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August 16th, 2011
07:30 AM ET

Human Factor: Brain tumor makes today more meaningful

In the Human Factor,  we profile survivors who have overcome the odds. Confronting a life obstacle – injury, illness or other hardship – they tapped their inner strength and found resilience they didn't know they possessed. Today Jennifer Giliberto shares her story of  embracing today after a grim diagnosis.

On June 20, 2007 we began a new life. In a brief moment, the world stopped spinning and a resounding smack signaled the closure of the life we knew. Nothing would ever be the same and we’d never be the same people again.

The glowing white lesion, a grade II astrocytoma, staring back at me from the MRI film hanging on the wall at the neurosurgeon’s office that day will always be a vivid memory. The flood of emotions, shock, tears and the entire aftermath are no less raw today than four years ago, but these emotions all exist with greater balance in my life now.

We're now grateful for the gift that has humbled us.

Since that warm, sunny June afternoon, we've faced my mortality, questions about quality of life, acknowledged that a new definition of “normal” would need to be created and have settled into our new life with unexpected ease.

We're happy and content having reached a point where we feel entitled to move on and away from a place where my brain tumor resides in the forefront and has an unbalanced weight in our decisions. With profound disdain for my tumor, I've come to terms and embraced life with a balanced respect for my tumor and diagnosis and I refuse to allow it to get the best of me.

Death is a part of life which for us means the process of living is that much more meaningful. I was unprepared four years ago when I received my diagnosis and was forced to face my mortality.  I don't fear dying. I've accepted that I may not see my children graduate college or get married. I may not travel to the extent I had expected later in life and I may not check everything off my bucket list. Yet, I have opened myself up to the freedom of accepting one of the most powerful gifts my tumor has afforded us: The ability to truly live and experience life on my own terms.

Everything from the beauty and joy to the dark and ugly make more sense and are processed with greater clarity now. We've come to terms that a full life is not defined by number of years, but the quality of the experiences. I don't like my diagnosis and hate my tumor, but I'm at peace with it and would never change a thing. It is, what It is and It has been a gift.

Regret is an ugly word and Paul and I much prefer the beauty and potential that defines the word HOPE and welcome my stability as an opportunity to move forward living our lives as we had planned.

The journey to where we are today, nearly three years after surgery, could not have happened without my neurosurgeon, Costas Hadjipanayis, and our medical team.

We’ve all had honest, humbling discussions. While Paul and I acknowledge that no one has a crystal ball to predict when my brain tumor will return, Dr. Hadjipanayis has always encouraged us to forge ahead, pick up the pieces, live life and embrace my stability.

He delivered to us unfathomable news which has grown to be one of the greatest opportunities and experiences my life has afforded me. Bearing responsibility for maintaining my health, keeping me alive within the confines, definitions and beliefs we’ve all agreed upon, Costas will also be who my family will turn to one day for guidance.

When asked with trepidation if we were irresponsible to attempt having another child, Costas responded with an emphatic NO. The first to know of my pregnancy after my husband, Costas encouraged us to live life and embrace it all. This is what stability is about.

What, in a brief moment four years ago, caused our world to stop spinning and signaled the end of the life we knew has now grown to be our greatest gift.

My brain tumor diagnosis signifies not the end of a life we knew, but a turning point where we exposed, recognized and discovered our courage, strength, spirit, perspective, gratitude, appreciation, willpower and love of life. A life we now define, live and experience on our own terms.

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soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. Naomi

    Even for the healthy and the young, each new day is God's grace and His free gift. We humans as mortal creatures need gra-ti-tude and humility before God.

    August 16, 2011 at 09:14 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DERP

      If GOD has grace why didnt he get rid of the tumor? Why does he allow cancer?

      Why doesnt GOD open a cancer curing center for innocent children who dont deserve it ever no matter what.

      Simple minds. Really think about the fairy tale that is religion. All of that crap doesnt happen today- Moses living THOUSANDS of years? Um... did God cure him of all the diseases you'd encounter over thousands of years?

      I used to believe in God until I got educated and had to prove most things that make life work.

      August 16, 2011 at 13:39 | Report abuse |
    • Crime Professor

      DERP – because God has never promised we would not fall to the fate of this world. He only promises to hold our hand through the process. Mercy is an act of God that doesn't give us what we so deserve. Grace is that provides for us when we dont deserve it. These are the only promises God made.

      August 16, 2011 at 15:47 | Report abuse |
  2. paul duda

    on 6-5-97 i was found to have a brain tumor.thankfully it was benign! since then i have had 4 more tumors removed and prostate cancer.life is more meaningful now than before.live every day as if it was your last but enjoy each moment in it ...oh yes my wife has been found to have leukemia and was informed that she has 5 years or so to live.our actions toward each other and those we meet mean much more than anyone can imagine.

    August 16, 2011 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. J Andrew

    I would like the author to realize that Astrocytomas are not considered to be cancer.

    August 16, 2011 at 09:52 | Report abuse | Reply
    • JSP

      Grades 3 (anaplastic astrocytoma) and 4(glioblastoma) are considered malignant. Grade 2 tumors do often return as a 3 or 4, though people diagnosed with a 2 certainly have a better prognosis than those diagnosed with a 3 or 4. However, they're all astrocytomas.

      August 16, 2011 at 10:21 | Report abuse |
    • L. McMann

      To J Andrew- Where in the article does she call it cancer? If you do some reaserch you will see that many (more often in adults than children) a grade 2 astrocytoma will come back as a stage 3 or 4. Also, that is what you take from this article? My daughter was diagnosed with a stage 2 astrocytoma when she was 18 and it doesn't matter what you call it, it is scary and life changing. We are fortunate that she is doing well and we live each day to its fullest. The positive by-product a scary health diagnosis has on a family- FYI I would like J Andrew to know that this is the point of the article.

