Shawna's Fight Against Brain Cancer

Where do I start? I'm telling "my" story but is it really just mine? Yes, I'm the one with the medical diagnosis of an Oligodendroglima (brain tumor) but my family, friends, and co-workers are going through this journey as well. 

June 2013- "The beginning"- I was experiencing what I was calling "episodes". From start to finish this "episode" lasted no more than 45 seconds. I would start seeing a wall in my left peripheral vision, then I would attempt to do something but my body failed to do it, or I would start doing something that I couldn't get my body to stop doing. If I was sitting I would feel like the room was spinning and if I was standing I would physically spin three circles. It would end with my legs shaking or giving out. The crazy thing is I felt great physically, other then these little "episodes." I had another "episode" two months later, then another one two weeks later. I was contributing the “episodes” to stress that my family and I were going through at the time. The unexpected death of my sister, a rollover car accident involving me and my 3 year old son, and two family members cancer diagnosis. Finally, in September I went to the doctor and she sent me to a Neurologist.

On October 16, 2013 I went to see the Neurologist. He did some tests and asked me some questions and I remember him telling me that I was so healthy and none of his little tests were showing anything, but let’s go ahead and do an EEG and see what it says. Depending on the results we will go from there. The results came back showing something abnormal so an MRI was ordered on October 17th. He still seemed confident that they weren't going to find anything. October 18th - The day that changed everything- We received the fateful blow of "you have a brain tumor." We were all stunned, even the doctor was surprised. I had a brain tumor a little over the size of a golf ball in my right parietal lobe.

 How do you even process this kind of news? I have a husband, a young son, family, supportive co-workers, and friends. I have a life and all I could think of was how is my life going to change. How am I supposed to tell my parents, that had lost a daughter six months prior, that I have a brain tumor? How is my life going to change? Will my husband be ok? Will my 3 year old son understand? So many things were running through my head an even to this day, I still have these thoughts. 

November 1st 2013 - Surgery- I was ready as I could be for this day, all I knew was I wanted this thing out of my head so we could put this behind us. Surgery went well; however, there was a part of the tumor they were not able to remove.  I was awake and doing well and I was able to go home within three days. I was off work for a couple months, but life was not disrupted too terribly bad. I had a quick follow-up and got word that my tumor was an Oligoastrocytoma which is an oligodendroglioma and an astrocytoma mixed and it was "benign."

 Three months later I went in for a follow-up MRI because the swelling had gone down enough to get a good look at how the surgery went. My neurosurgeon was happy with the surgery; however, he informed us again that he was not able to remove all of the tumor.  The rest of the tumor would need to be removed at some point, but called it a medical necessity and not a medical emergency.

August 2015- We decided now would be a good time for me to have my second surgery. Kason was starting school, so he would be busy with that, and my parents moved from Idaho to Kalispell so they would be closer when we needed help.

 After talking with the doctors they told me there was a slight chance I may have trouble with speech and memory loss due to the location of the tumor. So as you can imagine, I was even more nervous for this surgery. On August 13th I had my second craniotomy. They were able to remove more of the tumor. When I woke up from this surgery I was unable to move any part of the left side of my body. Over the next several days movement and feeling started to slowly come back. I spent time in an inpatient rehab facility in order for me to learn to walk again. Movement in my arm came back fairly quick, but my leg was lagging. I had a leg that felt like it had 3000 pounds of extra weight attached to it. There were a few times I put my head down and didn't think I could get through this, but I kept reminding myself that there was something so much bigger than me, there was my son, husband, parents, family, and friends.

 All the support I had made me work hard and after the inpatient rehab I was able to go home. Things started to get easier. I was slowly but surely getting back to "my new normal." 

May 2017- While in the dugout coaching the Flathead Braves Softball team I experienced a grand mal seizure. Even though I don't remember any of it, it was one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. Mainly because all I could think of was, is this my tumor again? I had a CT scan and an MRI, the results were inconclusive because they said there could still be swelling from the seizure.

June 2017- Almost a month to the day later I had another seizure and after a week I had another MRI and the results came back showing the tumor was growing and at this point the doctors agreed it was time to start treating it. Another surgery at this time was not feasible. The treatment plan was radiation followed by chemotherapy. 

 As a family we decided for peace of mind to get a second opinion. We headed to the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota and saw two amazing doctors who agreed that there was tumor growth and that the treatment plan initially discussed in Kalispell was exactly what they would recommend. It was also here that they delivered the devastating news that they consider my tumor Cancerous. CANCEROUS? I did not know what to do when he told us this. 

September 9, 2017- Day 1 of 30 radiation treatments that I would undergo every day except weekends and holidays. Day by day these treatments went on and day by day I actually felt pretty good. I was a little tired but considering what was happening I was feeling great. After two weeks my hair started falling out and I decided to just have my hair cut off on Labor Day. I tell you what, it's a lot colder without hair, getting ready to go is a lot quicker too. I didn't take this nearly as hard as I thought, but again, it was all the love and support I had in my corner that helped me through going from long hair to almost none. 

Now- I have finished radiation and other than losing my hair, the process was pretty easy. Now I am getting to the end of the four week break between radiation and chemo so I am getting ready to start the long regiment of chemo. Chemo will consist of 6 to 8 cylces and each cylce lasts from 6 to 8 weeks, approximately 48 weeks of some type of chemo every day. Right now it has been endless days of appointments after appointments, getting baseline information prior to starting the chemo. The last test prior to chemo will be another MRI. I'm not sure what to expect with the chemo treatments but I do know its one step closer to the end of treatment.

I want to thank you first, for reading this crazy long story. I don’t know how we, could have made it this far without everyone’s love, support, understanding, compassion and prayers. Thanks to each of you for being here for me, my amazing husband, son, parents, family, and friends.

The last few years have been really difficult in every way and I want to thank you for even listening to our story. I know because of all of you we will make it out of each storm stronger. 

We love you all!!

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Organizer and beneficiary

Tami Linstead Olson 
Kalispell, MT
Shawna McDonald 
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