Suzanne Cecil White — of Cecil Farms and White Chateau — was able to breathe a sigh of relief Tuesday when she learned the brain tumor she’d recently had removed was benign.
More than a year ago, White started having headaches but chalked them up to a multitude of causes.
“Oh, I turned 40, maybe it’s hormones. Maybe it’s stress. Maybe I don’t drink enough water,” she said.
But these were not average headaches. They were bad enough she’d have to lay down, and they were happening a few times a month.
In January, White fell while on a ski trip with her family. The fall wasn’t a bad one, but she struggled to get up. Once she did, her arms and legs were weak and her vision went dark. A medic took her off the mountain and called it altitude sickness, but her vision kept going black even once she returned home.
“I knew it wasn’t normal and something wasn’t right,” she said. “This is happening way too much.”
White checked out fine during a visit to her doctor, so she decided to see an optometrist about her vision problems. Dr. Elizabeth Mauzy Martin told White her vision was 20/20, but her optic nerves were swollen.
“She told me ‘that’s your brain,’” White said, and Martin scheduled her for an MRI at the next available opening, even encouraging her to call every day to see if there was a cancellation so she could get her scan earlier.
On March 15, one week after her visit to Martin, White went in for her MRI. They performed two scans and by the time they were finished, it was after 5 p.m. and everyone else had left the building.
White decided to go on with her evening as usual, not expecting to hear from anyone that evening. While visiting Peacocks and Pearls, she thought to herself, “I feel good about this. I think it’s going to be something simple to resolve.”
But before she could speak the words, her phone rang. Martin told her the radiologist found a tumor and her brain was extremely swollen.
“She told me the radiologist said my brain was ‘angry,’” White said. “I kept wondering how I didn’t know. I’d had a few headaches like it was nothing, but apparently my brain was screaming.”
White said, “I was in shock. I’m a very optimistic person and have very strong faith. But to just be thinking it was going to be fine and then it’s not, that really shook me.”
Her doctors — both Martin and Andrea Moore, worked well past normal business hours to get White’s scans to the neurologists quickly. Two days later, after a routine of steroids to ease the swelling, she was ready for surgery to remove the tumor.
A community of support rallied around her.
Her friend, Lauren, had covered the walls of White’s hospital room with faith-based affirmations. White listed to her playlist of songs like “Out Of My Hands” by Jeremy Camp.
As she went into surgery, she felt surprisingly calm.
People wanting to show their support for White arrived in the hospital parking lot before she went into surgery and stayed there until the three-hour procedure was finished. She was able to see them from her window before they took her to the operating room.
During White’s surgery, her sister wrote out every text message, Facebook comment and other encouragement onto pieces of paper and covered the walls of her recovery room.
“She read them all to me in the ICU and then hung them on the walls,” White said. ”That was so uplifting, just to see people’s texts and messages. When they moved me to a different room I asked them to hang them all up there.”
Her neurologist, Dr. Neil Troffkin, removed the 4.5-centimeter tumor from the left side of her head, scraping it from the protective layer of the brain as much as possible. And then she had to wait for the results from pathology to find out more about what the tumor was.
“I chose not to Google,” White said. “I decided to let the doctor tell me and not let the internet scare me.”
Once again, her community of support stepped up to keep her mind off what might be. Friends sent packages every day to keep her distracted and positive, and finally White got the results everyone was praying for: the tumor was benign.
“You can tell yourself not to worry and dig into your faith, but it is hard and it weighs on your body,” White said. “It’s a huge weight lifted to be like ‘OK, OK. I’m actually going to be OK.’”
White will go back in six weeks for a follow-up visit and continue to be checked routinely after that. While there could be microscopic bad cells that could grow, she has reason to be hopeful they got it all.
The whole experience has been an exercise in faith and perspective.
“It makes me want to eat better and just slow down,” she said. “The whole process has made me stop and pray — and made me question myself. I thought, ‘Suzanne, if someone else was going through this, what would you do? You’d be giving them hope. Do you believe what you profess to everyone else?’”
White said she wants to focus on loving people and being there for them.
“I needed this pause to realize what really matters,” she said. “People need love because the love came to me and made all the difference. We carry God’s light to others.”
The support of those around her meant everything to both White and her family. She said she recognizes it’s hard to know what to do or say when someone is going through a crisis, and she learned from what was done for her. She even made a list of things that helped her, so she could remember to do those things for others in the future.
Her best advice is to not ask questions of someone who is ill, but just be supportive and try to have a normal conversation. They may not be ready to talk about what they’re going through.
Other things that lifted her spirits included a meal train, text messages — even ones that just say “I’m thinking about you,” flowers that brightened up her hospital room, Facebook comments and messages of support and prayers, friends who would sit with her without talking so she wasn’t alone, and short visits from others who just wanted to drop something off.
“Just send the text,” she said. “When you’re thinking about doing something, that’s God telling you what they need. Don’t be afraid to reach out. You don’t have to buy a gift, just being there is what matters.”
White said her days are looking more like normal now, but she likely has a while before she’ll be feeling like herself. Her energy level is slowly returning and she’s spending half her days in the greenhouse on the farm and the other half resting.
“I’m doing really good,” she said. “People see me and say, ‘you look great, you seem normal,’ and I’m getting there.”