Woman Rebuilds Life After Brain Tumors

When Amy Butler heard about the January 2011 shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, and the injuries she sustained, her heart stopped for a moment.

“It was so emotional for me because I knew what she was going to have to go through,” said Butler, who at 33 years of age has already had five brain surgeries and knows all about the frustrations and victories that come with recovery.

While Giffords repeatedly said “chicken-chicken-chicken” in response to therapists’ questions, Butler would always say “purple.”

She bought the book by the former congresswoman and wrote her a letter. “I told her to just keep the faith. I know it’s hard, but don’t give up.”

With Tucson Medical Center celebrating Brain Week with a week-long series of lectures and activities, participants can learn more about brain tumors, from diagnosis to treatment in the Thursday, May 17 presentation.

The Arizona Daily Star covered Butler’s story in its Monday edition, noting her participation in a New to Memory Loss group that will also be featured during Brain Week at TMC http://azstarnet.com/news/science/health-med-fit/memory-loss-support-group-gives-patients-kin-a-leg-up/article_7459c7ae-5885-5473-81df-8af0902f46e7.html

In Butler’s case, she was a chatty 15-year-old when repeated and excruciating headaches led doctors to find a tumor that required surgery. She woke up unable to move or talk. After several subsequent surgeries and grueling work with physical and speech and occupational therapies, she slowly rebuilt.

Granted, her life looked different than she once expected. She had been enrolled in college prep classes, but had to change her plans because of severe memory problems.  Still, she eventually landed a career in retail and had an active church life.

Then the headaches returned. And with them, the dreaded news: She had developed another tumor.

“It was devastating at first,” said Butler, who was diagnosed at the time with a condition known as meningioma, a typically benign tumor that grows in the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord. “I felt like I had spent so many years putting my life back together and now I was in the same place again. I remember calling my dad and just bawling my eyes out.”

But, drawing largely on faith, she slowly grew to a place of acceptance. “It’s another mountain to climb, but I just figured God was going to use me in some way. I’m still here, so there has to be a plan.” She had surgery in June.

She has had to make some changes as a result of her condition. She quit driving and wasn’t able to continue in retail. She keeps a pen and notepad available at all times to write lists and notes to compensate for memory loss. Taped to her door is a note reminding her to make sure she has a phone and the bus schedule.  She consults her checkbook when asked her address.

But she’s also made dramatic progress. She volunteers regularly and goes to several support groups, including taking a series of classes earlier this year to help people who are new to memory loss learn some coping skills, which is also a topic of discussion during next week’s Brain Week courses.

You can see her progress by looking through a notebook she keeps on her recovery. In the hospital, she was asked to complete word association games, such as circling the word that doesn’t belong in a grouping, such as “apple” among four vegetables. Her circles were choppy and unsteady. Now her writing is up to par. And for someone who wasn’t able to speak a year ago, her words come readily. She volunteers regularly and goes to several support groups.

She’s learned to demand less of herself and be patient with her recovery. “After five surgeries, I decided to give myself a break,” she jokes. “If I miss a bus or take a wrong turn, I just try to remember, in the whole scheme of things, it’s not that important.”

All of the Brain Week classes, including the one with a focus on brain tumors, will take place at the El Dorado Health Campus, 1400 N. Wilmot Road.

Here’s a list of upcoming events:

  • Monday, May 14, 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.; Our Normal Aging Brain: A Functional Overview
  • Tuesday, May 15, 9 a.m.- 10:30 a.m.;   How Chronic Disease Affects the Brain
  • Tuesday, May 15, 2 p.m. – 3 p.m.;   Prevention of Stroke: It All Starts With You
  • Wednesday, May 16, 9 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.;  Cognitive Aging and Everyday Remembering
  • Wednesday, May 16, 2 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. ;  Brain Aerobics: A Mental Fitness Workout For You
  • Thursday, May 17, 9:30 a.m. – 10:30 a.m.;  Brain Tumors: Diagnosis and Treatment Options
  • Thursday, May 17,  1 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.;  Normal Pressure Hydrocephalus, A Reversible Cause of Dementia
  • Friday, May 18, 11 a.m. – noon;  New to Memory Loss and Alzheimer’s Disease
  •  Friday, May 18, 1 p.m. – 3 p.m.; New to Parkinson’s Disease

For more information or to make a reservation, call 324-1960.


  1. Hope you are doing well. From an old friend, Andy. Call me if you want. 931-498-5808.In Tennessee for now.


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