An unknown number affiliated with my physician’s group flashed across the screen of my cell phone. I had an upcoming checkup because I recent switched doctors, so I thought nothing of swiping to answer; thinking it was only a reminder about confirming my appointment or explaining the latest COVID protocols. Instead, my ear, nose, and throat specialist was on the other line…
“Ms. Rucinski? Hi, this is Dr. ___, would you have time to come into the office later today? The recent MRI you had didn’t show any issues with your sinuses, but we need you to come in, because, … well because we think you have a brain tumor…
It was April 2021, two days after my 44th birthday; I had just finished my second round of COVID vaccines and was looking forward to getting back to a new version of post-COVID normal. Instead, during my follow-up appointment, I was introduced to two words that would irrevocably come to dominate almost every aspect of my life this summer: acoustic neuroma. Acoustic Neuroma’s or AN’s – or more accurately, vestibular schwannomas — are tumors caused by a genetic defect on chromosome 22; instead of suppressing tumors, the schwann cells that coat your cranial nerves overgrow. The result being a non-cancerous, slow-growing tumor that typically occurs on the 8th cranial or vestibular nerve (the one responsible for balance) and can extend out from your ear canal towards your brain and cause a whole host of issues and problems along the way.
AN’s are relatively rare, but they still affect approximately 1 in 100,000 per year, with more woman diagnosed than men. Symptoms can include: gradual hearing loss, tinnitus, vertigo, balance issues, headaches, and facial numbness or weakness, with most people diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60. While a typical tumor is slow growing, it can be fatal, especially if it grows too large and starts pressing on the brainstem. Each AN is different, but treatment options largely include watch and wait, radiation, and surgery.
Since a little before COVID, I had been experiencing a slight ringing in my right ear. Because of all the ballroom dancing I had been doing at the time, I chalked it up to overly loud speakers at an event, or to my sinuses acting up. As COVID progressed, the ringing went from occasional to almost every day. While it was faint, sounding like static from a television in another room, I finally decided to get it checked out. While my ear, nose, and throat specialist always struck me as someone who was overly cautious, in this instance, his caution and paranoia ended up saving my life.
Now, many of you may be wondering why I decided to write about this, in of all places a law librarian blog? As the Editor in Chief of Law Lines for the past several years, I’ve noticed that we focus so much on our successes, that we often forget that they are the exception and not the rule. So, not to be cliché but using my own personal experience, I thought it would be valuable to show, that its okay to take a step back, to step down, to lateral, to… just take a breath in the face of challenges and adversity. And with that being said, this experience has also shown me that our skills as law librarians are far more valuable than we may give them credit for:
First, we forget sometimes that we are more than just an association, we are also a COMMUNITY. LLAGNY has always been more than just a group that talks about legal research. We are a community that has consistently helped each other get through job challenges, career changes, personal ups and downs and more. We should not be afraid to reach out to each other for support — not only in times of strength and success, but also in times of weakness, and uncertainty. When I first told my LLAGNY Board colleagues and my Court of International Trade co-workers about this situation I was frightened; instead I received nothing but support and understanding and for that I am so very grateful.
Second, as legal information professionals, we joke sometimes that we wear so many hats that we have become the ultimate multitaskers, but the reality is this that our ability to multitask makes us FLEXIBLE. This flexibility is an amazing asset as it lets us process huge amounts of information in a short period of time, it allows us to think in different ways both great and small, and it most importantly allows us to shift our goals, expectations, and realities, quickly and efficiently. For me, originally, I was told by my specialists that they might be able to save my hearing. However, a follow-up MRI showed a slightly different picture and demonstrated that the tumor was starting to press on my brainstem. As a result, the weekend before my procedure, the surgeons recommended a different surgical approach which would result in damage to the hearing structures of my ear. Having the flexibility to weigh and measure my options helped me reconcile to the loss and focus on my recovery.
Third, building on our flexibility we also can’t forget that we are SKILLED and that those skills are transmutable to all of aspect of our lives. When I first received my diagnosis, I was petrified. There is so much on the Internet that describes horrible complications or describes anecdotally how surgeries can be botched. How, I could have been left with a partially paralyzed face, no balance and unable to dance, permanent double vision, permanent migraines… the list goes on. However, my research skills and ability to vett information allowed me to quickly sort through the opinion and speculation and get to resources that would truly help educate and inform my treatment decisions.
And last, law librarians and legal information professionals are some of the most wonderful people I know. However, they are also infamous for giving, and giving… and giving, and not taking care of themselves. So, with this article I would like to plant a seed of a reminder to my colleagues and friends in LLAGNY; a seed reminding us that we can’t take care of others, unless we first take care of ourselves. So, here’s a reminder for SELF CARE. Take that breath; that walk; that moment. Make that medical or mental health appointment. Schedule some time with friends, or family, or even with just yourself. I picked up the phone and made an appointment to follow up on some ringing in my ear and it ended up saving my life.
Each of us has our own individual journey in this life. However, we should never discount the fact that those qualities that makes us librarians and legal information professionals, also give us gifts that can help us navigate our life’s path, wherever it might lead us, and no matter how uncertain the road may be.
For those of you worried about me, please don’t! I’m recovering really well. I was incredibly fortunate and remain very grateful. My 2 cm tumor was successfully removed, it WAS noncancerous, and despite a cranial spinal fluid leak that forced me back in the hospital with a lumbar drain for an additional week, my only long-term prognosis from this, “should be” single sided deafness, which a cochlear implant may remedy. My face still isn’t back to 100% flexibility, and my gaze isn’t 100% stabilized but I’ve been able to telework for the last few weeks and I hope to start rotating into the office soon. Despite these challenges, I AM already back to dancing, and I can’t wait to see you all at the Fall Soiree!
For those of you interested in learning more about AN’s please visit the Acoustic Neuroma Association website at: https://www.anausa.org/
Editor’s Note: This article is published with permission of the author, with first publication on LLAGNY Law Lines.