Natalie Richardson shares her brain tumor journey.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Ponchatoula, Louisiana with my husband Shane. I have four sons (ages 20,18,13 and 11) and a 4-year old Yorkie named Vito. I have been a registered nurse for 13 years and was raised in South Louisiana, very close to where the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico meet. I relocated to my current home town after Hurricane Katrina.
Please share a bit of information about your diagnosis and how your life has changed since.
I was working at the local hospital in the ICU department and, because of the working relationship required between physicians and ICU nurses, I was able to have a discussion with a neurologist about a headache I was unable to relieve with over-the-counter medicine. An official appointment was made for me to be seen by that neurologist/friend and we attempted to try to treat the headaches with migraine medication while I waited for a baseline MRI to be scheduled. I continued to work and had no significant neurological changes that would have caused alarm.
I completed my MRI in April of 2014 and was diagnosed with a Grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma located mainly in my right temporal lobe. I was then referred to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, TX (a 6-hour drive from my home). After completing my initial visit with the neurosurgeon at MD Anderson, I was scheduled for a craniotomy on May 15, 2014. The surgery was successful – removing 90% of the tumor. I continued to live with family near MD Anderson to be able to complete proton radiation therapy.
I have been fortunate to not require any further surgery or treatment since the completion of proton radiation on July 29, 2014 and have no physical deficits.
I do not like to complain or compare who I was before I had brain cancer to who I am now, but I have changed in ways that are hard to explain to others.
I appreciate each beautiful sunset or time spent with family much more and I have a new view on my career as a nurse now that I have been a patient.
Several roadblocks have occurred with employers even though my will and ability to continue working are the same as they were prior to having brain cancer. Employers do not seem to be eager to hire or retain me as an employee long. I was initially frightened of that but have now discovered that all cancer survivors who are able and willing to work are protected by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, with which I currently have an open case fighting for my ability to work.
Why do you think it’s important for people to donate to organizations like the American Brain Tumor Association?
A brain cancer diagnosis is an often fatal one and more research is needed to understand why it occurs and how to prevent it from reoccurring in patients that have beat it. Reoccurrence rates for brain tumors are far too high and, from my personal experience, nobody wants to hear “There is a 99-100% chance of it coming back” after enduring and surviving brain cancer once.
In our 45 years, the most dramatic advances are being made now.
Let’s put our brains together to stop brain tumors once and for all. Your donation makes a difference.