It’s not brain surgery…

By MaryAnn

Or is it?

Many of you know that I have a fascination with the human brain. It all started when my brain tumor–the one I didn’t know I had–chose to reveal itself one Sunday in September, 2004.

I was lucky. I wasn’t driving, I wasn’t alone, and I was surrounded by people I know and love. In fact, I was at church. Sitting down, even.

I had no previous warning, no headaches, no loss of vision, nothing. Just “seizure-like activity” while I was sitting in the choir.

But the people I’ve read about since then–the people who have malignant brain tumors, or traumatic brain injury from skiing accidents, gunshot wounds, IEDs…those people are not so lucky.

On the other hand, this is a great time to be alive, even with  brain damage. Advances in modern medicine have made it possible to have brain surgery, and, in many cases, have a normal life afterwards.

My tumor was benign, surgically accessible, and my recovery was swift. I was back at work 6 weeks later.

One of my all-time favorite books is Ian McEwan’s Saturday. Towards the end of this novel, published in 2005,  McEwan provides a detailed description of brain surgery. Since I wasn’t conscious during my own surgery, I was glad to be able to read a narrative of the step-by-step process.

In the nonfiction Brain Surgeon, author Keith Black tells of his own journey to becoming a renown brain surgeon, succeeding despite racial and social prejudice. His accounts of his patients and their conditions give us hope for the future, as well as a window into the life of a neurosurgeon.

Perhaps my favorite nonfiction read is Head Cases, which details the struggles of various individuals, all of whom suffer from some form of  brain injury. Back in fiction, I’ve read Head Games, Every Good Boy Does Fine, Still Alice (about early onset dementia) and Lisa Genova’s newest novel, Left Neglected. I continue to find new (and old) books about various aspects of the human brain, and how those conditions govern the way we live our lives and view the lives of others.

The American Brain Tumor Association has a great website with plenty of information about tumors, treatment and support. You can access it at  There are lots of other informational websites as well, including some with photographs and videos of brain surgery. Warning–these are not for the squeamish or faint at heart!

I’m convinced that through study and research, we will continue to uncover the mysteries of the human brain and how to treat brain trauma. I’m also convinced that I had a successful outcome so that I can continue to tell anyone who asks that having brain surgery doesn’t have to be a bad experience!

One last thought: In My Stroke of Insight, Jill Bolte Taylor tells of her stroke, her rehabilitation and her fight to change the standard rules of care for stroke victims. And she encourages her readers to consider donating their brain (after death, of course!) to a brain bank who can use the tissue for research on diseases of the brain.

For more information about donating your brain, read this article from National Geographic: I quote from the end of the article: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste. For information on donating a brain to the Harvard Brain Tissue Resource Center, call (800) 272-4622.”

3 thoughts on “It’s not brain surgery…

  1. I don’t know if “normal” is the right word for my brain, but I’m totally interested in donating it now. Thanks for this valuable information on such a personal topic, MaryAnn!


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