Jeannie Gaffigan, comedian Jim Gaffigan’s wife — who is also his writing partner and the Executive Producer of The Jim Gaffigan Show — recently revealed in an interview with WebMD Magazine that as a busy mom of five, she initially ignored the symptoms that something may be going wrong with her health.
“I figured I had the flu,” she explained.
Gaffigan had been experiencing headaches, frequent falls, and severe fatigue. She was also beginning to develop another unusual symptom — hearing loss in her left ear.
According to WebMD, Jeannie reacted to her symptoms the way a lot of busy moms do when life throws us curveballs, thinking, I don’t have time for this!
So, it wasn’t until she had a routine appointment with her kid’s pediatrician, Dr. Pamela Hops, that her symptoms were mentioned to a doctor. After noticing Gaffigan’s rattling cough, the doctor shifted her attention from the kids to Jeannie, and ended up recommending that she visit with an ear, nose, and throat specialist as soon as possible.
Fortunately, Jeannie listened to the advice. It led her to eventually receive an MRI that revealed a tumor the size of a tennis ball that was growing on her brain stem.
It was a terrifying development, and although a test revealed the tumor to be benign, if it had continued to grow, she would have faced cognitive problems, paralysis, and according to her doctor, Joshua Bederson, M.D., at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, “very likely death.”
Jim says that Jeannie faced her diagnosis with bravery and, of course, humor. Following her MRI, she relayed to him that she had “asked the technicians what would happen if I screamed in there,” adding that they responded, “Oh, that’s OK. We can’t hear you, anyway.”
“That’s the way we deal with life: with humor,” Jeannie told WebMD. She immediately went in for a surgery to remove the growing tumor.
Jim says that he was terrified following the diagnosis.
“Obviously, I selfishly wanted my wife to be OK because I love her. But I was also concerned about my children. It’s one thing for them to go from super mom to klutzy dad,” he said.
The surgery was successful, but the recovery has been difficult. Jeannie even developed pneumonia in both lungs after aspirating on her saliva. She also had to live with a feeding tube for months. Jim and Jeannie were fortunate to receive a lot of help from family, including their own five children.
“Our youngest sons dressed up like doctors to care for her,” Jim told WebMD. “They showed so much compassion.”
Jeannie is doing better, has recently graduated from a liquid diet (I can only imagine how good that must feel) and is feeling very grateful to her family and doctors, including Dr. Hops, who first raised those red flags about her health.
It’s an important reminder that while caring for the health of our children, we must not neglect our own.
Last year, I had a health scare. I was experiencing some intestinal bleeding and waited a long time to talk to a doctor. Like Jeannie, I thought I was too busy and put it off.
When I finally went in to visit with a gastroenterologist, he gave me a reality check by informing me that more and more people in their 30s were being diagnosed with colon cancer — something that hadn’t even crossed my mind as a possibility.
My symptoms ended up being a side effect of a medication, but I learned a powerful lesson — that even though I was lucky this time, I had better stop ignoring these types of symptoms and putting off doctor appointments.
The fact is, it’s impossible to care for our families if we are not well ourselves. We owe it to ourselves and everyone who loves us to heed the warnings when our bodies are telling us that something is wrong.
Fortunately, we live in a time where advances in medical treatments make it possible to effectively treat even brain tumors in precarious places and enable mothers to return to their families whole. We wish the Gaffigans all the best and can’t wait to see how they will make us laugh next.