This I Believe

Kathleen - Cincinnati, Ohio
Entered on February 12, 2007
Age Group: 30 - 50

I am the luckiest person in the world. Funny, though – I didn’t realize it until after I was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor.

In May 2002 I lived a self-pitying existence. I hated my job. I hated the long commute. I was ‘better than this.’ I planned to leave work early one day to visit my best friend. I would complain over a couple margaritas. I packed an overnight bag and went to bed.

I awoke in the middle of an ER episode. People scurried, calling out tests: “Do a chem. panel, order a CT…”

Without contacts I couldn’t see but noticed my night shirt was gone. I wore a hospital gown. I tried to raise my hand but my arms were in restraints.

A woman’s voice said, “It’s okay, Mrs. Riehle. You’ll be okay. I’m going to remove your restraints but you can’t bite me. It’s against the law to bite a nurse.”

Bite a nurse?! Why would I do that?

Diffuse fibrillary astrocytoma. That’s why. It’s a type of primary brain tumor. I was conscious enough to fight EMTs and the ER nurse who tried to start an IV. I had no memory of it. I apologized.

I was referred to one of the top neurosurgery practices in the nation, which happened to be right here in Cincinnati. A biopsy gave the diagnosis.

I would be given six weeks of 3D conformal radiation treatment. My hair would fall out in patches. What could I expect? My radiation oncologist told me not to expect much in the first MRI after treatment. His hope was to shrink the tumor between 25% and 50%.

That’s when it happened. People everywhere started praying for me, sending emails, cooking meals for us. Some of the top physicians in the country worked on me. People from my church and neighborhood drove me to daily treatments.

My tumor shrank nearly 70%.

I was overwhelmed by all the good will.

People ask me, “Doesn’t it make you want to say, Why me?”

Absolutely. Why me? Why were these people being so good to me? Many barely knew me. Why was so lucky to have this incredible medical team? Why was I one of the fortunate few in the world with access to such care? Why was I so lucky my health insurance covered everything?

With brain tumors, you’re never considered cured. It’s not a question of if but when it will come back. It came back again and again and now a third time since my first diagnosis. Two craniotomies and a round of chemo later and I’m still here.

I feel like George Bailey. I have a gift very few people will ever have: I will live the rest of my life knowing just how precious it is. I really do have a wonderful life.

I’m the luckiest person in the world.