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Woman recovers from brain tumor

Linda Hiller

Mindy Schuler has a great excuse for when she loses at family card games.

“I tell them, ‘Hey, I had a brain tumor, what’s your excuse?'” she laughed.

Schuler is a popular Carson Valley pre-school and daycare teacher who was diagnosed with a brain tumor on April 1, had surgery to remove the lemon-sized growth May 12 and is now trying to come to grips with her new-found status.

Next Sunday, friends of Mindy Schuler will be holding a benefit to help offset the costs that aren’t covered by the family’s health insurance – travel expenses to and from UCLA’s Medical Center where the surgery was performed, the loss of Mindy’s income, deductibles and more.

The June 29 benefit at the CVIC Hall in Minden will be a spaghetti feed and Bingo evening, with food and prizes donated from many Valley businesses.

Dinner is from 5-7 p.m. and Bingo will be from 7-9 p.m. All proceeds will go to the Schulers. There is also a savings account under Mindy’s name at Greater Nevada Federal Credit Union in Minden.

Schuler’s New Year began with sporadic headaches that puzzled the 33-year-old mother of four who says she wasn’t previously prone to headaches. Initially she dismissed them as insignificant.

“I kept thinking it was probably nothing,” she said, “but then I started stumbling and falling to the left a bit, so when I went in for my regular check-up with my OB/GYN, Dr. Timothy McFarren, he said we might as well check it out, and sent me to a neurologist, Dr. Timothy Doyle in Carson City.”

Thinking it would take only an hour or so, Schuler went to the appointment accompanied by Junior, the family’s blind dog.

“He’s a great dog and loves to go with me,” she said.

“When I was in with the doctor, it took one hour, two hours, three hours and I began to think ‘this isn’t right,'” she said.

“By the fifth hour, I was definitely nervous and starting to shake. Then the neurologist came in and said, ‘There’s no easy way to say this…'”

He proceeded to tell her that they’d found a mass on the right side of her brain, and that she would need further tests right away.

“At that moment, all I could think of was ‘What will I tell my mother?'” Mindy said.

As she drove home in utter disbelief, Junior sat next to her with his head on her lap.

What followed was the nightmare of telling her family and the decisions about where to go from that point.

Mindy and Tom Schuler have four children, Brian, 16; Ben, 11; Katie, 10 and Sam, 6. Husband Tom works for Mission Linen as a route manager.

“Tom was so shocked,” she said. “Dr. Doyle had called him to make sure I got to a hospital.”

That day, she was admitted to Washoe Medical Center in Reno, where a biopsy revealed the tumor.

Mindy credits Reno neurosurgeon, Dr. William Dawson with the significant decision to refer her to another neurosurgeon who could better tackle the removal of her star-shaped astrocytoma tumor.

Within weeks, Mindy found herself in the capable hands of Dr. Keith Black, a physician and neurosurgery professor at UCLA and a world-renowned specialist in the surgery she needed.

Forty-two days after her diagnosis, on Monday, May 12, Black operated on Mindy’s brain for nine hours and removed the malignant astrocytoma.

Unbeknownst to her, watching the operation was a reporter from Time magazine, Arnie Mann, who was researching an article on Black for a fall issue of the national magazine.

“He had asked my parents if he could watch the operation and then he came and talked to me afterwards,” she said. “It was great, because he was able to tell me what they did in the operating room. At that point, I was wanting to know everything I could about my situation.”

In great detail, Mann described the incisions into her scalp and the actual sawing of her skull to gain access to the surgery area. She listened and absorbed it all, she said.

“He told me it was the most spiritual thing he’d ever seen in his life,” she recounted. “He said that when I was ready for surgery, a blue light was aimed at my head, and when the doctor began to operate, he did it in silence.

“He told me that after the tumor was removed, they put my skull back on with titanium screws, which I found fascinating,” she said. “I’ve since seen them in the X-rays.”

She added that this new information has enabled her to claim she “has a screw loose” whenever the kids question any of her parental foibles.

“It may be wearing a bit thin with them by now,” she laughed.

Schuler said that what has happened to her in the last few months was a definite “wake up call.”

“It sure gets you back on track in a hurry,” she said.

Since the operation, she has been undergoing radiation treatments five times a week which is the treatment of choice for this type of tumor, even though Black said he’d been successful in removing all of it.

“They do the radiation in case some cells are left,” she explained.

The seven-week radiation treatment will likely cause her to permanently lose her hair, Mindy said.

“They said that when the radiation is aimed directly at the head, the hair follicles are destroyed, so I should be prepared to lose my hair,” she said. Doctors also told her that there was a chance it might grow back, but not to count on it.

“I have really weird hair anyway,” she joked. “Besides, I’ve always wanted to be a blond.”

Because she has to travel from her Fish Springs home to Carson City for the treatment, and cannot drive due to post-operative seizure drugs which affect her equilibrium, family members like son Brian and Mindy’s mom, Gwen, have been shuttling her back and forth.

Because of these daily drives, Mindy and her mom have had plenty of time to talk.

“Mom says she hopes it wasn’t a shot she had when she was pregnant with me that gave me the tumor,” Schuler said. “I do find that one of my biggest questions is trying to figure out where did this thing come from. Was it the microwave? TV? The clock radio beside my bed? Caffeine? You ask yourself all these questions and there’s really no answer.”

Sandra Bain, whose daughters, Rebeka and Lora have been students of Schuler’s, says that Mindy’s biggest concern is to watch her children grow up.

“She has the best attitude,” Bain said. “She drove home after her brain surgery and rested for two hours and then went to her daughter’s softball game.”

“I guess that is what I missed the most being at UCLA,” Mindy said. “I missed some of the T-ball and softball games my kids were in.”

Aside from her contacts with children through Trinity Lutheran Preschool and her home daycare business, Schuler has been a cheerleading coach through Pop Warner Football, an active parent for all her children’s activities, and a valued member of St. Gall Catholic Church in Gardnerville.

“Mindy is a truly genuine, wonderful person,” said Alice Gingrich, pastoral associate at St. Gall. “She has a beautiful family and a life that many would look at and envy. I honestly doubt, if given the same situation, that I could wear the courage that Mindy has armored herself with.”

Mindy Miller, Pop Warner treasurer, says Schuler has remained active with Pop Warner fund-raising efforts even since the surgery.

“She came and helped with the Pop Warner taquito booth at Carson Valley Days last week,” Miller said. “If you didn’t know, you couldn’t tell what she’d been through because of her great outlook.”

“I don’t think Mindy realizes how many people she’s touched,” Bain said.

Schuler is somewhat embarrassed about all the attention being focused on her.

“I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful people around me,” she said. “When the radiation is over, I hope I can work again.”

She has toyed with the idea of working for the school district as an aide or a substitute teacher, but said she has another fantasy.

“I’ve always dreamed of working at a place where you could wear pretty clothes, like Mervyn’s,” she laughed.