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Becky Conran Interview: Brain Tumor, Brain Surgery & Recovery

Wednesday, December 24th, 2008
Posted in Profiles & Interviews by Joel Gross

An old friend, Rebecca (Becky) conran, who lived with me in the frat house during the only summer I spent there recently got back in contact with me via facebook. Becky shocked me when she informed me that she had undergone brain surgery for a tumor after that summer. She was kind enough to allow me to share our conversation with the rest of you.‚  I think that this will be one of my more interesting and engaging blog posts, so take your time reading it and enjoy!

Rebecca conran
Hey Joel, I just realized I know you. (sigma chi house summer 2003ish…) How have you been?

Joel Gross
Yes I do remember you. How have you been?

Rebecca conran
Not bad. Living in Salt Lake now and working in the planning department at University of Utah and just graduating this semester. I had a BIG hold-up in my schooling. What about you?

Joel Gross
Graduated a little over 2 years ago. Working as a business analyst at a tech company in Seattle. Live 6 blocks from work (love the commute lol). Really busy with work and all the other stuff I do. What was your holdup in school?

Rebecca conran
That sounds great Joel. I’m happy for you.

Brain surgery was the holdup…learning how to walk again, learning how to write again… it sucked. But I’m much better now!

Joel Gross
Damn, that’s a great excuse. Usually when people tell me their holdup on getting their life started, it is because they are lazy. I’m impressed that you had to learn to walk & write again and are already about to finish your degree! Why did you need the surgery?

Rebecca conran
I had a brain tumor. I was having symptoms clear back when I was in Seattle- deafness in my right ear, headaches, and numbness in my face, but I just ignored them hoping it was just a random part of life…think again dumb ass!!! lol

Joel Gross
Those brain tumors… their a real pain aren’t they? ;) Sorry, I’m kind of a bad person. Are you fully recovered now or do you have any issues still?

Rebecca conran
Hehe…no worries, no one makes more brain tumor jokes than I do.

I’m deaf on one side and l lost some hearing on the other side, I have some nerve issues, and I feel dizzy every once and a while…it probably sounds worse than it is. I think I’m doing ok…pretty much back to normal.

Joel Gross
Wow, sounds like you are one tough lady with a great outlook on all of this. I’m not sure I could be as positive as you. You should be proud of yourself for continuing your growth as a person so well. Did the doctors ever figure out why you got a brain tumor so young? Did you live under some power lines or did it just run in the family?

Rebecca conran
Thanks. Actually, neither. They have no idea what causes the type of tumor that I had.

Joel Gross
Well, I think I know what caused it… Too close of proximity to my incredible gorgeousness. That has caused other women to lose their heads in the past, though never have I seen a case as bad as yours. I will have to make you a case study.

Rebecca conran
lol! I think you are on to something. Rush me the results ASAP. I want my life back!

Joel Gross
Haha, I’ll do my best.

I’d be interested in hearing the story of what happened with your tumor from when u discovered it till now, if you don’t mind sharing.

Rebecca conran
It’s a VERY long story, but if you really want to hear it¢â‚¬¦

When they discovered the tumor on my MRI I went in for surgery just a couple weeks later. The tumor had been growing for 15 years and was pushing on my brain stem¢â‚¬¦I probably should have been dead.

I went into surgery having no idea what the affects would be. The doctors didn’t have time to warn me, so 2 surgeons and 14 hours later, I couldn’t walk. I don’t think I minded though. I don’t even remember the first week or so after surgery, which is probably a good thing. Hospital recovery went as expected except for 2 spinal fluid leaks. Imagine your head being squeezed in a giant vise grip¢â‚¬¦it hurt like a mutha. And then it started to get almost pleasant¢â‚¬¦everything was sort of fading away when someone took an industrial stapler to my head and stapled the length of my 12 inch wound. They proceeded to wrap my head in gauze tightly as physically possible.

When I returned home all I wanted to do was practice walking. The Dr. told me that I had a window of opportunity to pick it up again. If I missed that window I was SOL. I didn’t really have an option to do anything else anyway, I couldn’t write or do much of anything with my hands, my vision was too blurry to read or watch TV, and it hurt my head to listen to anything at an audible level. I had lost about 15 lbs. at this point because I was too sick all of the time to eat anything. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but 15 lbs on my frame¢â‚¬¦I looked like Skelator.

Slowly but surely I gained everything back first came my weight, then my vision, and I started walking again in 3 months (I was still shaky, but walking on my own¢â‚¬¦except stairs… I still have an irrational fear of stairs.) I started running about a year later, which is a big deal to me since I am a runner.

