“You have a brain tumour”

By Rosie Townshend-Carter

Molly found herself at 24-years-old on a bathroom floor. She’d suffered a severe seizure. She was rushed to the hospital and sent for a CT scan.

The doctor looked right at her.

“Where are your parents?”

“Not here,” she replied.

“Well, you have a brain tumour.”

They gave her some sedatives and put her into an MRI machine. She was shocked.

“I seriously thought I was dying. Then I thought maybe my parents would finally get me a puppy.”

Her best friend, Liz, a nurse on a neuro floor, sat nearby.

“I could hear her crying and she said she was trying to be strong for me, but she just couldn’t. I knew she knew what this meant.”

Molly Ellen Laura Grady came into my life when I needed her most. After a fresh move to a new, smaller town in Prince Edward Island, I knew only a handful of people and felt lonely.

She was my neighbour and soon to be co-worker after we both landed jobs working on a chicken farm.

We worked in an unheated, dusty barn where you see your breath until 2 p.m. when the sun managed to bring heat to our cold hands.

As the only two girls, we were dressed in six layers of long johns, shirts, sweaters and overalls.

Our friendship grew over being habitually late for work after marathon waits in the Tim Horton’s drive thru, avoiding eye contact with our boss who would stand at the end of the driveway and side-eye us for our lateness, or dragging out our breaks and lunches by laughing the minutes away.

My personal life was turning ugly, with late night fights and tension. Molly shared a wall with us, so she knew what was going on. After one particularly messy fight, I walked over in tears, desperate for someone to talk to.

I walked in to see her forgiving face, offering me a place to talk. She made me realize the life I was living was unhealthy and, even though that meant she would get in the way of an old friend and this new one, she gave me the hard but loving facts that popped the perfect bubble I was living in.

When the relationship that brought me to this town faded away, I knew she would be a friend I would keep.

I went to Ontario for the summer, she continued working until she spent a semester away in Barbados. After her time living on a tropical island, she became my roommate, a breath of fresh air after living with two men for four months.

The first month we renovated a bathroom, painted various rooms and hunted for decorating bargains. Most of our best ideas came late at night, around 3 a.m., when hanging that towel rack couldn’t wait until sunrise. We tried to stifle our laughter when an angry roommate would emerge, berating us for making noise.

But the best nights were the ones where we would bond over traumatic childhood events that no one else we knew could understand.

We had both struggled in silence for years, until it became evident we were fighting the same battle, now together.

Her cousin Bella Grady, will never forget the moment she found out.

“I stared at my phone for a good five minutes, trying to understand what this meant. The only thing I could say was ‘in your brain?’” said Bella.

She has already asked if I would shave my head, something I know she finds cheesy, just to make me laugh. Bella, who has half a shaved head, also said she made the joke, saying they could be “twins.”

For many, the tumour diagnosis would feel like a death sentence. But Molly has handled it with poise and humour. It comes from her father.

“I texted my dad and I meant to say ‘brain tumour’ but I typed ‘Brian tumour’, so now he exclusively calls my brain tumour ‘Brian’ and introduces him as that.”

I witnessed their relationship at my birthday dinner with Molly and her dad, John. A former Saint John police office, he is a strong man with a heart you can see broke over this tumour in his only daughter.

But, like Molly, he finds the humour. He knows what makes her smile. When she requested no bacon bits on her salad, he told the waitress, “Brian doesn’t like bacon.”

The hardest part for Molly was telling her family, especially her aunt Krista Grady and cousin Bella. I imagine when all three are in the same room, no one else can get a word in edge-wise over the boom of laughter.

“I don’t even think I cried. I was numb. I remember thinking how proud I was of her, the way she explained it all to me,” said Krista.

Molly’s last semester of her fourth year was halted due to hospital visits, appointments and trips between P.E.I. and her home province of New Brunswick.

“The thought of ‘what now’ is enough to have a big impact on anyone’s life,” said Bella.

To the relief of many, the tumour was benign. Molly’s not out of the woods just yet. Doctors believe the seizure was triggered by the tumour’s growth. The tumour is the size of a chicken nugget and it is located over her ear. She is on medication to help prevent any future seizures. If the tumour continues to grow, she need emergency brain surgery.

This tumour has tried to slow down her future plans, something she won’t let happen.

“She has too much life in her, too much love, too many dreams and too many plans for it to stop her or deter her from all that she has ever imagined herself doing,” Krista said.

Bella agrees, adding Molly is already a walking Band-Aid.

“She has more bumps and scars on her than I can count on all my fingers and toes, it’s going to take a little more than a brain tumour to stop her.”