Pat writes in her diary

Pat Greenwell’s Acoustic Neuroma Diary: Her AN Journey from 1997 to Now

Pat Greenwell's life became complicated for her while living in rural Alberta in 1997.

Pat Greenwell
Pat Greenwell

Treatment for breast cancer and an increasing dizziness and loss of hearing in the right ear. Doctors blamed the chemo. We’ve all been there. Months of trying to convince doctors that the symptoms are not imaginary. No, trust me, Doctor, antibiotics, decongestants, anti- vertigos and valium don’t work.

Finally, a casual mention of dizziness to my breast cancer surgeon, dear Dr. Fraser, in Edmonton, who sent me off for an emergency CT scan and finally, within an hour, a diagnosis of a 3 cm brain tumour – an acoustic neuroma.

Shock for us both, especially my husband Ken, but I’d kind of suspected. The tumour had blocked the flow of fluid out of the brain so, in addition, I had hydrocephalus. An emergency procedure to install a Ventricular-peritoneal shunt was done the next day to prevent a stroke or aneurysm. Thank you, Dr. Max Findlay.

Now what?

I read everything I could on what my choices were, learned to live without driving, learned to live with worsening symptoms, wore a medic alert bracelet so that the shunt which goes to the abdomen doesn’t get interfered with... tumour is too large to consider anything but surgery.

Okay, Dr. Findlay, pretend I’m your mother, what do you recommend? Edmonton, a higher chance of facial paralysis (21 years ago) vs Toronto, Dr. Findlay’s mentor, Dr. Charles Tator.

No contest.

Off to Toronto for three weeks...

Appointments arranged by Dr. Tator’s secretary, Maria Vespa, giving info about hotels and transportation between hospitals for Ken and me, two traumatized people. A week of appointments and tests with Dr. Rutka (ENT) to see if I had salvageable hearing in the right ear.


Oct 6, 1997...

14 hours of surgery at Toronto Western Hospital in the midst of a nursing shortage. I was warned in ICU to keep a bedpan handy because calling a nurse would not often work. My roommate was a teenage girl who had had numerous brain surgeries and her mom slept on the floor by her bed —a cozy threesome. Ken stayed close, took care of me, taught me to walk again when I was wobbly. A constant stream of young doctors all who had been inside my brain, learning at the hands of the master, my hero, Dr Tator.

A week of recovery, then back to Alberta. Bald, clumsy, hard to see with an eyepatch... not answering the door... Two weeks of temporary facial paralysis which felt like a lifetime. Running to the mirror every morning to see if I can smile yet and to see if my eye will close by itself. Pins and needles on my face and the traumatized facial nerves recovered.

Lots of naps, lots of hovering family, friends taking me for walks and I finally became myself again.

2019: fast forward to age 76......

Retirement to Powell River on the BC coast in 2005.

Daily bike rides with hubby, singing in a local choir, volunteering, good health most of the time. I still find it hard to walk in a straight line, and don’t balance well on one leg. Teary right eye and runny nose -- a minor inconvenience handled with tissues.

I take very good care of my left ear, try to avoid loud places and crowded events, and wear an earring from ANAC in my right ear which says, “out of order”. (The grandkids love that!) We are bird watchers and while I don’t know what direction the song is coming from, I can still love the song.

Gratitude is part of my life! Life is good!