Taking a look inside

right brain all lit upI’ve had a number of beloved friends who are lately posting ultrasound images of their soon-to-be born babies . . . I love seeing those little ones.  I guess this is what you post when you get older and have epilepsy!  But whether it’s an image of a child we have yet to meet in our world, or the inner workings of our brain, there is something truly miraculous and, to me, sacred, about being able to see the inner workings of ourselves. I’ve never understood how some religious types see science as being opposed to religion and spirituality.  When I see a group of scientists and doctors who work collaboratively to create something like the image you see on the left, it’s like seeing a bit of God’s handiwork, first-hand.

This is one of the beautiful images from a functional MRI scan they did at the Mass General of the right side of my brain working away while I perform a word retrival task.  The fMRI is an interesting process — you are in an MRI tube and they flash words and images on a screen and you “think” the answer.  My biggest challenge during the fMRI was that I wanted to argue with them, or preach, about some of the things they were showing me, and they had to tell me not to move my mouth or throat.  For example, one of the tasks they have you do is to show you a noun, and you have to “think” about whether it is abstract or concrete.  The third noun they showed me was “church.”  You can only imagine everything I had to say about this.  Is “church” a concrete noun — in other words, a place, a building?  Or is it abstract — the people, the energy, the relationships?  Of course, it’s both/and, and I really wanted to preach the sermon, or at least share this with the MRI techs, right then and there.  They kindly asked me, in nice Boston accents, to just “save the sermon for lata’ ” and try and think my way through to one response.

The scans seem to show that, while I have a dominant left temporal lobe, much of my language functioning has shifted into my right frontal lobe, all of which is confusing — they don’t really understand, fully, what this means.  For over 80 percent of the population, language is exclusively in the left temporal lobe, where I have a lesion and seizures begin.  However, it’s also encouraging, because it seems to indicate that my brain already has some plasticity and began this shift awhile ago.  So next time you listen to me “go off” in a sermon or a yoga class, just blame it on my right dominant brain (and tell me, kindly, that you’ve heard enough, for now).

An Update

You will see that I am now letting “Dr. Sunshine” (aka Jonathan) post on the site as well, both so that he can keep you updated, but also because he is better at articulating some of the medical “stuff” as it comes up.
At the moment, I am still scheduled to have surgery Oct. 8th, but there is still a possibility this might change. The team of doctors that meet and “conference” my case meet on Monday afternoons, and they are not currently in agreement on exactly how the surgery should be done, or even if another test (or two) might be desirable pre-surgery. In addition, the brain scanning team finished analyzing more of their scans and have some great images of my brain to bring to the conference on Monday, so that should help all of them make decisions.
I continue to feel good about this diverse and caring team of docs, and I’m glad to have them take their time in deciding how to proceed. It’s been very interesting to learn about what’s going on inside my brain, and to realize how much it already seems to have shifted the way it works to accommodate the seizures — the simple way to describe it is that different parts of my brain seem to have taken on functions that other parts normally do, probably because of the seizure activity. It would actually be really cool to follow, if it wasn’t happening in my own brain.
As this surgery approaches, I can honestly say that I find myself having an increasingly strong sense of taking great joy and delight in very simple, everyday activities. Cleaning my office (yes, Chip also experienced joy with that!), having coffee with friends, dancing and doing yoga with the many wonderful students/friends that are a part of my life, making dinner for Jake, having a cat in my lap, walking in the rain . . . It feels very easy, right now, just to really love life and not take any of it for granted. Words also seem very precious at the moment, so I am enjoying this time that they come fairly easily (and wondering what it will be like if/when they don’t). Thanks to all of you who are part of my life, in so many ways . . . I feel well loved and surrounded by your prayers and thoughts. I’ll let you know what we find out next week.
Peace and love,

Sunshine report #1

I was reminded by a speaker on NPR, that the 1990’s were declared, by Pres George HW Bush, as the Decade of the Brain. http://www.loc.gov/loc/brain/    Dr Tanaka at the Martinos Center was saying that in Japan, the brain is refered to as the “mystery organ”, but it was even more so just 25 short years ago. I suppose the Decade of the Brain was motivated in part because all the boomer were realizing their short-term memory was going missing, and strokes and Alzheimer’s were really picking up steam.

Prior to the 1990’s the conventional wisdom was neurons were not very good at repair/regeneration, as say the liver is.  Now we know different. The concept of plasticity became part of the vernacular. Plasticity is our friend in fact. It means that when one area of the brain is being all pissy, the function that usually goes on there can be moved, as if by magic, to somewhere else, to friendlier turf. Yay brain!

By the way, need I point out that not that long ago, bipartisan support of government-funded scientific research was non-controversial?

Stay tuned!

Dr Sunshine

Brain scans galore!

20130911_171535So, you may wonder, what does it look like when you spend a week getting multiple types of brain scans?  Here’s a couple from my trip to the Martinos Center in Charlestown, Massachusetts, last week.  The Martinos Center, a research facility connected with Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard, and MIT  has an amazing  staff of people who were incredibly kind to Jonthan and myself as I went through several days of non-stop testing.  It’s a lot of time to be very still inside of a variety of tubes (for those of you who like details, I had an FMRI, 2 types of MRIs, a PET scan, an MEG, and a Connectome scan).  One interesting part of the process was being the first “patient” in the United States to be scanned as a part of the Human Connectome Study, which is the cornerstone of the initiative to study the brain developed by the Obama Administration.  I’m glad my abnormal brain can be of value to the advancement of science!  The many tests they did gave them much more detailed information that is helping them decide how to proceed.

So, what’s next?  There is a team of doctors and researchers that are “conferencing”  my situation.  At the moment, I am scheduled to have surgery in Boston in early October.  However, they still have to take a look at some information that came from a test I had done in January in Spokane in order to determine exactly how they want to approach the surgery.  The procedure they are hoping to do is one that Jonathan likes to describe as “minimally invasive brain surgery.”  However, there are still some concerns about if that will, indeed, stop my seizures, and they continue to have some concerns related to the language center in my brain and the point of origin of the seizures that could lead to yet another test (or two) prior to surgery.  So, while the surgery is currently scheduled, the date still might shift again in the next couple of weeks.  It’s surely a lesson in living in the moment and not getting agitated about uncertainty.


On a different note, I really will try and be a “better” blogger than I have been, and I will also let Jonathan do some blogging, since he is great at it.  Turns out I love to write, but I really don’t enjoy writing about myself a lot!  However, I have had much to reflect upon and I would like to share some of it with you.  Epilepsy and impending brain surgery have proven to be excellent reminders of why the supportive, loving community I have around me of family, friends, church members, and yoga and Nia students are a gift that I am not taking for granted.  I’ve also been reminded of why having an ongoing spiritual practice is so critical to engage during the times when nothing “big” is happening, so that it is there and strong during times like these (especially if you have to lie in a tube, being really still, for multiple hours, multiple days).  Thanks to all of you who have been with me on this journey.  I promise I will write more soon!  ❤


The cap for the MEG . . . Jonathan calls it “your granny’s swimming cap.”