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The Story of a Resilient Brain Tumor Survivor, and Dear Friend

An invisible illness, resilience, and PTG (post-traumatic growth) are some of the many stories that we shared. Illnesses can in fact change you, but they don’t have to define you.

I often wonder what events have contributed to an individual’s resilience. Resilience is, after all, the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness. In my opinion, it’s a learned trait. Having gone through my own health complications at a young age has really taught me to have a deep appreciation for those who are able to recover at a faster rate. When I was first diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, I wallowed in my depression for years, before I realized not much had changed. Talk about wasted time!

Today, I want to talk about Leilani Pearl. A wife and champion for Parkinson’s, as she is the Senior Vice President Chief Communications Officer for The Parkinson’s Foundation. Not only is she also a brain tumor survivor, but a dear friend. She is actually one of the first people I met when I moved to Miami and I’ve always appreciated her down-to-earth demeanor. After reconnecting during the pandemic over her health struggles, I have learned a lot about a whole new set of traits to appreciate and love. Resilience, determination, and positivity are some to name a few.

Leilani shared with me that she was diagnosed with a hemangioblastoma, a brain tumor in the cerebellum part of her brain, at the early start of the pandemic in 2020. A hemangioblastoma is benign or non-cancerous, however, it can press on the brain and cause neurological symptoms. This can lead to headaches, weakness, sensory loss, balance and coordination problems, and/or hydrocephalus (a buildup of spinal fluid in the brain).

I, along with the rest of the nation, was terrified to step foot into a hospital for fear of catching COVID in March of 2020 and she was having brain surgery, multiple times. Imagine that? For those who are unfamiliar with the anatomy of the brain, the cerebellum controls one’s posture, balance, coordination, and speech. No one knew exactly what her recovery would look like, but that alone sounded like she would have to relearn a lot. To top it off, most of the time she spent in the hospital was spent either alone or only with her husband, as visits to hospitals were not allowed at the time.

We all have two options when faced with adversity. Taking the positive road and making the best out of what we’re dealt with or accepting loss and wallow in our sorrows. Sometimes the road to recovery involves both, or maybe it doesn’t. The point is, recovery is subjective and I am simply astonished by Leilani’s path to recovery. She has managed to stay steadfast in her physical recovery all while keeping a positive attitude. I’m not saying it has been easy or that it’s over, as we also recently discussed the unknowns of traveling for the first time after having a metal plate inserted. Will it go off in the metal detector? Will it feel different from the pressure of the plane? I’m sure there are many more questions she is going to have to answer throughout her recovery process, but I couldn’t be more proud of who she is. 

When I asked what has helped most in her recovery process, she shared with me that aside from the support of her family and medical staff, what helped most through the recovery process was setting small goals each day that incrementally grew. For example, today she would walk around the condo, tomorrow she would walk around the condo five times…one mile, etc. It was important for her to see progress each day until the days became months and then she could see how far she had come. She is now up to walking three miles everyday! I share this story because these are the types of stories that need to be immortalized in cyberspace. She will forever live with an invisible illness that she overcame during a worldwide pandemic. Her mental strength is unparalleled.

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