Maureen Tonge in Cabin Radio's Studio Two in June 2019. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio
Yellowknife resident Maureen Tonge will tell people at Saturday’s Brain Tumour Walk: listen to your bodies.
Maureen, a teacher in the city, was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour at the start of the year.
Initially, she thought her health problems were the result of depression. She wants other people to “start listening to your body’s messages.”
Maureen told the story of her diagnosis, and how she has changed her life since, to Cabin Radio.
Yellowknife’s Brain Tumour walk takes place on Saturday, June 15, with registration at Somba K’e Civic Plaza from 11:30am and the walk from 1pm.
In the past three years, the walk has raised more than $200,000 in Yellowknife alone for cancer research and support services.
Listen to Maureen’s interview from 8:50 in the Lunchtime News podcast for June 10, 2019.
This article is derived from an interview recorded on June 7, 2019.
I was diagnosed with a grade four glioblastoma multiforme, which in plain language is what’s considered to be a brain tumour located so deeply my brain that it’s inoperable.
The diagnosis took a while. I was in a state of denial for a couple of months, for sure. I did have what ended up being a grand mal seizure on January 11, when I was home alone, sitting in the bathtub, and had the experience of ‘What the heck is going on?’
I had the wherewithal to actually drain the tub and know that I needed to somehow get myself out.
Over that weekend, I ended up having another couple of smaller seizures. Again, I didn’t recognize them for what they were, but did recognize I needed to seek some assistance.
I had my husband drop me off at primary care on the morning of January 14. In hindsight, I should have gone right to emergency, but I didn’t, and so the doctor I saw on the morning of January 14 said, ‘Well, let’s rule out the worst-case scenario.’
In my mind I’m like, ‘What do you mean, worst-case scenario? There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just depressed.’ Because I had recently lost my grandmother and then I had also received a diagnosis for my first-born ‘fur child’ of lymphoma. So he wasn’t expected to live much longer, either.
The doctor put in a requisition to get a CT scan, but it was going to be another six weeks before that happened.
Before that six weeks happened, I ended up being medevaced down to Edmonton.
Five months on, I feel fantastic. From the beginning, aside from when I had the seizures, I’ve had no fear. I’ve really had no pain at all. Which is freaking a lot of people out, but it’s true.
I did have one moment that did kind-of freak me out. On February 25, I actually saw the image of my brain with the tumour. That was a little freaky. But I had basically made the choice to approach everything that I was experiencing from a sense of curious fascination. Whether it be getting fitted for my mask – I had to wear a mask for radiation – or losing my hair, and I actually really enjoy being bald.
Yesterday was day five of a five-day chemo protocol and it’s not that I was fearful, it was just that it’s like, ‘Oh, man, I’m exhausted.’
Learning to listen to my body has been key, and resting when I need to rest. I feel more fully present to everything that’s going on in my life, as opposed to getting wrapped up in the list of things to do.
For so long – decades, if not for my entire life – I’ve been focused on being incredibly active. And I come from a place of wanting to serve others. But it was the part of the reason why I got sick.
Part of why these things happen is because we’re not focused on what we need and we’re giving so much of ourselves to others, that we basically neglect our own self-care. I look at this as an opportunity to heal on a profound level.
I will be returning to teaching at some point – certainly yoga, because I’m also a yoga instructor. I’ve taken the last five months and in September, I’m looking at returning to teach at Collective Soul Space. Until then, it’s all about me, really, in a sense.
I’ve actually been overwhelmed – and I might get a little choked up here, because it continues to touch me deeply – by the amount of support. It’s been absolutely overwhelming from literally all over the globe. People that I don’t even know have reached out to me and people that I do know, but maybe haven’t seen in a long time.
I think I’m a born communicator. In December, when I basically lost the ability to communicate, that was one of the first indications: I was really struggling to put my thoughts into words, and that’s never been an issue for me. To have that problem was very curious.
I also started to notice I was losing my balance and again, just who I am, seeking balance has always been so important. I literally got to the point where I was falling over.
What I’m trying to communicate is: start listening to your body’s messages. If I can, in some way, communicate to people that listening to your own body’s messages is key, then I think I’ve done part of my purpose for being here.
From the very beginning, I’ve had this unwavering faith that there’s an organizing wisdom of the universe, call it whatever you want – a lot of people call it God, I tend to call it source, or universe – and it knows that this is just part of my journey. This is a chapter in the Book of Mo – that’s my nickname. And it’s certainly not the final chapter.