Living with an Anaplastic Astrocytoma
Jennifer Marie Tougas from Massachusetts has been fighting an Astrocytoma for over 13 years. She was diagnosed with a Diffuse Astrocytoma in 2008 when she was just 21. She then was diagnosed again in 2017 with two more Anaplastic Astrocytoma. She is currently battling an inoperable one in 2021 she has had three brain surgeries and radiation/proton therapy, Chemotherapy and tried a device called Optune.
Here is Jennifer’s brain cancer story
I was 21 at the time of my diagnosis. It was by chance that my brain tumour was discovered. I was hanging out with a group of people, and I fell. I broke 4 ribs and punctured a lung While in hospital, I was also given a brain MRI and Cat Scan to be sure I hadn’t done any damage to my head.
When I look back now before my original diagnosis, for years, I was lightheaded, dizzy, had pressure sensations in my right frontal lobe. I had nausea and blurry vision, especially in school, when trying to look at the chalkboard with the lights being so bright. I had hypersensitivity as well as mood problems. I did go to the doctor about my symptoms, but they misdiagnosed me, and it was never looked into any further.
First Brain Surgery for a grade 2 Diffuse Astrocytoma
After my original diagnosis, I had my first brain surgery on August 8th 2008 to remove the Diffuse Astrocytoma, and it was successful. The doctors believe my first tumour was growing at a slow rate since I was a child, and it may have caused me to have some emotional problems because that is one of the things the right frontal lobe controls. I always had trouble with handling stress and had a lot of crying spells as a kid and felt really disoriented and out of touch with my surroundings.
I can’t say I was 100% okay after brain surgery! As I still had symptoms in the nine-year. I had stopped getting MRI’s because things had been stable prior and I hated receiving the Gadolinium dye injections and was having other health problems that I needed to focus on.
I had genetic and autoimmune stuff I was trying to figure out along with some hormonal problems, so during the 9 years, I was trying to sort through why I was feeling so terrible all the time. I would sometimes get numbness and tingling in my hands, lips and feet. I had a lot of random symptoms that seemed to have no cause.
My Dad was getting concerned about my problems and that I hadn’t had an MRI for so long. I then was given an MRI which showed up a second tumour, this time an Anaplastic Astrocytoma.
Second Brain Surgery for a grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma
I had brain surgery on March 2nd 2017 to have it removed but it was not possible to remove it fully. Therefore they got out as much as they could, but it was bigger than the first and therefore left me with temporary left side paralysis.
Third Brain Surgery for a grade 3 Anaplastic Astrocytoma
Just nine months later I was having a lot of grand mal seizures. The tumour had grown too big again and I needed another surgery to de-bulk it. I had my third brain surgery on December 19th 2017. My invader was stable but in 2018 I went to Boston to have Proton Therapy to shrink the tumour even more.
In 2020 my tumour grew again and I needed to try something else. I had Chemo and also tried a device called Optune which at the moment is working.
What motivates you?
It has not been easy and I have up and down days. My biggest motivation is God. He keeps me going.
When I was diagnosed with the Diffuse Astrocytoma, I felt God immensely when I was being rolled in to have that first surgery. It was the perfect peace that the bible talks about. The peace that surpasses all understanding. It’s amazing how God can still us and give such peace in the midst of such a scary situation.
The scriptures that keep me going is:
Isaiah 40:29 – God gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength
Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through him who gives me strength
2 Corinthians 12:9 – My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
What is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
Trying to live a normal life and making friends and keeping healthy relationships. Both the physical and or emotional obstacles daily.
Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
- There is always hope. Even when the doctors give you a time frame of how much time you have left.
- I’ve talked with others who have far surpassed the time they were given. Some are here even 20 years later.
Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know?
I love singing, I tried out for American idol in “2009” a year after my first craniotomy. I got cut right before I got to meet the judges. It was the year Kris Allen won. I still sing at church sometimes.
I found an app called Smule where I can sing with other people. It is like a karaoke App. This is my Battle Song that I sang at my church and was able to record this version with a friend on Smule. I am the one singing first.
I Am Not Alone
This Was Me At American Idol