If I were to give advice to a brain tumor patient, I would say, "trust your feelings and intuition." I have always "known" when things were wrong with me before the doctors told me – and sometimes before they even happened. Doctors would explain the scientific reasons for my symptoms, but their explanations only served to confirm my pre-existing beliefs. Of course, I don’t intend to downplay my doctors’ care, especially the most recent total resection of my tumor. But right now I want to focus on the patient’s role in his or her own diagnosis and treatment.
I moved to Colorado in August 1998 to attend law school. The first time I had a premonition about my brain tumor was a few months before I was diagnosed. The summer after my first year of la school I started to have headaches and blurred vision. My symptoms became progressively more severe as the summer went on. It got to the point where I would have these symptoms at work, and I needed to figure out what was wrong with me. Heather (now my wife, but then my long-time girlfriend) would ask me what was the matter, and I would lightheartedly tell her that I had a brain tumor. If you had asked me then if I was serious, I would have told you that I was joking. However, looking back, there must have been something to make me say such things. Eventually, Heather and I decided that I needed to get a scan.
At the start of my second year of law school I went to see the university physician. She told me that I was having stress headaches. I said I didn’t think they were stress-related and insisted on getting a CAT scan. The doctor sent me to get a scan later that afternoon. While I was still in the hospital she called and told me that I needed to see a neurosurgeon immediately.
As I explained earlier, the notion of having a brain tumor was not completely foreign to me, although it did surprise me to learn that I was right. I needed to have surgery as soon as possible to remove a golf ball-sized tumor located between my ventricles. We scheduled the surgery for the following week. Heather and I had many unpleasant but necessary discussions in the interim. I remember one conversation very clearly. I told her that I thought something was going to go wrong and I would be unable to speak after the surgery, but that would be the only complication.
After surgery, my doctor sent Heather home for the night to get some rest. He assured her that I was fine, and that he would call her if that changed. In the middle of the night I had a seizure, and the doctor called Heather, as promised. He told her what had happened, and that in most likelihood, I would not be able to speak when I first awoke the following morning. Again, I’d had a feeling that came true. Fortunately, my loss of speech was not permanent.
I don’t claim to be psychic or to have any special ability to see the future. I just attribute these experiences to the fact that no one – not even my doctor – knows me or my body better than I do. How could they? I monopolize most of the time spent in it. I have learned that my body frequently gives me clues as to what is going on long before I have a check-up confirming what it has already told me.
I don’t want to encourage anyone to self-diagnose a medical condition. Quite the contrary! Doctors are invaluable for confirming a patient’s feelings and helping determine what steps he or she should take. My point is, no matter how long you have had the same doctor, and no matter how many check-ups doctors have given you, they only have access to your body for a limited period of time. You spend all day every day with your body. If you listen to your body, it will help you determine what is wrong and enable you to begin to be an active part of your healthcare team.Diagnosed with a central neurocytoma in 1999, Dart went on to pass the bar exam and is now practicing law at a firm in Denver, Colorado.