If you ask Floretta Connally what she had wished for this New Year she'll tell you nothing because her wish had already come true 13 years ago. That's because in Oct of 1998, doctors discovered a tumor the size of a lemon in Connally's brain and Floretta 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. 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.
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 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 symptoms. "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. "It was like I wasn't even on this planet. I thought something must be wrong, then it subsided. So I drove to work." Connally says she went to the doctor and was told she was suffering from vertigo. He gave her a prescription for vertigo 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 after many MRI'S and CAT Scans, 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.
Three days later, Connally was on the operating table having the tumor removed. Three months after her surgery, she developed an ulcer from the trauma of the tumor and she was re-admitted to the hospital and subjected to another MRI to make sure all of the tumor had been removed. "I've never been through anything like this before," said Connally. "Thank God for miracles." 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 will soon be a grandmother and is excited about the new baby. "My children were there for me, especially my son Ronnie. He took care of me after I left the hospital. He's a blessing, he saw me through my healing journey.
"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."
2012 update from Floretta: I am doing very well since my surgery. It has been a challenge. I decided to go back to college to see how well my brain was functioning. ;-) I graduated in 2005 with honors. I was on the deans list and the president's list. Yes, I was blessed with a second chance. I believe in rightful thinking..it's called prayer. Faith is the key.