I had one regrowth about a year ago, but that was easy. My middle ear was already gone and the adjustment after the loss was what caused me so many problems the first time.

Today, I am a little shaky on my right side (nothing too noticeable¢â‚¬¦I think) I have sloppy handwriting, I’m ambidextrous (from learning to do everything with my left, and because the shakes make the left easier sometimes.), I have one-sided deafness, some facial nerve issues (my tumor was too tangled up in my nerve to save it. My auditory nerve was useless, so they sewed my auditory nerve where my facial nerve was.) and the occasional headache.

Brain surgery sucks¢â‚¬¦I wouldn’t recommend it.

Joel Gross
Wow… I couldn’t imagine going through all that you have been through. Thank you for sharing your story with me. What happened with your regrowth? Did they remove it? It sounds like you are doing much better today.. you have gone from not being able to write to putting together a very well-written story. Actually, that gives me an idea- if you would like, could I interview you about your story and post it on my blog? If you don’t want to, I completely understand. If you do, I can send you my questions and you can answer them as you like. I’ll probably piece everything together after, but u can edit it as u like too.

About my blog: 40,000 readers a month, i post lots of goofy & funny stuff on it, but occasionally real stories/interviews like yours. A couple examples of previous interviews below:

http://www.blog.joelx.com/interviewing-the-senate-band/899/

http://www.blog.joelx.com/rachelle-robinett-interview-1/153/

Rebecca conran
The regrowth was no big deal. They reopened my scar to remove it. It was actually on the outside of my skull this time, but it was the same material as the first tumor.

Sure. I’ll let you interview me for a price and I’m not cheap. ;-)

What’s going on with you??? I’m bored of talking about me.

Joel Gross
I’m living and working in the Pioneer Square area of downtown Seattle- just north of the football & baseball stadiums. My job is only 6 blocks from my studio, so my commute rocks! I work as a business analyst for Visible Technologies- I do web design/search engine optimization/ general marketing stuff. I love what I do and have learned tons of stuff- VBA, HTML, CSS, PHP, learning C# & SQL. I have carved out a pretty great existence; once a week, I meet with a group of friends including the best chef in Seattle and we take turns cooking for each other. I also play flag football in a league at Seattle Center. I am trying to launch two internet companies right now so that hopefully I don’t have to be someone else’s employee much longer… though my job is fun and i make a good living. We’ll see what happens.

Rebecca conran
You like to cook??? I LOVE food. I have considered running away to Spain to go to culinary school many-a-time…especially times like now…midterm time.

Joel Gross
I love cooking… My specialty is pasta, but I’m pretty good with seafood and meats too. I have been told I make some excellent salads as well by vegetarians. If it paid better and didn’t have such crummy hours I would have been a professional chef for sure.

Rebecca conran (Answering some questions I had asked her)
Learning how to walk again came gradually. After the first month I could walk holding on to something like a walker or a banister, and in some cases even a wall. And then at about month 3 I could walk on my own expect for stairs..it took about 5-6 months to really master stairs.

I use the word “learn” loosely. I knew how to walk, but my body wouldn’t cooperate. That was the most frustrating part about it- I knew how and where I wanted to make movements, but the message didn’t make it to my limbs.

P.S. Feel free to edit however suits you or to use the other email I sent. As long as you don’t copy and paste to say “I microwave babies on the weekend” or something.

Rebecca conran
My memory is still complete. I have slight problems with my speech that people say they don’t notice (I haven’t figured out if that is their way of being nice) I forget words sometimes, even simple ones- I have to scan my brain for the missing words and if I don’t find the one I’m looking for I just use another one. It’s a little annoying, but not an awful big deal.

There is something strange about the connection between my brain and my right hand- Messages get mixed up or don’t seem to make it to my hand. For instance, when I am writing there appear to be wholes in my sentences…missing letters and words. (You may even notice incomplete phrases as I’m typing now)

Rebecca conran
And by the way, midterms went well. I’m on fall break for the week, but I have more midterms when I return. Boo. How have you been?

Joel Gross
I would love to see you again and talk to you. Our conversation here has been completely normal- I haven’t noticed any of the errors from your right hand or speech that you mentioned. You have done extraordinarily well at completely retraining and reintegrating yourself.

Congratulations on doing well on your midterms. I have been doing pretty well. Tonight I have been hanging out with a friend from high school and we went out in Seattle to belltown and capitol hill and had a lot of fun. He got me talking about politics and economics a bit though and I noticed i tend to lecture and be an opinionated a-hole lol. I usually try to learn more from others, but sometimes i get passionate about a subject and want to talk. Other then that i have been doing well. I am taking a class in advanced web application development right now that is a ton of fun for me since I can see so many ways to immediately use it at work and in my own businesses.