      August 16, 2011 at 12:12 | Report abuse |
    • jacofallnets

      If astrocytomas are not considered to be cancer, then why am I on chemo? Why did I do 6 weeks of radiation, even AFTER surgery, just to be sure? There is a school of thought that says anything with an "oma" on the end of it is cancer. There is another, more logical school of thought that says ANYONE who has a brain tumor can die from it, whether technically "benign" or "malignant". There is a tumor. In. Your. Head. I suggest you re-read this article and try really hard a second time to find the point.

      August 16, 2011 at 17:01 | Report abuse |
  4. CK

    She does. She only says brain tumor, everyone else says cancer.

    August 16, 2011 at 10:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. MB

    To J Andrew:

    To the families who have dealt with a brain tumor from Stage I – IV, it does not matter whether it is truly classified as "cancer". Patients with Astrocytomas undergo craniotomies, medical issues and complications. Many involve intense surgeries where we really on the steadiness of the neurosurgeons hands. It is a hard recovery.

    It changes everything in your life. It makes me angry that people tell me that my husband did not have Cancer. I would do anything to have my husband back to his orginial self. I would take away his daily headache caused from a nicked nerve during his surgery. I would take away the pain and fear that my children and I have felt over the past five years. Walk in our shoes before you make an uniformed flip comment about the technical definition of a brain tumor.

    August 16, 2011 at 12:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. CES

    I was diagnosed with a brain tumor when I was 8. At the time I really did not understand fully what was going on or the severity of having the surgery to remove the tumor. Luckily, it was benign and completely removed in one operation. To this day (i'm now 21), I really don't know much about it, I'm just thankful that it did not effect my life except for making me unafraid of doctor's offices, MRI's and getting my blood drawn.

    August 16, 2011 at 12:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. mdmooser

    I see everyone around me and myself caught in going to work, working, planning meetings for work, worrying about this or that and you must all the way up to not sleeping well and then get up and do it all over again. Then Repeat. Repeat and so on. This false reality we become absorbed in centered around paying 3-6 times the worth of our house in mortgages and jobs for college or certifications, etc, etc. The only reality whether you see it or not is simple. We spin on a planet through space caught up in what "our life" has evolved to. But reality on this planet can be wiped out in a second by a car, a bullet, a solar blast from the sun, an act of terrorism or in some cases in desperation by or own hands. This reminder from a personal life testimony fades quickly while we all get more hyped about the debt, our debt, etc. I really think we need to back off but our planet or better yet our inhabitants are in million of serious situations and unless you get shook like this article you don't realize what LIFE actually is. You can try and you only have yourself to blame if you don't. Good Luck to each of us.

    August 16, 2011 at 13:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Michelle

    Jennifer, You probably won't read this but I want to tell you how inspirational you are!! My husband is doing great after a resection of an astrocytoma in early 2010. We are in our thirties and are considering adding to our small family of three. Thank you for sharing! ~Michelle

    August 16, 2011 at 19:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      Michelle: Thank you very much for your support and comment. I wish your husband continued stability and the both of you all the best as you move ahead. Thanks again for reading!

      August 17, 2011 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
  9. Amy

    A beautiful and inspiring story. Thanks Jennifer for showing us how to live in the moment and without fear or regret.

    August 16, 2011 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      Thank you Amy for your support and comment. All the best to you!

      August 17, 2011 at 10:12 | Report abuse |
  10. Dana

    Thank you Jennifer for sharing your story, continue living your life to the fullest and I commend you and your family for all the courage and strength you hold. If you haven't yet read it, I would highly recommend the book Anticancer: A New Way of Life by Dr. Servan-Schreiber; it has brought so much hope and inspiration to my life and my loved ones, who have also struggled with cancer.

    August 17, 2011 at 08:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jennifer

      Dana:

      I appreciate the book recommendation and thank you for your comment and support. I wish you all the best and again, thank you.

      August 17, 2011 at 10:13 | Report abuse |
  11. Todd Mobley

    Jen, you are truly an inspiration to me and so many that have had serious things happen in their life, I am so happy for you and your beautiful family. May God bless and keep on Rockin Lady. Remember, to inspire to live, is much better than giving up. We love you all, The Mobley's

    August 17, 2011 at 23:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Harriet

    If this is something that may come back, as you fear, then I feel your remaining years should have been devoted to the family you already had and bringing another child into the world was not fair to the child who may be left without a mother at a very young age. Hopefully this will not happen. I work in an OB office and everyone I work with agrees with me on this one that this was a selfish decision and unfair to the child and also to the rest of your family who should have had ALL of your attention and love for as many years as you have left, which I hope are many, but we never know. Yes, it IS getting a lot of publicity, but not all positive.

    August 19, 2011 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sam

      With your diagnosis comes responsibility. If you are "ok" with the fact that you may never see your boys get married, are you "ok" with the fact that your daughter may lose her mother at the tender age of 6 yrs? Selfish and irresponsible to say the least. Sorry.

      August 19, 2011 at 13:56 | Report abuse |
  13. Professor Lorraina J Telepo

    Please do research our website which is reflexology.net, I welcome your call as well 267-424-4549 – Medical Reflexology should be included in your treatment plan, I have references with other's that experienced brain tumor's, all should be researched, we care as well, thank-you Professor Lorraina J. Telepo, MRP

    August 20, 2011 at 10:26 | Report abuse | Reply

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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.