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SASKATOONEXPRESS - October 12-18, 2015 - Page 3

Saskatoon woman undergoes brain surgery ‘Everyone in this room is a rock star, and I’m a rock star, too’

Tammy Robert Columnist t 5:30 a.m. on a September morning, Alix Hayden and her family were in the car watching the sunrise, on their way to Royal University Hospital. The sun had barely risen as she checked into the hospital at 6 a.m., right on time. Hayden had been preparing for that morning for a few months, even a few years. In 2012, she was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and the day was always going to come when it was time to remove it. “I felt prepared,” said Hayden last week, running a hand over her nearly bald buzzcut. With radiation and chemo around the corner, she’s keeping her hair short for now. “When I saw the doctor the morning of the surgery, he looked at my shaved head and said ‘Hey, you started without me.’ ” Hayden, who has been sharing her journey on her blog, www.greymadder. net, credits her ketogenic diet for getting her this far — three years into a cancer diagnosis with no chemotherapy, no radiation and, until last month, no surgery. While it took her a few months to organize her mental strength after learning she had brain cancer, once Hayden did so, she developed a virtually insatiable appetite for research on her disease, specifically as it relates to diet. “It was reading and watching the work of Dr. Thomas Seyfried of Boston College that pointed me in the direction of the ketogenic diet,” she said. “I did everything I could to understand it and whether it was something I could make work in my life. It meant a diet high enough in fat and low enough in sugar that my body would be forced to adapt and use fat for energy.” Hayden is quick to point out that she chose to proceed with her dietary change without consultation with a doctor. She has a background in biology and health research, and has been interested in fitness and diet since she can remember. With as much research as she had under her belt, she felt comfortable enough to proceed without medical supervision. Hayden underwent six MRI scans between late 2012 and spring 2015, all of


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Alix Hayden, on her way to Royal University Hospital for brain surgery (Photo Supplied) which revealed her tumour was stable. “We knew that eventually we would get the news that it’s changed or grown,” she said. “But, of course, we all hoped we would never get that news. Because that’s how hope works; it reaches out, and sometimes for the unlikely.” Summer came and went with a flurry of appointments and consultations, all leading up to that cool, clear September morning checking in to RUH for Hayden’s awake craniotomy. Yes, that’s right — awake. Hayden was awake and alert during her brain surgery, answering questions or completing tasks set out by the operating room team, to make sure that the surgeon could remove as much of the tumour as possible without affecting functions such as her motor abilities or speech. “They had me rub my hands together or tap my fingers against one another, asking if they felt the same in both hands,” she explained. “I would do the same with my feet. Then they touched the skin on my leg or arm, without me moving, to test my sensory input.” Confirming that Hayden could feel or speak as he worked enabled the surgeon to feel more confident removing brain tis-

sue than he might have if she was asleep. Hayden was flanked at all times by an anesthesiologist, who used a baseline of sedatives to keep her awake, but peaceful, relaxed and still. “I simply told him how I was feeling and if anything was uncomfortable or upsetting, they could ‘turn down the volume’ on the experience,” she said. “I asked if they could follow me around with that service every day.” Understandably, hearing the highpitched whine and feeling the vibrations of the bone saw as it cut open her skull was one of the more difficult aspects of the surgery – but like for everything else, Hayden had prepared herself. “Mentally, emotionally, that was a moment I had visualized a lot, because most reports I read beforehand emphasized the saw cutting into the skull as a traumatic aspect of the surgery,” Hayden explained, remembering the tears she felt on her cheeks. “I don’t think I was crying until I started in on the visualization I’d prepared for that moment. The experience of thinking about a photo, my mental walking meditation, together with the sounds and vibrations kicked off an emotional reaction.”

Eventually the surgeon was able to advise Hayden that he removed as much of the tumour as he could — everything he could see. Then, he surprised her, and undoubtedly her family, by asking her for her husband’s cellphone number. “They asked me the number and I called it out,” said Hayden, who throughout the surgery, from the face down, was cocooned under a plastic hood. “For a moment we weren’t sure there was reception in the OR, but then we heard my husband’s voice saying, ‘Hello.’ They held the phone up to me, and told me to tell my husband we got it all, and would be working on closing. I know exactly what I said, which later on my husband confirmed: ‘The doctor says he got it all . . . because he’s a rock star. Everyone in this room is a rock star, and I’m a rock star, too. We have to go; he still has to close. I love you.’ ” Today, Hayden describes the weeks after her surgery as “anti-climactic.” She and her family were prepared for some level of motor or sensory deficits afterwards, perhaps even requiring rehabilitation or leaving her with a permanent impairment. (Continued on page 4)

Saskatoon Express, October 12, 2015  
Saskatoon Express, October 12, 2015