TALK TO A
Established April 15, 1995
University of West Georgia Disclaimer
14 January 2006
Hello, My name is Tammy and this is my story. I am a 46 year old woman. At the age of 16 (back in 1976) I suffered a massive stroke, underwent brain surgery, was comatose for 3 months and awoke to find my life totally changed. I lost my speech and my right side was totally paralyzed. After several months of rehabilitaion, I regained full speech, learned to walk with a cane and a leg brace but my right arm remained totally paralyzed. I was so young and determined that I have been able to live a "normal" life.
I soon tossed aside the cane and found "disco dancing" to be my favorite passtime. I learned to do EVERYTHING with one hand. I never felt sorry for myself and I became a very independent lady.
Ten years after my sudden "stroke", my doctor told me of a new scan that he thought would be beneficial for me. I had the MRI scan of my brain. Finally, I had found out what caused my massive stroke at the age of 16. It was an AVM. And, IT WAS STILL THERE!!! I totally freaked out. Very little was known about AVM's at that time, but my doctor said that I would most likely be okay with no futher treament. I was told that the only things that may cause concern for another bleed would be developing high blood pressure or becoming pregnant. Since I had been healthy for 10 years, I agreed with the doctor and had no further treatment.
Then, in 1989, I became pregnant. After the joy of knowing that I would have a child, I remembered what I had been told of the risk of having another AVM bleed. My neurologist at Loyola Medical Center in Maywood, IL. suggested that I be followed by high-risk OBGYN's. My pregnancy was uneventful and I delivered by C-section. I was very happy and had a healthy, beautiful baby girl.
Everything remained the same with my health. I was overjoyed. Then in 2004, I had a MRI scan for a routine check at another hospital. My doctor who is an internist consulted with a Neurologist who felt that the size of the AVM was too dangerous to go untreated. I was referred to a specialst at the University of Illinois Medical Center in Chicago, IL. He did not have my earlier 1986 MRI scan to compare to the later MRI scan. So, it was difficult to gauge if the AVM had grown. But, due to the size of the AVM, he felt that treatments should begin. The AMV was very large and required embollization treatments before it could be removed. So, he referred me to another specailist to proceed with that first step. The first embollization went smoothly, no problems. The second went smoothly, no problems. The third, well, there was a problem.
The morning following the 3rd embollization, I had a mild stroke. My speech was affected, but it was back to normal within 2 days. Thank goodness. I knew the risks of having the treatments. But now, facing a fourth embollization, I was scared. Very scared. Only 40 percent of my AVM had been removed. I was unsure of continuing the procedures.
My daughter was to start high school in 2 weeks and there was much to be done in that regard. I am single parent. I'm very fortunate to be engaged to a wonderful man. We have been together for 7 years. My daughter's father has not been a constant in her life, so I was concerned that if something were to go seriously wrong with the following embollization proceedures, what would happen to my daughter?
Before I even made a decission about continuing the embollization procedures, I had another massive bleed.
I awoke one morning in late August, 2004, I sat in the kitchen drinking my morning coffee and paying bills. Nick left for work and my daughter was on the computer. I began to feel a bit sick to my stomach and had a slight headache. I decided to lay down. I woke up several weeks later in a hopital bed at the University of Illinois Medical Center.
My daughter heard me making strange noises after I had laid down that morning. When she came to check on me, I was vomiting and non-responsive. She called Nick at work and called an ambulance.
I was rushed to Swedish Covenant Hospital, where Nick and my daughter were told that I would most likely not make it thru the night. My doctor had me transferred to University of Illinois Medical Center where I had the embollization proceedures done. Much differently than my 1976 bleed, I did not have a crainiotomy to remove the blood clot. I had an EVD inserted in my brain to drain the blood.
This bleed created a new set of problems for me. Physically, I am okay - no added paralysis. However, I now have and added "invisable" disability. I am unable to drive as I lose my focus. I am unable to prepare meals that have many steps, unless I have all steps written out, ingredients measured out, a timer and a pen to check off completed steps. Even then it is difficult. My coordination is improving, however I still have a hard time writing, applying make-up and I tend to lose my footing easily. Nick gives me my medication each day, as I get confused with it. This bleed created many more problems than the first.
I try to remain positive about everything. I have always had a good outlook on life. We must play the hand we are dealt.
One more thing, when I had this last AVM bleed, I was diagnosed with stage 2 non small cell lung cancer. A portion of my left lung was removed along with 2 lymph nodes. After 3 months in the hospital, I went home, started outpatient chemotherapy followed by outpatient radiation therapy. Six months later, a PET scan indicated that my cancer was gone.
So, here I am. I've been through hell and back - a few times. I am still weak from the AVM bleed and lung cancer therapies. My plan is to begin therapy for physical, occupational, speech (for cognitive development) and psychological counseling in Spring 2006. And, I have decided not to continue with the embollization treatments for my AVM. As I see it, if it bleeds, it bleeds. I am done tempting fate.
We must remember to focus on our strengths, not our weaknesses - on our abilities, not our disabilities.
Update: 28 June 2006
For those of you who do not know, my lung cancer is back, and it is terminal. The doc's do not have a time frame for me. Could be two more weeks. Could be two more months, Could be two more years. They just don't know.
Since the cancer has returned in the same lung, more chemo and radiation are not possible. There are two new drugs that may be beneficial, but due to my AVM (brain problem linked in my AOL profile) the new drugs may be more dangerous than beneficial to my health.
I am saying two more years. Megan has two more years of High School. That'll be good for me. I have to be here to see my intelligent, beautiful daughter graduate from high school and move on to college.
For those of you who know Nick, he needs your support and strength, now more than ever. The poor guy is keeping a smile on his face, and being the usual wisecracker that I love, but he is being torn apart with this situation. Please, reach out to him.
I have lived a good life. Until I met Nick, I thought that my marriage was the best thing that my life had to offer me. Boy, was I wrong. Nick has been the most uplifting, wonderful addition to my life - and to my daughter's. That man was sent to me from heaven. I thank God for him.
Please keep my family in your prayers.
You have all enriched my life. Thank you.
Update: 8 May 2007
Sadly I have been informed that Tammy succumbed to lung cancer on May 7, 2007. Rest in peace, Tammy - rest in peace.
Discussion, comments, or questions: Tammy McDermott
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