“My Voice” by: Jaime Coffaro

Jaime Coffaro - 'Survivor'

For months I was feeling ill all the time.  After many visits to my GP she was convinced that I was either pregnant or depressed.  I suppose that is all that is thought of when a seemingly healthy 26 year old is complaining of extreme fatigue, headaches, nausea, dizziness, and memory issues.  Every specialist gave me a new minor diagnosis, but nothing covered all of my symptoms.  I was frustrated with doctors, so I accepted that I would continue to feel sick without a diagnosis.

It was not until I had a seizure and went to the hospital that doctors really looked into my complaints.  The third day of my hospital stay, my neurologist dropped a bomb on me.  I had a brain tumor and needed immediate brain surgery to remove it.  I heard my life screech, halt and crash like a train derailing.

As a speech pathologist I work with people with various types of brain injuries.  I had all the symptoms of a brain tumor, but the thought never crossed my mind.  I never thought it could happen to me, I felt sick but not that sick.  I had a gnawing feeling that my problem was neurological, but I pushed it aside like all the doctors did.

I had surgery three days after being diagnosed.  Every day I went through all the stages of grief, particularly anger and denial,  yet the night before the surgery I was ready.  I badly wanted the tumor out of my head and in a jar in some lab.

Diagnosing a brain tumor is not straightforward.  I was told it was more of an art than a science.  It took three of the top pathologists and four weeks to get an official diagnosis.  Waiting for the pathology results was hell.  I felt that knowing the tumor type would help me get on with my life.  Yet even after receiving my pathology report, I did not feel any different because my tumor type is so rare that no one knows what to expect.

Living with a tumor often feels like I have a ticking time-bomb in my head, then I think how I have had this tumor for at least 12 years without knowing it.  It gives me solace to think of how much that I have accomplished and what I have done with a brain tumor.  Since I now know it exists, my perspective is different, but I will not let this tumor get in the way of doing what I want in life.  Although it has only been six months since my diagnosis, I have set my goals on fighting this.

I feel that my experiences with a brain tumor and surgery has given me a different insight in working with people with brain injuries and other disabilities.  It has made me a better therapist as I can relate more to my patients and their families.  I have seen children and adolescents that have great strength despite having severe disabilities.  This inspires me to keep a positive outlook and to endure all that life gives me.

My life may have derailed on October 28th, 2008 but I am starting to get it back to where I want it to be.  I have been through a lot and there is probably more to come, but that is okay because I am a survivor.