Rebecca conran
I would love to see you again. My mom’s family is up there so I’ll make my way up sometime. Here’s my number in the meantime: XXX-XXX-XXXX. And I go by Becky if you don’t remember.

Next question…Hopeless, no, but increadibly frustrating. The Doctor’s rushed me in to surgery and gave little warning of the consequences. When I woke up I was too drugged and in too much pain to care that I couldn’t walk. I was forced to just deal with things as they came. I knew I couldn’t change it, buit I realized I was always making progress. I didn’t dwell on my current situation, instead I looked forward to gaining everything back.

The whole process was very emotionally hard though. Brain surgery blocks your “feel good” receptors when the brain is recovering, so chemically I was depressed. My physical limits didn’t help the situation. But it was comforting to know that I would only get better and its still comforting to know that things will never be worse.

Joel Gross
I remember your name :) … I thought because your facebook profile name was Rebecca you had decided to switch away from going by Becky. My phone number is 206-321-8373, give me a call whenever you feel like it.

That’s pretty crazy how your life changed so fast in such a big way. Not knowing what was going to happen next must’ve made it feel really strange. How long were you depressed after the surgery?

Rebecca conran
It was strange…almost like being in another dimension.

I was depressed for about a year. It wasn’t a regular depression though. I had a heightened sense of awareness when it came to changes in my body and I knew exactly what was going on when I was sad. I wouldn’t allow myself to stay in an emotional funk when I knew it was irrational, but every once in a while I would feel overwhelmed with everything that was happening. I hate to admit it, but I spent a little time throwing myself a pity party in private. I felt like I had to stay strong for my friends and family when people were around. I don’t think they even saw me cry through the whole ordeal.

I am just starting the job hunt for when I graduate in December. I may be seeing more of you in the future. I am looking in Seattle too.

Rebecca conran
I took 3 months off from work. I was painfully bored sitting at home so I went back for just a few hours a week before the doctor’s released me. Sometimes my boss would take one look at my sickly pitiful face and tell me to go home.

I took 7 months off from school and then signed up for an online course. I still had trouble writing so I took only one class when I went back to campus the following semester. I had returned to work full-time at that point so I didn’t pick up too many credits for about a year.

Joel Gross
Was your family & friends supportive of you?

Rebecca conran
My family was great. My mom still works so my dad was around to take care of me the most. In the beginning he had to help me do everything. He would help me into the bathroom and I would support myself on the counter whne he left me to do my business. One of those times he left I had a seizure. He was terrified he was doing something wrong. That’s when he called my mom’s twin (the TeSelles’ mom) to help him from going insane. She was there for about 2 weeks doing whatever I need whenever I needed. I slept most the day, but she was right by my side even while I slept. I definitely grew closer to her after the surgery. My aunt and my dad were there the most but my whole family was a great help. They would do anything to help when they could.

My friends were there too, but not who I expected. As they say, you find out who your real friends are when something terrible happens. Some of my friends I expected to be around the most were nowhere to be seen. And yet, some of my friends came out of the wood works to support me.

Joel Gross
I think you earned yourself at least a couple pity parties… I am amazed u never cried in front of your family or friends! Most women I know would have used the excuse to cry constantly. You are tough as nails :).

What sort of jobs are you looking for in December? What do you want to do?

You mentioned your dad doesn’t work… what does he do? That’s really cool that your family (aunt & uncle) were so supportive of you during this time.

I’ve found the same thing to be true… people you think are your best friends abandon you at the slightest sign of trouble, while people you never expected are there for you day after day. It’s a strange life.

Any Halloween plans?

Rebecca conran
My dad hasn’t worked for over 10 years. His has too many health problems.

I’m looking for a job in planning. It’s not easy finding an entry level position in planning so you just have to go where you can to be a slave for a couple years and then you can work anywhere.

I’m considering staying in tonight. I can’t remember the last time I spent a night at home to read and watch movies…lame I know, but it just sounds like more fun. Tomorrow I will definitely be hitting up a couple parties though. How about you?

Joel Gross
Strangely enough, I may be just staying in tonight too… I have a bunch of work/studying that I need to do. I may cut loose a little though and go meet up with some friends. Depends on how I feel later.

What is going to be your outfit tomorrow? I am going as a priest.

Rebecca conran
haha nice. I’m going as Audrey Hepburn from breakfast at tiffany’s. Kind of a last minute idea but it will be super easy

Rebecca conran
While I’m in here I might as well answer another question…I think I have more patience for life in general, but I have less patience for whiners. Especially the people who constantly complain about their lives and do nothing about it.

