Jennifer Giliberto

Jennifer GilibertoWhen a brain tumor brings clarity of mind

After dark, Jennifer Giliberto's new friends always stop by unannounced. Sometimes she snaps their photos. But the first time they met, she nearly stepped on them. Them being toads. In fact, you can see some of their photos on Giliberto's web site, a blog she launched not long after her surgery for a brain tumor. A grade 2 infiltrating astrocytoma to be exact.

The vivacious blonde says the blog, Grey Matter Life, is her way of coping with the tumor and how it has changed her life. 

"The experience has completely changed me, it's completely changed our family, it's completely changed everything," says Giliberto. "Life is not the same."

Life began to change for Giliberto in 2006 when doctors found a lesion in her brain. She was living in Charlotte, North Carolina then and had been seeing her doctor for an unrelated illness. As a pre-operative precaution, Giliberto underwent an MRI at her physician's urging "just to make sure everything was okay."

But everything was not okay. Her neurologist had found a lesion but could not yet determine its cause. "As a non-medical person, I wondered do I have MS, do I have a brain tumor, am I dying? What is this?"

Giliberto had a follow-up MRI a few months later. But the image hadn't changed. A short time later, she and her husband, Paul, and their two boys, Tucker, 7, and Cooper, 5, moved to Atlanta.

After getting settled, Giliberto decided to have yet another MRI, this time in Atlanta. That's when she learned that the lesion was in fact a brain tumor.

"I remember sitting on the exam table with the scan on the wall, she says. "I was looking at the surgeon then looking at the scan, just looking back and forth while thinking you're telling me without actually telling me that I have a brain tumor? And I remember that was the moment the entire world stopped."

Giliberto wanted the tumor out. Her surgeon did not. So, she began reading up on gliomas and asking questions.

Meanwhile, Giliberto joined the Southeastern Brain Tumor Foundation, which offers support services and funds brain tumor research for those affected by brain tumors. Joining and becoming a board member turned out to be life-changing decision, she says. It was through her work with SBTF that she met Costas Hadjipanayis, an Emory neurosurgeon, who after careful consideration, agreed to remove Giliberto's tumor.

Hadjipanayis called Giliberto with the news just as she and her boys had arrived at the Alanta Zoo. "He said he saw no reason why we couldn't do the surgery," recalls Giliberto. "I was elated."

Her recovery from the surgery was slow but steady. And although she acknowledges that the tumor may return, Giliberto says she considers herself healthy. She takes care of her family, exercises, plays with her dogs, Tank and Toby, and works as an Emory patient-family advisor. As an advisor, Giliberto works to ensure patients become genuine members of their health team, something, she says, that can easily be overlooked.

Giliberto says being diagnosed with a brain tumor has helped given her a fresh perspective of life and helped her achieve a clarity of mind she didn't have before; specifically, a clarity of wants versus needs. "It's as if I have a clarity that hadn't existed before because I hadn't had the courage or reasons to say what I really wanted in life," she says.

"The philosophy of living life to the fullest because you never know what life will bring, sounds really nice, but it really didn't mean anything until suddenly I was faced with this."

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