heard this story it confirmed the fear in their hearts. They had been praying for me over the past two years, not knowing how to help. They both recognized I was not myself and were very concerned, so they decided to drive out and get me.

Understand this: I moved to my beloved adopted state of Oregon in an attempt to forge out my own life. I felt like a pioneer woman of old when I moved. My decision to take this leap of faith was confirmed by God in so many ways. The puzzle pieces just kept fitting together. I did not know a soul in the state and I didn’t have a job lined up either. However, I knew my obedience to leave behind a successful and secure life in Arizona would be rewarded. Indeed, God blessed me with twelve wonderful years in my small town community. 

When my parents told me they were selling my house and taking me to their doctor in Arizona, I put up as good a fight as I could. I was happy where I was planted (aside from the clinical depression). I had finally bought my dream house and I had friends who were as close to me as sisters. I was a respected educator and my son had roots in the only state he had ever lived.

I was sick for nearly a decade, but in the six months before my folks came to get me, my behavior changed significantly. I later found out that my behavior change was due to the frontal lobe location of my brain tumor. This area of the brain affects emotions and behavior. I became very anti-social and even more depressed. I was wetting the bed and wearing diapers. My ability to think and reason was greatly impaired and I gave little thought to returning to my medical provider in order to up-date her on my condition. I was falling a lot and had no energy. My daily routine was as follows: wake up in the late morning, eat, drink, and sit in my recliner all day watching tv. I had no strength to clean and at one point I had used every dish in the house.  The kitchen was a mess with dirty dishes everywhere.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My son was off at college so I let things go. When my parents arrived to fetch me they were shocked at the condition of my home. Someone once told me that my house was like a picture out of Better Homes and Gardens. This comment was no longer valid. There was trash and dirt everywhere. Every level space and counter was littered with cups, dishes, and clutter.

I was unable to open and read my mail, so bills were not getting paid. On two occasions I had to drive down to pay my water bill before it was shut off. This was not me. I was not living. I was the walking dead.

When my parents arrived they told me they had Power of Attorney. I don’t remember signing any papers as by this time my memory was leaving me completely. They told me that they knew what was best for me and that they wanted me to live closer to them. They are snowbirds and think very highly of the physicians and medical facilities in Phoenix, Arizona. They also have a home in Colorado which is where I later moved and started my new life.

The process of cleaning up my house and getting it ready to sell was a huge undertaking. My parents were 75 years old. My mom and dad hired someone to clean up my once pristine garden and yard. They held a yard sale and packed me up with little of my assistance. I was sleeping a lot and had no strength to say no to their plan to take me back to Arizona.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Even harder than leaving friends and a dream house behind was giving up my beloved lab mix, Bubba. He was the only thing that made me laugh during the years prior to my diagnosis. However, because my parents had (unbeknownst to me) rented an apartment in a retirement/assisted living facility which would not permit dogs over 15 pounds, I had to leave Bubba behind. I was crushed. I was at a loss as to what to do but then God sent Nancy my way.

Nancy and I worked together at an elementary school. She was very helpful in assisting with my adoption of Steve. She had become a good friend and was sensing in her heart that something was wrong. She decided to stop by my house to check on me. She told me it was a whim at the time, but later informed me she felt the Lord pressing on her heart to visit. Thank goodness she obeyed the quiet voice of God!

It was Nancy who offered to provide a temporary home for Bubba. She understood that I was very ill and that mom and dad were taking me to their doctor to get to the bottom of things. She knew I would probably not be back. She knew I was at risk of death.

Bubba

So now with Bubba safe I could leave my home. I remember very little of the next two weeks. We drove to Phoenix in about three days. My dad gave Dr. M. all of my medical records and like the exceptional MAN that this physician is, he poured over them for hours in his free time. He told my dad he was sure I had a neurological problem,  just watching me walk. He advised them to take me to St. Joseph’s Hospital for an MRI. By now I was falling even more, throwing-up, suffering from migraines, and had absolutely no memory. I do not remember the MRI, being told I had a tumor, or of going into surgery. However, I do remember waking up in ICU. What a shock it was indeed!!

I must say the care I received was exceptional. St. Joseph’s really does live up to its reputation of having the best neurological department in the nantion. My pain levels were well monitored and the therapy they provided was all very helpful in my recovery.

