“My Voice” by Willette Northup

Willette Northup - 'Survivor'

My cancer journey started Friday, March 13, 2009.  I couldn’t believe it, yes Friday the 13th of all days.  The month previously I went to my primary care physician and was told that the 4 day migraine that I was experiencing was simply just a sinus infection and was treated for a sinus infection.  I had a follow up with my primary care physician on Monday, March 16, and planned on waiting to see what her opinion was regarding a newly developed headache.  However, a co-worker of mine indicated that I did not look good and that if I didn’t go to the ER that she was going to personally take me.  So I left work about an hour early and went to the ER.  I am glad that I did and that the doctor that I saw took the initiative to look into the headache rather than just blowing it off as a tension headache (which he said it sounded like but wanted to make sure so they did a CT scan).  Moments after the CT scan, the doctor came back into my room and said, the CT scan shows an abnormality and we want to transfer you to Sparrow Hospital which has a neurology department for an MRI to get more information.  I was transferred by ambulance and admitted to the hospital.  Saturday, March 14, 2009 I had the MRI, and the doctor gave me the results on Sunday.  He did indicate that it wasn’t an emergency (meaning operation within the next hour) but that he would strongly advise having it taken care of soon since I was experiencing symptoms from it and was going to schedule me for brain surgery on Monday.  I was a little blown away.  Thoughts of how can my first surgery ever have to be a brain surgery and I am only 30 years old how could this happen?

On March 16, 2009 I had my first brain surgery.  The next day the doctor came into my room and told me, well, the pathology report indicates that the tumor is a Glioblastoma, one of the most aggressive forms of brain cancer.  I started to think, did I use my brain too much and have too much knowledge stored being that I was valedictorian of my high school, average student in undergrad, graduate in the top 5% of my law school class and then also graduate a Master in Laws program with a 3.74.  However, the doctor said that they are uncertain of what causes it.  But that I would be having a chemo doctor stopping by to talk with me as well as a radiation doctor to discuss what the next round of treatment would be.

So the next round was 6 intense weeks of radiation treatment and Temodar (chemo pill), which all started 4 weeks after the surgery to give the surgery time to heal.  Thank goodness I had an understanding employer and had the ability to work from home.  I slowly started making back into the office while going through the treatment.  I had to stay busy because sitting around would drive me crazy.  After the chemo and radiation, I had another MRI…doctor’s said it should no change from the after surgery MRI.  I was blessed by being surrounded with a strong support group and family.  I was also blessed to not have lost too much of my hair (my top layer was able to cover up the hair that was lost).

Then two months later, I had another MRI.  I got the written report in the mail on a Friday.  Had no idea what it said other than recognizing the words “worrisome” and “possible re-growth” and of course it was after hours so I couldn’t get a doctor to explain the report to me.  So I finally get a hold of my chemo doctor Monday morning.  He said he wanted to discuss my case with the tumor board and get multiple opinions on the results.  Well, ultimately the tumor board, as well as my 3 doctors all believed that the next round of treatment would be another surgery.  “What another brain surgery?  I just turned 31.  Two brain surgeries within 6 months…can this really be happening?”  I took a couple days to digest the information and discuss it with my family.  Called my doctor on Thursday and he said, I want to schedule the surgery for this coming Monday.  What?  I was thinking it would be a couple weeks out.  So on August 24, 2009, I underwent a second surgery.  I have spoken with my chemo doctor and apparently the next round for me is two types of chemo; the Temodar (chemo pill) continued as well as Avastin (infusion chemo).

Two weeks after my second surgery and I am already starting to slowly enter myself back into the office setting rather than continuing to work from home.  Although, I didn’t have to take any time off with the second surgery because I got my doctor to approve me having my laptop in the recovery room.

When I was diagnosed with cancer, I had two choices; I could let the cancer consume me or I could be a survivor.  I chose to be a survivor.  I am living my daily life as normal as possible to what my life was like before all this occurred including continuing to work, with obvious changes.  Although the cancer treatments are still ongoing, I do not let the cancer consume the majority of my day.  I am fighting this battle and not going to let the cancer change my view on how I perceive the future.  My fiancé (he asked my dad for permission while I was in the hospital the first time) and I are building a house, planning a wedding, and have discussed options for a family (in the event my treatments have made it impossible to have a family the traditional way)..