- Associated Press - Monday, September 1, 2014

SAVAGE, Minn. (AP) - On Memorial Day 2011, Stacy Mueller suddenly began slurring her speech and losing her balance. When she tried to text someone, she couldn’t put the letters and words together. The 42-year-old divorced mom of two thought she was suffering from a stroke or an aneurysm.

In the emergency room, though, her symptoms eventually dissipated.

Suspecting multiple sclerosis, her doctor scheduled Mueller for an MRI about two weeks later.

“I went alone and drove home afterward,” says Mueller, now 45, of Savage. “In my mind, it was not a big deal.”

She knew it was a big deal when she saw the serious look on her doctor’s face.

“He told me they found a mass on the right side of my brain,” Mueller says. “We didn’t have a lot more info than that.”

Her next appointment, with a neuro-oncologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, was scheduled for four days later.

“Those were the worst four days of my life,” Mueller says. “I kept thinking about my children.”

Mueller’s eventual diagnosis was a “filtrative astrocytoma” — a malignant brain tumor, the St. Paul Pioneer Press (https://bit.ly/1p7qiJk ) reported.

“Inoperable,” Mueller says. “Terminal.”

Doctors recommended slowing the tumor’s growth with radiation and chemotherapy.

“We were trying to keep the tumor as stable as possible,” Mueller says, “so I could have as much time as possible with my kids.”

Terminal diagnosis put this mom in planning mode.

Her oldest child, Ashlyn, was 20 at the time. Her youngest child, Nathan, was just 12. Mueller and her son lived in Owatonna; the boy’s father, Mueller’s ex-husband, lived an hour away, in the Twin Cities.

“We weren’t sure I was going to make it to his high school graduation,” Mueller says. “When I pass, I didn’t want him to have to adjust to living with his father for the first time, and his stepmother and half siblings, and start at a new school, plus having just lost his mom. I wanted to be around to help him adjust.”

It was time, she decided, to begin letting go.

Nathan moved in with his dad in 2012.

“It was the best sacrifice I could have ever made,” says Mueller.

She also got a happy ending during this time of stability.

“My boyfriend and I had just started dating when I was diagnosed,” Mueller says. “We got married on 12-01-12.”

By 2013, the tumor was no longer stable. It was growing.

Fighting it came at a cost.

“I began to feel imprisoned by the treatment,” Mueller says. “I wasn’t feeling good because of the chemo, my blood counts were low. I was also tired from the chemo. My immune system was suppressed, so I was supposed to stay home, to stay away from other people, to wear masks when I was out in public, to be as careful as I could be.

“It got to be old,” says Mueller. “That wasn’t living, it was trying to survive. And those are two very different things.

“And I want to live.”

Mueller discontinued chemo in May 2013. She and her husband, Eric, sold their house and moved to Savage to be closer to Mueller’s son and attend his school and sporting events.

“Financially, we’re wiped out now,” Mueller says. “But I’ve learned you don’t need a big bucket list. We can get fishing licenses and go fishing at a pond nearby and create really precious memories. We know what’s important, and that is time together. We’ve had more fun in the last year, and laughs, and just generally good times.”

As the tumor continues to grow, Mueller increasingly struggles with vision, balance and pain. She is now in the care of Fairview Hospice at her home. A nurse visits twice a week to check on her and to manage her medications.

“I’m done with all the treatment,” Mueller says. “This is about quality of life.”

It’s not always easy, though; Mueller and her husband, who works long hours, recently had to give away their two dogs. It was too difficult for Mueller to look after them. The couple is selling their belongings to make ends meet. They may need to start using a food shelf.

In July, though, life was good when Mueller’s son turned 17.

“We went to the Minnesota Zoo in the morning and came back home for lunch,” Mueller says. “I made him a cake, like I always do, a yellow cake with chocolate frosting. We took a lot of pictures and just had a really nice time.

“I didn’t feel sad; I felt lucky that we got to make those memories. I don’t want my kids to remember the sad times; I want them to remember the happy times.”


Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press, https://www.twincities.com

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