When the author’s sister, Marcelle, was just a teen, she was treated for a brain tumor and told she would never be able to have children. Ten years later, she proved her doctors wrong.
My sister, Marcelle, was diagnosed with her first brain tumor in January 1992, when she was just sixteen years old. Marcelle had gone to the doctor because she was experiencing unusual symptoms for a girl her age—bad headaches, constant fatigue, no more periods. Even more alarmingly, her eyesight and hearing were deteriorating. Our mother—an ex-nurse—knew something was terribly wrong. At first the doctor thought it might just be an iron deficiency, but he took a blood test to check her hormone levels, “just in case.”
The test results were shocking. Marcelle’s levels of the hormones prolactin and cortisol were off the chart, and the cause was determined to be a tumor on her pituitary gland, located in the center of the brain, just above the back of the nose.
The news threw our family into instant turmoil—we simply couldn’t believe something so terrible was happening to one of us. As for Marcelle, she seemed to deal with it by switching off emotionally. “As long as I didn’t think about being so ill, or even fully acknowledge it was really happening to me, I could deal with it,” says Marcelle, remembering her ordeal. “Of course I knew it was real, but my way of coping was to switch off from the experience as much as I could.”
Marcelle began taking medication to stop the tumor from growing further, and was scheduled for surgery soon afterwards. Her first operation was on January 25, 1992. The procedure is called a transsphenoidal hypophysectomy and, unbelievably, is the removal of the tumor through a cut in the nasal passage. Unfortunately, the surgeons were unable to remove the entire tumor because it was covering too much of the pituitary gland. Rather than damage the gland, they decided to remove as much of the cancer as they could, and try to control what was left with medication to prevent it from growing back. Marcelle would have to be on the medication for the rest of her life. But other than a large scar on her left leg, where the surgeons had to harvest tissue to be packed into the nasal cavity, Marcelle’s recovery seemed complete.
Unfortunately, that was not the case. In September 1993, Marcelle had to have the same surgery again, to remove a second, more aggressive tumor. Once again our family was devastated, and once again Marcelle seemed to be the only one coping well with the situation. She never complained or felt sorry for herself; she was the one keeping the rest of us strong. And none of us ever voiced the thought that we might lose her—that just wasn’t an option.
It was after this second surgery, when Marcelle was just seventeen years old, that she was told by a series of doctors, endocrinologists, and surgeons that there was no chance of her ever becoming pregnant, let alone carrying a child to term. Her hormone levels were still too high, and the doctors were concerned that a pregnancy would be too much for her body to cope with.
Marcelle recovered well from this second operation, which seemed to be a success. In the years that followed, she went on with her life. In 2000, she married her childhood sweetheart, Sean. Sean knew all about Marcelle’s medical history, and he also knew that she would never be able to get pregnant. He loved her and accepted it all.