*As reported by Tami Jensen of the Pioneer Press (12/30/98)
If you ask Floretta Connally what she had wished for this Christmas, she'll tell you nothing because her wish had already come true.
That's because month's ago, doctors discovered a tumor the size of a lemon in Connally's brain and the 51-year old woman didn't know if she'd live to see another day, much less Christmas.
"I was in shock when I heard the news", Connally said shortly after a 5 hour surgery during which the tumor was successfully removed. "I thank God I woke up from it, and am talking to you right now."
Of the more than 100 types of tumors afflicting people everyday, Connally suffered from meningioma -- the same tumor that invaded Elizabeth Taylor's brain several years ago. "I never thought I would have something in common with Elizabeth Taylor", said Connally, who can empathize with the legendary actress after reading her book about her experience. "But I have more brains than Elizabeth Taylor. I had two husbands. She had eight," she said, laughing.
It doesn't take long to realize that Connally's humor softens the emotional wounds of her experience. That, and her resilient faith.
"Sometimes I wake up thinking it's a nightmare," said Connally. "I thank God every day of my life. He got the demon out. Each day has new meaning to me. It's like I've been reborn."
Connally's initial symptoms were migraine headaches and bouts of vertigo, along with short-term memory loss and personality changes. These symptoms resulted from the increased pressure in her brain caused from the growing tumor.
It was the day after her mother's 80th birthday party that Connally first experienced pain. "I felt fine the day before," she recalled. "The next morning I woke up and all of a sudden the whole room was spinning."
Two days later, she was opening up the curtains and her equilibrium was thrown off. "I had to hold on to the table," she said. "It was like I wasn't even on this planet. I thought something must be wrong but it went away. So I drove to work."
Later that day, after another episode had occurred, Connally says she went to the doctor and was told she was suffering from vertigo. He gave her medicine and told her to go home and rest.
About a week later, Connally says when she got up in the morning to go to the bathroom, "the whole room was upside down." Holding on to the tub, Connally recalled how she crawled toward her bed and called her son for help.
After a trip to the emergency room and a CAT scan, Connally learned that a mass had appeared on her x-rays. "When the doctor told me he found something, I was in disbelief," she said. "He had no idea how long it had been in my head but told me it had to be removed as soon as possible." Three days later, Connally was on the operating table having the tumor removed.
And while the ordeal was traumatic, Connally says the healing process is actually the most difficult part to pull through. Immediately after her surgery, she suffered headaches so painful she was re-admitted to the hospital and subjected to another MRI to make sure all of the tumor had been removed. She'll also be on Dilantin, an anti-seizure medication for the next six months, and has metal screws and pins in her head. "I've never been through anything like this before," said Connally. "Thank God for miracles."
"I have a very positive attitude," she said. "The Lord saved me. He didn't take me. It doesn't matter if it is benign or not. Tumors are life threatening. He probably wants me to do something here on this earth. I don't know what it is. Right now, I'm focusing all my efforts on recovering."
As for the future, Connally says she is blessed to have a second chance. Eventually she says she will return to work. In the meantime, she is preparing to be a grandmother. "My kids are my blessings," said Connally, referring to her son Ronnie, and her daughter, Tamara. "They have been there for me every step of the way."
"In her book, Elizabeth Taylor writes that the power of love is a gift from God. She reminds us to take time to tell people you love them and take time to touch people. I feel the same way."
When she is not with family, Connally devotes much of her spare to time researching brain tumors. Connally encourages anyone experiencing migraines or excruciating head pain to schedule an MRI with his or her doctor. It's a life-saving machine. It saved my life. I thank God for the second chance."