I am Heather Renelle. I was born in Fort Worth, and now I am in Texas. I’m a singer, songwriter, and music teacher. I was in California when I found out that I had brain cancer. I learned about it after I had a major seizure at my job. Life does change, but positive energy helps a lot.
Initial symptoms and signs
It all started with me tripping over my left foot about a year before. I kept having migraine headaches for ten years. My left side always hurts, including my neck and my back. So, I talked about it with a doctor who asked me to do a CT scan. But these scans never revealed anything. I had become sensitive to the light. So I wore sunglasses in class. I even had a numb spot right above my left knee. But the doctors said it was arthritis. Now I realise it was a tumour which had grown big enough to start to affect my whole body.
Nevertheless, I went to the third doctor in California. He listened to me and sent me to a neurological doctor. January 18, 2018, at my job, I started swaying back and forth. I had no idea what was happening. And then I woke up in the ambulance after having a major seizure. In fact, I hit my head, bit my tongue and tore ligaments in my arm. So, finally, an MRI with contrast found out that it was the anaplastic astrocytoma archroma. It was one of the rare brain cancers. I had an MRI by the end of April, and then I had my brain surgery on May 23, 2018.
My family and my first reaction
I was just quiet, trying to understand. No wonder I’ve been having headaches for this long. So after surgery, I came back to Texas. As I said, all I could do was be silent and quiet. And I also studied a lot. The information on Google said I would die in three to five years. So I pushed that aside and started saying that I’m healed.
I feel blessed because my surgeon, Doctor Lance Altona, also specialises in PTSD. I consider him the best brain surgeon. Seeing only the positive side of something is not an easy task. After I woke up from surgery, my surgeon said that I had only one problem with memory, but it was a good thing. The good thing is short-term memory. But being a singer-songwriter, I had to relearn the original music I had written. I couldn’t remember what I was trying to say. I slept a lot the first year and a half after surgery. I had never worn glasses before. I have the balance of my peripheral vision and just had to learn to deal with everything.
I did radiation for five weeks. I was nauseous all the time. I was in the hospital for 15 days because the type of medication seemingly caused kidney failure. Then I did the oral chemo with pills for six months. I had to take a chemo pill once a month for five days. You had to take it on an empty stomach at night, and the nausea was horrible. I had to take nausea medication by IV. That wasn’t fun, but it messed with my muscles. If I walked two or three steps, I would feel like I ran 10 miles in 2 seconds.
I did Craniosacral therapy (CST), a soft touch to massage therapy. I had a group that would meet in New Mexico. They would have you come in for an entire week. They would put you on your back all day long and do the soft touch and all the nerve areas. They would have you get in their tub to float around. So the people would be by hand following you around if you’re just slightly rolling around in the water. And they would do it hot and cold and on a message board. It was uplifting, and I could let go of anything negative. I would see my friend a couple of times a week. We did the light-touch and listened to the rain or the ocean. It helped a lot. Apart from that, I did physical therapy. I did these treatments during a five-week break after radiation.
Growing up in Texas, I used to have potatoes, fried foods and canned items. I said no to potatoes, pasta, rice, and anything fried. I started eating chicken and salmon, that was not baked or fried, but boiled. I went from butter to olive oil. I have fruits and veggies because if I kept eating meatloaf with canned tomato sauce, I would always have heartburn. So, I quit doing that and went organic and natural. I even grow my tomatoes, kale and other vegetables.
Managing emotional and mental well being
It’s a good thing for me that I believe in God. I know he has carried me my whole life, and I just stayed with that positive energy. Every day, I said to myself that I was healed. I never said that I was going to die or not going to make it. I pushed all the negative thoughts aside. I know it’s not easy physically going through radiation and chemo. But if you have positive energy, you’re gifted; everything happens for a reason.
What kept me going
Music is what kept me going. I was born with the spirit of David. Hence, I’ve been singing my whole life. I would have upbeat music when I had terrible days. Also, I started volunteering at the zoo. That was pretty cool.
Message to other cancer patients and their caregivers
I definitely would tell them the same thing. You speak into existence what you want. Believe that it is a temporary process you’re going through and say every day that you’re healed. Please don’t say that I have cancer and my life is over. Life is a constant change. Sometimes, we get a rock at the bottom of our foot that we step on, but we can remove it when we want.
Three life lessons
I learnt that when you’re a musician and both sides of your brain work, that is a good thing. I also learned about patience. When you’re the one who needs help, I learned to accept that. I had to accept asking for help and telling people what was happening in my life.