Bouncing Back from a Brain Tumor

Jeanne Borgers went to the dentist expecting to be treated for what she thought was a painful and stubborn canker sore. Instead, her dentist sent her to a physician who diagnosed her with trigeminal neuralgia, a nerve condition that causes sporadic bouts of “electric shock”-type pain. The doctor ordered a round of tests, including an MRI. When Borgers returned for the results, there was more bad news: The scan had revealed an epidermoid—a large benign tumor that had been growing around her brain stem since birth.

“The plan for that day was to go to the doctor and then go to Nordstrom,” says Borgers, a real estate agent in Glen Ridge, N.J. “My approach to life is that nothing is perfect and things are going to happen. I believe in taking care of business and if something does come up, you deal with it and move on. I called my husband, told him I’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor, said we’ll take care of it and went shopping.”

The seeds of Borgers’ coping abilities were planted early. As a child of deaf parents, she often acted as their interpreter and got used to dealing with adult dilemmas at a tender age. Her resilience was further honed 11 years ago when her son was born with a serious heart condition. At the time, Borgers and her husband were living on the Pacific island of Saipan, so the baby was immediately medevaced to California for medical treatment and the new family permanently relocated to the States. In Saipan, Borgers’ husband had been a successful businessman who socialized with dignitaries, but after the move he had a tough time finding work and the family suffered tremendous financial difficulties. At one point they were on welfare and nearly homeless.

“It was a horrible experience, and I couldn’t believe it was happening. It wasn’t how I envisioned my life to be,” Borger says. Even though they were broke, she would go out with real estate agents to look at homes. It was a way of holding on to a better vision of her life. “My husband thought I was crazy since we couldn’t afford to buy a home, but having a vision and holding on to it is what helps me get through challenging situations,” she says. Her husband eventually got a job, and within a year they were able to get a mortgage.

Borgers doesn’t like the word cope. To her it means putting up with a situation. “You have to move forward from it,” she says. So when she was told that the surgery to remove her brain tumor could result in deafness, blindness or facial paralysis, she didn’t worry about it. She was optimistic that these side effects wouldn’t develop, and though there was a moment the night before surgery when she allowed herself to cry, it quickly passed. She just wanted to get on with her life as a wife, mother of a 10-year-old boy, and busy real estate agent.

The surgery was successful. Two days later, with a giant bandage wrapped around her head, Borgers was working on her laptop closing a deal. She did experience weakness and head pain, double vision and what sounded like “crickets” in her ear for about six weeks, and she still suffers daily pain around her face and eyes from the trigeminal neuralgia, but she no longer has the searing pain that is characteristic of this disorder. “I don’t want to think about it. The more you think about it, the more you’re going to suffer from it,” Borgers says. Her husband checks in with a support group for people who’ve had epidermoids, but Borgers prefers to go it alone. “The tumor,” she says, “was just a glitch in my day.”

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