By Haley Toomey
Glioblastoma. It’s a word that had no meaning in my life until the morning of April 9, 2020.
At 22, it was like no other morning I had experienced.
I woke up around 5am to the sound of my mom collapsing and falling in my bedroom door as my dad helped her to the bathroom.
My mother, Cayla, was a healthy woman, but for two weeks before that day she suffered from severe migraines. She knew something was wrong with her body.
One Friday morning, she decided it was time to go to the outpatient clinic. After more than eight hours of waiting, she was told it was a migraine and to take Tylenol until the pain subsided. The diagnosis didn’t sit well with me or my dad, but who were we to ask the medical professionals?
After a few more days, the pain was getting worse, so mom decided to go to outpatients again, explain the symptoms in more detail, and tell them that she usually doesn’t have chronic migraines. . After waiting hours to be seen, she was sent home after being given a “migraine cocktail” for the pain.
The diagnosis still didn’t seem right to us, but we were in a health crisis with COVID-19, and there didn’t seem to be much else to do.
On the morning of April 8, 2020, mom was very clearly not herself. She tried to cook breakfast and forgot she had eggs on the stove and could have caught fire in our kitchen if my dad hadn’t come home. Throughout the day, she was unsteady on her feet, didn’t have much sense when speaking, and was quite forgetful. Dad and I decided it was best for Mom to spend the day in bed while we figured out our best course of action.
My mother slept well all night, but at 5 am we started having our worst nightmare.
Mom had lost control of her bladder and was wetting the bed. While trying to get to the bathroom, she collapsed and woke my dad. Moments later, she fell in my bedroom door as my father tried to guide her.
I can never forget this morning, no matter how hard I tried.
call the ambulance
I remember dad and I trying to stay calm so as not to worry my mom. At 7:30 a.m., we knew it was time to call an ambulance to rush her to the nearest hospital. As we were in the middle of a pandemic, we were not allowed to accompany him. All we could do was watch the paramedics take her away.
Being in a small town, one of the paramedics had grown up with my mom, which was a comfort to us. Dad and I waited anxiously by our phones for a call, hopefully with good news.
But there was no good news to hear that day.
Around 1:30 p.m., my father called. He was in tears and inconsolable.
The doctor at the hospital was extremely concerned about mum’s condition and decided it was best to rush her to the hospital 20 minutes away for an MRI. My father rushed to meet her there; an exception was made to the COVID rules since my mother was now unable to communicate.
Around 1:30 p.m., my father called. He was in tears and inconsolable. Between screams and gasps, he managed to spit out the words, “Haley, your mom has a brain tumor on the right side of her brain, behind her eye.” She is rushed to Halifax for emergency surgery.
My jaw dropped and my eyes filled with tears. Why had this not been detected weeks ago after two hospital stays? Why hadn’t she been taken more seriously when she explained her symptoms in detail?
My world was crumbling around me. My mother was my best friend; my parents and I were the greatest trio that ever existed. We did everything together. My heart was broken.
During the operation, they managed to remove 90% of the tumor, and it was determined to be glioblastoma, an aggressive form of cancer that can arise in the brain or spinal cord.
The survival rate isn’t great, but we were hopeful.
The roller coaster ride
After mum was transferred to Sydney Hospital, we were so excited to see her and give her the biggest hug.
Unfortunately, after waiting seven weeks to begin treatment, she was back in hospital. This time things weren’t going well.
The tumor was growing rapidly and beginning to compress his brainstem. We thought we only had a few days left with her.
Our family, friends and staff on the third floor of the Cape Breton Regional Hospital arranged a makeshift wedding for my parents. On May 27, 2020, they got married in my mother’s hospital room. She was then transferred to the palliative care unit where she miraculously recovered and was again sent home to us where she needed to be.
Eleven months later, on March 17, 2021, mom lost her battle with cancer at the age of 52.
Do I think we could have spent more time with her if she had been taken more seriously the first time around? Absoutely.
Do I think she would still be with us today if she had been taken more seriously? I can’t answer that, but I’d like to think so.
It is so important to defend your own health. You know your body better than anyone. My mother was a woman who trusted doctors and did not go against their word, even if it was against her better judgment.
Life without my mother at 24 is weird. I feel like I have to relearn how to live again. I often think about what our lives would be like if she hadn’t gotten sick; how different it would all be.
The most heartbreaking feeling is knowing that she won’t be celebrating my life’s milestones with me. She’s going to miss my college graduation this month, she won’t see me owning my first home, or my wedding when the time comes.
Life is very different now. A lot of times, something happens and I find myself thinking, oh I can’t wait to text mom and tell her. Then the wave of sadness comes.
Please always defend your own health and that of your loved ones.
Haley Toomey is a Therapeutic Recreation Assistant who lives in Glace Bay, Nova Scotia. She can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @haleytoomey.