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Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Brain Tumor Results in Two "Birthdays" for Fort Thomas Woman

The McMahon family at Disney as part of Make-a-Wish Foundation
Think about an important event in your life. Some people mark their memory calendars of important events by weather, food, clothes, music, or place. Carlie McMahon marked her calendar with a French Chew when she thinks about November of 2001.

Carlie is one of those instantly memorable people. She has a electric smile, twinkling eyes, an infectious laugh, a big heart, is a bit of a klutz, and an amazingly positive outlook. Asse her to tell you about how she fell out of her school desks a number of times.  But Carlie is just plain old fun to be around. Oh, and she survived a brain tumor that could have easily killed her.

Carlie was in the 6th grade, 11 years old and the youngest of four girls. “I had gotten up like it was a normal day. I went to school and had gone to my classes. We hadn't been back from lunch too long when I had a 7 minute Gran Mal seizure at my desk. I was rushed to Children's and I was diagnosed after many tests.” The tests revealed a brain tumor as the cause. “My tumor was on my motor strip so it affected my handwriting and I was very clumsy. I was also having frequent headaches.” She relies all of this matter of factly like it was a day at work.

One of Carlie’s three older sisters, Jessica McMahon Bouldin, recalls when she got the news, “I felt dizzy and helpless, scared and angry. Like what I imagine an out of body experience to be.”  And that was the beginning of an arduous journey but unlike the difficult journeys of fiction where the protagonist must carry on alone, Carlie had a large group going with her - her family.  First of all, this is a big family that includes blood and legal relatives and “framily" (friends who are treated liked family).

She underwent a two hour surgery on Friday, November 23 to remove the tumor. She was lucky not to need radiation or chemo.  Of course she missed some school, but she eventually made it back.

Carlie’s sister, Abby McMahon Ball recalls, “Mom and dad took Carlie home that night and explained to her what was going on and what had to happen. When I first saw her after I heard the news she was just sitting in the bed smiling.  I don't think I ever hugged her so tight (Well, maybe after surgery). After that it was and is a big blur. We were all scared to death except Carlie. She was braver then anyone I've ever seen. After being a parent now I feel sicker then sick for what my parents went through, but they never lost faith. St Catherine put together a rosary prayer service before her surgery and the church was full of support and prayers.” That is a great group of extended family to have.

“The recovery was short and I had no complications,” Carlie says. Until she was 16. The scan showed something of concern. “We were told it was a virus. We went for a follow up scan in May and everything was clear.” 

But just because an illness is in the past doesn’t mean that it no longer affects you. For Carlie, it becomes a celebration of life. “I still do worry from time to time. I celebrate the anniversary of my surgery every year like it’s my birthday. I have talked to many people in the community that have fought or have a loved one that has fought. I hope I can give them a small glimpse of hope that things will be okay.” Carlie is the cheerleader who I want on my team.

She added, “I have a big loving, supportive family that I don't know what I would do without. I have two fantastic parents that have stood by my side through it all the past 26 years. I am the youngest of 4 girls and it has made us a lot closer…. I do a lot of volunteer work with the family that sponsored my Make A Wish and have done a few things with the Ronald McDonald House. I like these two organizations because they help the families.”

May is Brain Tumor Awareness month. Carlie says, “One thing that I would want people to know is if you feel like something is wrong don't hesitate going to the doctor. I was very fortunate with my outcome and I know there are some people that aren't. Know your body. I hope that one day we find a cure for all cancer and illnesses but until then we have to do is have faith in the doctors at hospitals like Cincinnati Children's to help treat and do their research.” 

Jessica adds, “Even though it was one of the hardest times in our lives looking back a lot of good came from it. Our faith has never wavered since. This made us all closer to God and each other. What more could you want from life? At this point I see it as a blessing.”  Carlie knows what she can endure now. She knows that an illne
ss may take you physically weak for a while, but it can ultimately make you a stronger person.

Abby recalls what happened right after the surgery.  “My favorite story from the experience [was] my mom asking her what she wanted from the gift shop....anything she wanted could be hers and she just said ‘Ah, I'll take a French Chew.’ It just goes to show how simple, easy, and humble she is. So when life gets difficult, be strong, have faith and maybe get a French Chew.” That’s pretty good advice for approaching life.

May is Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

Carlie with a friend at a recent Make-a-Wish Foundation fundraiser.

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