My brain tumor taught me to see life's blessings

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my_brain_tumor_meningioma_taught_me_to_see_lifes_blessings.JPGBy Halit Uster

In 2006, Halit Uster was diagnosed with the most common primary brain tumor, a meningioma. Thorough research led him to MD Anderson and he underwent surgery. Today, he is tumor-free and credits his expert neurosurgeon and the professional, friendly staff at MD Anderson. He advises others to not take life for granted.

In December 2006, I scheduled a simple visit to my ophthalmologist to check a potential non-vision-related concern. As it is the usual practice, my vision was tested before the doctor's exam. The vision test showed blurriness in my left eye. The ophthalmologist thought it was normal vision deterioration and, since I was not even aware of it, said there was not much to be concerned about.

A month later, I became concerned with the vision issues in my left eye and decided to get a second opinion. The optometrist said she could do nothing to correct the blurred vision and referred me to another ophthalmologist. He performed a few tests, then said I needed to get an MRI.

Well, that did it. The ophthalmologist said I had a pituitary tumor that was pressing on my optic nerve. This also explained my headaches, which I had attributed to my busy work schedule.

Immediately, I began researching my particular type of tumor. I shared my MRIs with surgeons in Texas, Arkansas and Istanbul. Finally, I made an appointment with neurosurgeon Dr. Ian McCutcheon at MD Anderson.

My amazing healthcare team

During my appointment with Dr. McCutcheon, I felt like I was the only patient in the world. It seemed as if he were there for the sole purpose of handling my problem. He was unbelievably thorough and comforting, making me feel at ease and confident in his abilities.

I found out that I did not have a pituitary tumor, but instead a meningioma, the most common primary brain tumor. The new diagnosis did not make handling my situation any better or easier, but it was beneficial to know the correct tumor type. With an accurate diagnosis, my team of physicians could determine the best course of treatment.

It is very useful to read and learn about your illness, but communication and cooperation with the doctor are the most important factors for your treatment. When I walked out of the appointment, I was not worried about the surgery or any complications that might arise. I was very confident that I was in good hands.

A few weeks later, I prepared for and underwent surgery.  During this time, the staff at MD Anderson was highly professional, courteous and so friendly that I felt like I had known them for a long time. I believe they must have been trained to read a patient's mind. Just the mere diversity of staff, their work ethic and humbleness make MD Anderson a unique place.

Life is fragile

After surgery, I was anxious to get back to work and my normal routine. I thought, "Just shake it off and go on." Thankfully, I held out for six weeks before returning to teaching. It was a long enough recovery for me to feel better both physically and emotionally. It is important to find this balance, keep your spirits high and have support.

My experience made me realize how fragile life is and how easy it is to take blessings for granted. I know, this sounds cliché, but in my case, it is very true. Currently, my three-year-old twins are in preschool, a blessing I might not have experienced if it weren't for MD Anderson.

I am writing this story as I wait to meet with Dr. McCutcheon for my yearly check-up.  Recently, I had an MRI, and I'm hoping to hear it looks good. But, you never know. What I do know is that I am in good hands.

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