One thing Melanie Abela learnt from her experience is that life is to be enjoyed and we should be grateful for it.
It has been one year since Melanie, wife of Minister within the Prime Minister’s Office, Carmelo Abela, had undergone an operation which saved her life, after finding out that she had a large brain tumour in her brain.
In an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Melanie shared her experience about the day that changed her life and what came after it.
She recalled how one day she woke up with a huge pain in her head. “I didn’t think twice about it, and I thought it was best to just take two pain killers and carry on. It never occurred to me that the pain could be something much worse. When one has a brain tumour, they would have noted a number of different symptoms beforehand, of which I had none.”
At the time her husband was abroad, and when her son asked her what happened, he was not content with leaving the situation as it was. “Till this day I am not quite sure what it was that gave him a feeling that things were not right. He decided to call our family doctor, who is also a neurologist, who came to examine me. It is all thanks to my son that we found out about the tumour.”
Whilst the doctor did not see any immediate changes in Melanie, he believed that it was best to go to hospital and have further tests. “The CT scan showed that I had a very large tumour, so large in fact that my brain had shifted to one side. What worried me the most is that the doctors explained that with such a tumour my eye sight or speech should have been affected, but I felt nothing.”
From that moment the challenges began, but Melanie found courage to remain strong. “I remember asking the doctors, okay, now what? And I was informed I would have surgery to remove it. Whilst all this was difficult, both for me and my family, I knew it had to be done.” After the tests and consultations, her operation was booked for three days’ later.
She recalled how she felt having to call her husband once he arrived from his work trip and how surreal it was. “When Carmelo usually arrives back home, we message each other saying we will see one another at home, but this time I had to tell him to come to the hospital.” She knew that the whole family was shocked by the news. “The doctors had to explain to them about what could happen to me after the operation; that I might wake up and not be able to see, or not be able to speak or have difficulty with my mobility. It was a lot for them.”
Before the nine-hour operation, Melanie was informed that she had to shave her hair off. “I was asking myself whether I was ready to look in the mirror and see myself with my hair shaved off. I was not prepared for all this at all.” She explained that the night before the operation she had called her hairdresser to come and cut her hair as short as possible. Melanie joked and smiled that at least she would enter hospital with a completely new hair style. “I must also admit that the nine hours were the best sleep of my life, especially since I suffer with sleeping,” she said with a smile.
Melanie explained that thankfully she woke up after the operation speaking, which pleased the nurses. “I am aware that everyone is different and that unfortunately some people wake up post-operation needing more treatment and care.”
She recalled that she found it difficult to explain about what was happening to her, and that when she first posted on social media about her operation she felt a sense of relief. “I felt that people needed to understand what was happening and what was about to happen to me, especially since we are also in the public eye too. So many people supported me, informing me that they had prayed for me and my family, some even offering food.”
Post operation life brought about a completely new routine for Melanie and her family. “I had to give up a lot of my independence after the operation and during the time I needed to recover. I could not move, drive, clean or cook. Whilst the doctor told me that I had to rest, I made sure that I kept myself busy with small tasks, such as cleaning a drawer during the day. It’s small, but once I managed and achieved that it pushed me to do something else the next day.”
She explained that also Carmelo’s schedule changed, as he wanted to spend more time with his wife and family. “It was difficult for him, as whilst he wanted to stay with me and our family, he also could not abandon his work or travels. Now, we have become much closer, and whenever we have the opportunity to grab a coffee during the day, we do so.”
The operation has been life changing and she now sees things through a different perspective. “I am grateful for every moment, and I noticed I am much more positive. My life of course still has its ups and downs, but I now tackle the difficulties differently.”
Her slogan in life is to enjoy the moment and to be grateful for what life presents to you. “We need to be more in the moment, to enjoy something whilst we are experiencing it, and not thinking about our to-do list we have in the weeks to come.”
The operation has taught her that despite an individual’s position, class or status, everyone is the same. “We really must keep this in mind, no one is better than anyone else, and this operation has taught me just how fragile life is.”
She explained that she still suffers from symptoms post operation, such as soreness or her eyes swelling. “I often go for check-ups and I do worry that the tumour might grow back, but I take every day as it comes.”
Melanie also highlighted that she hopes in the future there will be a support group for individuals who suffered from brain tumours. “Whilst the actual ward is extremely helpful and is open 24/7, I still think an actual support group would benefit so much.”