‘My brain tumour made me bold’

Posted on 2 December 2016

When Debbie Hedenskog received the shocking news that she had a brain tumour, she faltered for just a moment before deciding to put on some make-up and get on with it.

It was a grade two tumour, which means it was slow-growing and likely not cancerous, but it was the size of an egg and was pressing on the all-important speech and language part of Debbie’s brain.

‘I’m a busy, healthy businesswoman and a mother to three home-schooled young boys,’ explains Debbie. ‘I’m not accustomed to worrying or being sick, so when I had a few episodes where I felt like I couldn’t speak I didn’t think much of it. Then one evening the right side of my face drooped and my body was jerky. I tried to indicate to my husband that I needed to go to hospital, but I couldn’t speak. It was terrifying.’

At Mediclinic Vergelegen’s emergency room, Debbie was treated for epileptic seizures, but an MRI later revealed she had a brain tumour. ‘I never dreamed it would be anything so serious,’ says Debbie, ‘but I am a woman of faith. Then and there God laid it on my heart that I needed to be bold.’

Making a plan: brain tumour surgery

Debbie needed brain surgery to remove the tumour. She was referred to Dr Roger Melvill, a neurosurgeon at Mediclinic Constantiaberg, for a four-and-a-half hour surgical procedure that could potentially render her speechless. ‘I chose to be positive and believe all would be well,’ says Debbie. ‘Even in the face of evidence to the contrary.’

Debbie’s medical aid declined to pay for her treatment. She had only recently joined the scheme and was precluded. ‘We needed R155 000 as a down payment,’ says Debbie. ‘We didn’t have it. I told my husband that God would provide – and He did, through the Facebook page I created. I called it God is Bigger than a Brain Tumour.

‘I ran competitions, my friends organised fundraisers, and I was overwhelmed by the generosity of strangers. The financial and emotional support I’ve received from my Facebook group is all part of my personal miracle and journey towards healing.’

Medical miracles

Debbie’s operation was complicated. ‘It’s called awake mapping,’ Debbie explains. ‘They put me to sleep, then drilled out a piece of my skull and put it aside, like a pot lid, before waking me up to assess where to cut. Your brain, unbelievably, has no nerves in it. They prodded me and it didn’t hurt. I had to count to 10 about 20 times, identify pictures of objects like keys and make sentences with them. I was required to talk non-stop for 2.5 hours while they operated.’

Once the surgical team was satisfied that they’d removed as much of the tumour as possible without compromising Debbie’s ability to speak, they put her back to sleep, closed her up, and the next time she woke up she was in ICU.

‘My parents and husband were there. The first thing I did was to test whether I could talk. I could! I was so happy that I still had my voice and I used it to encourage another young man recovering in ICU. He was so despondent. I told him he must have hope and be grateful. I know I am grateful for what this experience has taught me.’

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