Jeannie Gaffigan thought she was suffering from a bout of flu, but it turned out to be a rare brain tumor the size of a tennis ball.
The mother-of-five, who has been married to comedian Jim Gaffigan for 15 years, has unerringly shared every step of her journey through brain surgery and the painful recovery since being diagnosed in the final months of 2016.
Now, the 47-year-old is sharing new details about the easy-to-miss symptoms that led to her diagnosis.
She had been experiencing headaches, coughing fits, and severe fatigue – which she put down to a winter cold – before an MRI scan revealed she had a six-centimeter benign tumor lodged in her brain.
After undergoing brain surgery to remove the mass in April 2017, Gaffigan is on the road to recovery, but she is now warning fans about the seemingly-innocuous signs of her benign tumor that could have left her paralyzed or dead.
Jeannie Gaffigan is the executive producer of The Jim Gaffigan Show. Pictured: Jim and Jeannie at the 60th annual Grammy’s in January 2018
Jeannie had a nine-hour surgery to remove a benign tumor the size of an apple that was wrapped around her brain stem in mid-April. Pictured: Jeannie with one of her children at home in May
Jeannie, who is the head writer and executive producer of The Jim Gaffigan Show, recently revealed to WebMD Magazine that she initially ignored these symptoms, which began in the final months of 2016.
She didn’t take action until after her children’s routine checkup, when their pediatrician noticed the she was dealing with a persistent cough.
When Jeannie revealed her symptoms, including that fact that she couldn’t hear to well from her left ear, her children’s doctor recommended that she see an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist immediately.
‘I figured I had the flu,’ Jeannie told WebMD Magazine.
Fortunately, she took the doctor’s recommendation.
The ENT specialist ordered an MRI scan of Jeannie’s head which revealed she had a choroid plexus papilloma, a rare and benign tumor that usually grows in the brain stem, the part of the brain that is connected to the spine, and controls basic body functions such as breathing, swallowing, and heart rate.
Although the tumor was benign, it’s location was a concern – it was wrapped around her brain stem and had been growing for a year.
Dr Joshua Bederson, a neurosurgeon at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, told WebMD Magazine, that she could’ve suffered paralysis, had issues thinking and remembering things is she hadn’t gotten checked out.
‘I was a ticking time bomb, waiting to be paralyzed,’ Jeannie told PEOPLE in 2017.
After her diagnosis, Jeannie was scheduled for brain surgery to remove the tumor in mid-April, just days after her children’s pediatrician suggested she see an ENT specialist, WebMD Magazine reported.
The couple are pictured above with their five children in Tokyo in early 2017. From left to right: Marre, Jim, Jeannie, Patrick, Michael, Katie and Jack Gaffigan
Jeannie Gaffigan pictured above with her children. From left to right: Michael, Marre, Jeannie, Patrick, Jack and Katie
Dr Bederson, who was also Jeannie’s neurosurgeon, said the choroid plexus papilloma tumor, which accounts for approximately two to four percent of brain tumors in children and 0.5 percent of tumors in adults, could’ve killed Jeannie.
Symptoms of this type of tumor include headaches, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, dizziness and balance problems, and vision problems, according to experts at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California.
Jeannie’s operation to remove the tumor was successful.
However, in her recovery, Jeannie developed double-lung pneumonia because she had trouble swallowing – a physical function also controlled by the brain stem. This results in food and saliva getting stuck in the lungs.
She had to have a surgical procedure on her neck to open up her airways, followed by the insertion of a feeding tube.
Jeannie still struggles with roughly 50 percent hearing loss out of her left ear, but she and her husband Jim have been using humor to keep their spirits up.
In May 2017, Jim, 50, shared a lighthearted video in which he rattles off jokes while demonstrating how he feeds his wife through a feeding tube.