Joel Gross
Where was your surgery done? Were your doctors good? Did you have any problems with insurance?

Rebecca conran
I had the surgery at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. My surgeons were great, one was a no-nonsense kind of guy who didn’t give me any restrictions. He said I could do anything I wanted as long as I felt up to it. The other was a gentle soft-spoken type who wanted me to take it easy. They balnced eachother out nicely.

I do want to mention the problems I’ve had with health insurance. The first year my surgery was paid for with no problems. Afet that my insurance pretty much black-listed me. They would make any excuse to deny my coverage even for family doctor visits. I was due from a nerve grafting surgery over a year ago, but I can’t get it because they have told me up front they won’t pay for it. I’m ready to marry anyone who has great health coverage…seriously…anyone?

Joel Gross
Hahaha… insurance companies and hospitals are hell to deal with. I got a simple gash on my chin sewn up and had to pay $1,300!!! Ridiculously overpriced in my opinion- I wish I could just go to a tattoo parlor and have them sew me up. You probably have had medical bills 100 times that amount though, right? Who is your insurance company? Can you explain more fully how they tried to screw you?

I was also wondering if you had any pictures of yourself from before/after the surgery and if you would mind forwarding them to me for the article. People hate too much text, but they love good pictures.. perhaps some of you doing something active now, as well as ones of your scar or you in the hospital or something.

Can you tell me more about your friends who supported u/ vs those who didn’t (you dont need to mention names… just explain how this experience changed your views on friendship)…

My party last night was a lot of fun btw… tons of free booze and beautiful people in silly outfits. Not sure if i will do any more parties this weekend yet though. You excited about yours?

Rebecca conran
My insurance is Educator’s Mutual. After I ended up paying a $700 bill to visit the eye doctor I Called to approve every visit.Befgore approval I would find the doctors on their website. Even when they said I was approved I would get the full bill. I called to dispute the bills every time and they always gave me the run around. They would tell me I needed to call the Doctor’s office and resolve it with them, then the Doctor’s office would tell me to call my insurance and so on until I eventually paid. They even tried to tell me one doctor was out of network because he was out of state when he was a 5 minute walk from my house.

I don’t have any pics fromn the hospital. In fact, my family didn’t take any pictures of my recovery, but I may have some when I was still wearing an eye patch and looking sickly. I have my MRI report…I can take a pic of my scar. I think there are a couple of photos posted in my peru album climbing macchu picchu. Use whatever you want from faceboook. I think there is a picture I was tagged in that shows the paralysis in my face from my birthday a couple weeks ago. I’ll have to see what I have

Rebecca conran
I just looked at the birthday pic I was refering to…it actually looks worse than it is. lol but use it if you must. There are lots to choose from.

I am re-reading my last post…my thoughts are kind of incomplete but the importants stuff seems to be there. Except that I climbed the Inca trail to macchu picchu (you may want to check my spelling)

Halloween was great. Went to a kick ass party. Danced like a drunken bag lady, drank lots of wine and pomegranate cocktails.

Joel Gross
I’m sorry to hear that Educators Mutual Insurance are such losers… it’s not like you don’t already have enough problems having to have had brain surgery!

I’m a little worried by the economy, so I’m thinking about moving into a cheaper place to be on the safe side. You done much job hunting at this point?

Rebecca conran
I am furiously job hunting at this point! I really wanted to have something pinned down for graduation but it doesn’t always work that way. I actually got an email from one of the cities I applied to saying that the position is being cancelled! It’s kind of a scary time to be job hunting, but at least I’m not a highschool drop out working at a gas station. I know all always have it better than that guy! lol I applied for a job in Vancouver, WA with an environmental planning firm…and I applied for another in WA state…I forgot what it was. I’ve applied for so many.

Joel Gross
Good luck with the job hunt and with further recovery from your brain surgery! :)

3 thoughts on “Becky Conran Interview: Brain Tumor, Brain Surgery & Recovery

  1. That is an incredible story!! Im really happy you recovered Becky and I can see you are doing much better! wish you the best of luck with the job hunt but if you ask me I think culinary school in Spain is where you need to be =) Take care / Faryar

  2. My aunt just went thru a tumor surgery, but she caught it a lil quicker.. Really hope its better than what poor Rebecca went thru.. Hope alls well!

  3. Hey Becky thanks for sharing your life on this post, i hope life continues to be as incredible as you have made it, i feel sad thinking back and happy thinking forward. I hope your spoon is still hanging in there. Happy Graduation

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