Provided Photos

The upbeat sign caught my eye as we pulled our travel trailer into the reserved spot. Good Luck RV Park, just a few miles south of the heart of downtown Dallas, would be our home for the next six weeks as I began radiation treatments that afternoon. 

Three months earlier, life had taken an unexpected turn when my doctor broke the news that I had a brain tumor—a large meningioma that would need to be surgically removed. The good news was that 85 to 90 percent of meningiomas are benign; only 10 to 15 percent are atypical or malignant. After surgery, the pathology report showed mine to be atypical; thus the need for radiation treatments. Lucky me.

I made it through the first treatment, decided it wasn’t so bad after all, and we settled into a fairly comfortable routine. During our morning commute, my husband, Steve, would calmly navigate the insanity known as Dallas freeway traffic, while I had my share of panic attacks in the passenger seat. In the afternoon, we would return to the RV Park to grill burgers or steaks in the sweltering July heat. As sundown approached and the temperature cooled to something below 95, we would walk our dachshund, Rowdy, and visit with some of the other residents.

That’s how we met Shannon, an insurance adjuster who lived in an Airstream she affectionately named Mildred, along with her cat, Hazel, and dog, Mabel. “I’ve got all the old ladies covered,” she said with a grin. When I started losing my hair due to the radiation treatments, it was Shannon who encouraged me to embrace the ball cap look and not worry about it. “Hair is highly overrated,” she reminded me.

Then there was Matteo. A 40-something Zen enthusiast with a California tan, he let out a few choice words while attempting to back his motorhome into the spot across from ours. When he heard why we were there, Matteo’s eyes lit up. “Wait right here,” he said as he ran back to his motorhome and returned with a slightly dog-eared paperback. Written by a brain scientist, the book recounted her personal journey to recover from a stroke. 

“It’s serendipity that we met and I could give you this book,” Matteo said, twirling his unlit Tiparillo and shading his eyes from the glaring sun. “I believe the universe is always trying to give us gifts; we just have to pay attention.”

My radiation treatments were going along fine, until the morning I woke up with fever and chills. I had two negative COVID tests and concluded that I must have caught another virus of some kind. We decided to return home to Amarillo and wait it out. A week later, I could barely walk and had lost the use of my left arm. Steve rushed me to the emergency room, where tests revealed some bad news: I had a brain infection. Thirteen hours later a medical transport plane flew me back to Dallas for emergency surgery.

I awoke to learn that the surgery had been successful, but there was a complication. I couldn’t move my left arm or leg. The nurses who came in hourly to do a neurological assessment encouraged me to concentrate and try to wiggle my fingers and toes. No matter how hard I tried, the results were the same: not even a twitch. The connection was lost.

As the days went on, I asked about the chances of regaining the use of my left side. The answers varied, depending on which doctor, intern, nurse, or therapist was in the room. But in general, the consensus was that it could go either way. There just wasn’t any reliable way of predicting the outcome; only time would tell.

In the early morning hours of post-op day five, a remarkable breakthrough occurred. I found that I could move my left thumb and forefinger! Just a fraction of an inch, but it was enough to give me hope. “We have made connection with the mother ship!” I announced, tears streaming down my cheeks.  

My next stop was an inpatient rehab hospital to begin a rigorous schedule of physical therapy. The techs wheeled me in on a gurney, as I still couldn’t get out of bed or move on my own. Texts rolled in from family and friends, wishing me well and saying they believed I would walk out of there. As much as I appreciated the optimism, I was honestly scared I wouldn’t. And that I would disappoint them. And let everyone down. Some days the pressure felt overwhelming.  

The therapy sessions were exhausting, but I could tell I was making progress. A few shuffling steps on a walker progressed to using an arm crutch, and finally I was able to walk unassisted. And I’m happy to report that 14 days later, I did walk out of that hospital. “Look at you, girl!” said one of my favorite nurses as I passed by her station. It was one of the happiest moments of my life. 

My journey of recovery is ongoing. I continue to have regular MRIs to monitor for tumor regrowth, which is not uncommon with meningiomas. And I recently had reconstruction surgery to insert a plate in my skull where the bone had been removed.

A serious health challenge is life-altering, and I realize that in many cases there isn’t a positive outcome. So why did I get better when others don’t? The honest answer is, I just don’t know. I have friends who have believed and prayed for a miracle and still lost their loved ones, and I know it’s devastating. We’ve all heard our share of platitudes that don’t really help, so I’ll just skip them. But I do have some insights that I hope will be helpful. 

People are incredible. To everyone who prayed for me, called or texted, offered an encouraging word, brought us food, helped with expenses (you know who you are), I am eternally grateful. My husband, Steve, was with me every step of this journey, along with my family and friends. I can’t imagine going through something like this without you!

Medical workers are the true heroes. To the nurses who didn’t complain when I rang the call button for the umpteenth time because I had to go to the bathroom (again!), you deserve a medal. Or a raise. Probably both.  

Prayers and positive thoughts are welcome. Just keep in mind that not everyone shares the same ideology or religious theology, so it’s best to keep it simple rather than come across preachy or heavy-handed. Consider reframing “I’m praying for you” to “Know that I’m here for you, no matter what.”

Ongoing support is important. After the initial diagnosis, there are often months of treatment and care. As time goes on, it’s easy to feel forgotten.  A simple “You’re on my heart today” message can make a big difference. 

Good things are all around us. Whatever you choose to call it— serendipity, good luck, a blessing, or an answered prayer—it’s true that good things come along in unexpected ways. And I feel like I’ve received more than my share. Lucky me. 

Photo by Ellie Boyett

Author

  • Kelli Bullard

    Kelli held various positions in her early career, from radio DJ to medical receptionist to communications director. In recent years, she worked in the nonprofit sector, directing programs, operations, and marketing. Nowadays, you can find her and husband Steve hitting the road as often as possible to travel, hike, camp, and explore new places.

    View all posts