Life can change so quickly. I was only 24 years old in 1998 working in the U.S. Congress with plans for law school. But, the unexpected emerged when I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Shocked and shattered, I entered a new world.
Necessity can become a powerful teacher. I conducted research that helped me to identify the importance of awake brain surgery, since my brain tumor resided in my left temporal lobe impacting speech, memory, and hearing. I chose the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and had awake brain surgery in a clinical trial that was unusual at the time.
Thankfully, my neurosurgeons at NIH successfully removed the entire tumor with some surrounding tissue. I felt tremendous gratitude, and yet as I learned about pathology reports and some statistics, fear and uncertainly overwhelmed me.
Over time, being a brain tumor survivor—and exploring strategies to support my optimal health and healing—helped me to create a new mindset. I began to perceive challenges as opportunities and adversity into actions. These are powerful concepts that have invigorated me to transform myself and my life.
In this woven tapestry, I learned more about how undesired experiences can certainly twist and turn. Unfortunately, I had a brain tumor recurrence in 2000, but I wasn’t informed about it until 2004 despite ongoing MRI scans. This reduced my ability to trust.
After acquiring multiple opinions, I chose not to have conventional cancer treatment for many years. Instead, I used a variety of integrative cancer therapies from practitioners and clinics. I also created integrative cancer care for the whole person addressing the physical body, mind-body connection, spiritual vitality, social support, and a cleaner environment. I put together an integrative cancer care team, plan, and self-care strategies, which evolved over time.
But once again, I could not escape the unthinkable. I needed a second awake brain surgery at University of California, San Francisco in 2011. From there with tumor growth, research led me to University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) where I had my third awake brain surgery in 2013, as well as radiation, oral chemotherapy with Temodar, and a clinical trial of immunotherapy with DCVax-L dendritic cell-based vaccine developed by UCLA.
With some highs and lows, I learned that edges in life can offer invitations toward a new horizon. I’ve gained ongoing clarity about my meaning and purpose to work as a Cancer Coach, writer, consultant, and speaker. Education, advocacy, support, and improvements are so vital. In the process, I’m honored to be connected with a wide range of brain tumor organizations and many others through my work.
The reality is clear. Many people affected by brain tumors need improved quality of life and survival. Advancements must be accomplished through various efforts in the field—including brain tumor non-profits who fund research like the National Brain Tumor Society. Solutions must happen as soon as possible. Now is the time.
Jeannine Walston is a brain tumor survivor since 1998, Cancer Coach, writer, consultant, and speaker. Her extensive work includes for the U.S. Congress, cancer non-profits, National Cancer Institute, Food and Drug Administration, National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, hospitals, clinics, doctors, providers, other businesses, cancer patients and caregivers. Visit her Integrative Cancer Care for the Whole Person and Healing Focus® website (jeanninewalston.com) with hundreds of articles and information about her services. Jeannine lives in Los Angeles, California in the United States, and works nationally and internationally.