The Best Gift I Ever Received: Part One

In June of 2005 I was diagnosed with a Meningioma. It is a non-malignant, slow growing brain tumor that is hormonally fed.  

For about six months my vision was blacking out in my left eye.  After many tests from multiple doctors I was sent for and MRI. That’s when “Rascal” appeared larger than life.  (I named it Rascal because, well, why not? It came out of nowhere!) I was immediately escorted up to my doctor’s office.  I was angry because I had a massage appointment and didn’t want to be late. The technician reassured me it would take but a few minutes and that I would be out on time.  As I sat in the room waiting for the Dr. I thought to myself wait a minute, something must be on the MRI.  Why else would they ask me to stay?  Well sure enough, in walks my Dr. with the results.

“So Mrs. Plotner,” he says, “your scan shows a very large mass growing over your left optic nerve causing your blackouts.”  Then tells me that he is 95% sure it is not cancer, however, it MUST come out asap. I’m looking at him like he’s the one with the tumor!  

My response is “so, I’ll schedule an appointment for when I get back from my vacation that I’m leaving for in three days”.  

“I have already set you up with a neurosurgeon on Monday–your vacation is going to be on hold.”  Then he proceeds to follow that up with, “now go and get that massage and relax.” I was waiting for that “April fools” moment…yeah that never came.

Let’s just move on to me meeting the man who would be changing my life for the better (of course not knowing that at the time).  All of my surgeries took place at Roswell Cancer Institute in Buffalo, NY. I say all of my surgeries because I ended up having two Meningiomas.  One was the size of my fist and one the size of a pea. I know how to grow ‘em. I had a full craniotomy to remove the large tumor and that was followed by gama knife surgery to shrink and kill the pea that is now dead but still resides in my brain.

Thus begins my journey of pre-tumor life and post-tumor life.  My husband was a Godsend during this time. I think it was more traumatic for him than for me.  I am lucky to have him. During this time in my life my “daughter” was only eight. My husband and I discussed everything from me possibly dying to a very strict schedule for our “daughter” which would become “her” life for the next 7 days.  Each day “she” spent differently. “She” was carted from family members’ homes to friends’ homes. There was baseball practice to attend and birthday parties to go to. We wanted “her” life to stay as normal as “normal” could be. We discussed with “her” that I would be going to the hospital for a few days and that I would be having surgery on my head.  I let “her” cut my hair off and explained that it would help the doctor if I had less hair for him to cut.

I had surgery the day after July 4th.  I didn’t get to see “Kayla” for about three days.  I’ll never forget the day “she” came to see me. My head was very much swollen and I was mostly bald.  “She” was scared. It took a while for “her” to sit with me. It was heartbreaking. I knew this feeling I had would go away.  For “her” it would most likely stay forever. I hated that. It was a very vulnerable time for me.

I shared many jokes with my doctors and the hospital staff.  I needed my sense of humor to get past all of what was happening to me. I felt like it was good to stay positive.  At one point, my doctor told me and my husband that I may not be the same person after all of this was done and over with.  He was very serious. I took that literally. It made me very anxious that I could be someone different. I still had control of me and I wanted to stay me!  After I woke up from surgery and remembered where I was and what happened, I was not going to allow myself to fall asleep. I figured If I didn’t fall asleep, I’d stay the same goofball I am.   That lasted for about three days.

It wasn’t until a few months after my ordeal that I really understood what the doctor meant.  He was right. My priorities changed. Over time, my anxiety levels decreased. I became more spiritual.  I began asking questions about my life. I tried to make a lot of “stuff” in my head more clear. I let go of grudges, had conversations with family and friends about things I wanted to make straight and marched on with a new lease on life.   It felt like a second chance–a cleanse. I took that second chance and ran with it.

I truly believe that God is using what I’ve learned during my brain tumor to help me through this difficult yet educational journey with my son.  

The Best Gift I Ever Received: Part Two

Now that you know what happened to me during this brain tumor event, I’d like to tell you what my child went through.  

I can’t imagine having to pack up all the things I want with me when I am only eight years old.  Essentially that’s what we had her do. She had no clue what was really happening to me. I wanted to make sure she had all the things that gave her comfort because then I had some comfort.  Books, toys, clothes, pictures a list of phone numbers to call if she wanted. We asked her who she might want to spend nights with. At this point in her life she wasn’t super fond of sleeping elsewhere, and now she had to for seven nights.  We tried to give her as much of a say in the planning as we could. I remember grocery shopping with her. I wanted her to have all the foods she liked. Especially the cereal–we are name brand shoppers when it comes to cereal. There was no way I was going to let someone feed her “fake” cereal!  On one of my vacations I bought her a purple heart made out of rock. I gave it to her and said “keep this heart and take it wherever you go. Keep it with you and you will always have a piece of me”. Purple is my favorite color. You bet she packed that for her little journey.

Monday evening was the Fourth of July.  My friend took her to the fireworks and then for sleepover number one.  A few days she spent with my brother and his family. Another day or two a friend from her baseball team.  By the time she came to see me I could tell she was beat from all the carting around. My husband was with me 95% of the time.  I didn’t want to be alone. All reports about “Kayla” from my friends and family were great. I could tell though, that she was uncomfortable.   

I was so excited to finally see her the night she came back with my husband.  I was a little nervous because I still had much cranial swelling and a bandaged head.  I’m sure it was scary for her to see one of her parents in a hospital, looking very different than usual.   It took her quite a few minutes before she would get close to me. I couldn’t get her to sit on my bed with me.  Lucky for me I could move around the room and interact with her. She finally became more comfortable and began interacting with me a little.  Each time she came to see me after that it was a little easier for her.IMG_2623.JPG

I was released on a Sunday and so happy to be going home.  I could not drive so anything that had to do with driving I needed a driver.  Everyone was so happy to help. This was the summer I enrolled her in camp after camp.  Baseball and the YMCA camp were both a hit. This was the summer she began her hockey career as well.  

As I began to heal at home I felt that she was still scared of me.  I felt some distance that wasn’t there before my surgery.

The summer flew by and I got ready to head back to work.  At that time I was a preschool teacher and for “Kayla” it was onto fourth grade.  She had a great teacher, one that changed her forever. I noticed that she started school as a kindergartener she did well in an environment that was orderly and quiet.  She was a good student and very helpful. She had a love for school and learning. Her first grade teacher and environment didn’t work out so well. Second and third grade were great.  But it was her fourth grade teacher that really made a difference. At this point “Kayla” had been sleeping on our bedroom floor every night. Different situations would bring on small panic attacks. This lasted for almost two years.  Her fourth grade teacher and I had a talk before school started that year so he knew what she had been through over the summer. He helped her get through her thoughts and gave her self- esteem that just escalated. She overcame sleeping on the floor and soared through the rest of elementary school.  This teacher will forever hold a special place in our hearts.

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When you commit to having children, you commit to showing them unconditional love. You are happy to see them achieve, you help them back up when they fall, and you support them through their struggles. On October 23rd, 1996, I brought home my baby girl. Fast forward 21 years, and my baby girl is now my son. Having a child who transitions from one gender to another is, on one hand, a traumatic loss for a parent. More importantly, though, it is a substantial gain for your child.

This blog intends to share our separate journeys through a gender transition and bridge the gap of communication between a parent and child as we endure a massive change in our lives.

We encourage questions and constructive comments, and we wholeheartedly wish to help others who find themselves in the same situation.