For over a year, I was unable to cry before my diagnosis. What a paradox! I was clinically depressed but unable to shed a single tear. No release! Well, the dam broke in ICU. The full realization of what had just happened to me and the overwhelming effort it would require to get back on my feet, sent me into a long and loud period of sobbing. I am sure every person on the hospital floor heard my sobs. To the credit of the medical staff, they left me alone. They let my tears bring the release I needed. They understood I was just then recognizing what had occurred   to me.

My dad, or “Pop” as I call him, was my knight in shining armor. He took care of all my insurance issues, medical paperwork, mortgage and realtor needs, and me! He was so compassionate and calm when he was around. He gave me courage to fight for my life.

When my parents took me home from the hospital, I stayed with them for nearly a month. Insomnia was a big issue. One night my mom, who also suffers from sleep issues, came into my bedroom and talked with me. She saw that I was greatly worried about my dog Bubba and that I needed to make a decision about his welfare. With a pained heart I concluded that I would ask Nancy and her husband Sherm to adopt my dear companion. They graciously agreed.

I knew Bubba would have a wonderful life with them. This decision was a relief and a deep wound all rolled into one. My love for Bubba had to come first. I didn’t know my future and it was not fair to him or the Hoppets to say I would take him back in a year.  For one thing, I had no idea where I would be in a year.  I also did not know how complete my recovery would be.

My vision was affected by the surgery. I was unable to read and couldn’t take my meds without my dad’s assistance. Writing was a challenge too. I wrote and spoke slower than before the removal of my tumor. I worried about being a burden to my parents and wondered if I would ever drive again or live independently. My son needed care and my attention as his life had changed drastically too. Thankfully, my parents helped out with his needs so that I could concentrate on my own healing.

My parents don’t believe in letting the bad things in life defeat you. They have known their share of sorrow, including the death of my brother who died in a mountain climbing accident when I was twenty-five. I was feeling like I deserved to wear my pajamas all day and rest. They let me have two days of pajamas and then, a week after brain surgery I was dressed and going for a daily walk. There was no time to sit and mope.  They were loving and supportive but firm. Life goes on.

This is when I felt the hand of God touch me, though I know He had been with me throughout my whole ordeal. Within two weeks after surgery, I was walking a mile and a half without my walker. My balance was getting better and I was able to drive after my vision returned to normal. My quick recovery was a testimoney of God’s grace.

After a month, and seeing that I was on my way to a full recovery, my parents took my son to their Colorado home while I healed in the assisted living facility in Arizona. I was lonely but God provided an old friend named Dora. She was a teacher I had worked with over twenty-five years ago.

What a blessing Dora was and still is to me! She took me to her church where we joined a woman’s Bible study. Linda Dillow’s book, Calm My Anxious Heart met me exactly where I was and convicted me of all my anxiety. I started to believe that there was a reason for my trial, a purpose.

Determined to make my tragedy a thing of praise and encouragement for others, I asked God to help me write a book. The answer came in a five-day writing session. It turns out that a ten-chapter Bible study referencing the book of Job was something God wanted me to share with other believers. The study is called DIVINE INTERRUPTIONS: A BIBLE STUDY THROUGH THE BOOK OF JOB. It is now available on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=cheryl%20zelenka&sprefix=chery%2Caps&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Acheryl%20zelenka

I had never read a blog in my life. However, I felt God pressing me to set up a personal blog and to write encouraging words for people going through difficult times. I am technologically challenged and hesitated until the pressing  of the Holy Spirit got to be too much. Once again God led me to an old friend who had just started her own business in social networking.  With her advice and coaxing, I created my first blog, weepingintodancing.com. ( now facingtrials.com).

Never in all time would I have imagined a new career in writing. I thought I would go back to teaching but that door has been closed tight. Writing on the other hand has been a big open door. On a whim, I decided to join a freelance writing site. Within four days I was hired by a Christian Evangelist to write articles for him every week. What a surprise! Within two weeks I got several other freelance jobs.

Where God is leading me is still uncertain, but I know the path will be wonderful. I can now say that I am thankful for a brain tumor that nearly killed me, for it  has changed my entire life and deepened my walk with Christ. I am excited to see how God uses me in the future. If my role model, Corrie ten Boom, was used in her fifties and beyond, why can’t I be used at the half-century mark as well? Maybe it took fifty years of trials to prepare me for what now lies ahead.

To God be the glory forever and ever. This is the end of my story….. for now. I know I will have many more chapters to add in the future. “For from Him and through Him and for Him are all things. 
To Him be the glory forever! Amen.”  Romans 11:36 (NIV)