Jeannie Gaffigan is a writer, producer and busy mother of five. So, when she began to experience a number of symptoms in 2016, she figured she’d just caught the flu. However, when she finally went for a check-up, doctors revealed a far scarier diagnosis.
Jeannie’s husband Jim is known to comedy fans as the lead star of The Jim Gaffigan Show. The TV sitcom ran for two seasons in 2015 and 2016 and is loosely based on the funnyman’s family life. With that in mind, it may come as no surprise that Jeannie wrote and produced the show alongside her spouse.
In real life, though, the Gaffigans live in Manhattan, New York, with their five children. What’s more, it has proved quite a challenge for the couple to juggle their family life with their television careers. As a result, when Jeannie became unwell in 2016, she simply didn’t have the time to visit the doctor.
Besides, the busy mom was convinced that she had nothing to worry about. Despite battling tiredness, throbbing headaches and balance problems, Jeannie thought she was simply run down because of her hectic routine. “I figured I had the flu,” she later revealed to WebMD.
As a result, Jeannie’s symptoms went unchecked for a number of months. But in April 2017, when the writer was attending a routine doctor’s appointment with her children, she caught the attention of pediatrician Dr. Pamela Hops.
In particular, Dr. Hops had noticed that Jeannie was suffering from a stubborn cough. However, when she examined the mom – who was also struggling to hear out of her left ear – the doctor found no specific problems to account for the symptoms.
Nevertheless, the pediatrician was still keen for Jeannie to consult an ear, nose, and throat specialist. And the producer agreed to do so, despite still being unconvinced that anything was wrong with her. As it happens, though, Jeannie would be rushed into the operating room just days after her consultation.
That’s because, at her specialist appointment, Jeannie received an MRI scan of her head – and what the resultant image uncovered was alarming. It was found that Jeannie had a tennis ball-sized tumor growing on her brain stem – and this, naturally, could have gone on to have even more serious implications for the writer’s health.
Indeed, if the tumor was left untreated, there was a possibility that the growth could have affected both Jeannie’s memory and her ability to move and think. And though the tumor was quickly found to be benign, its location meant that it could still have proved fatal for the mother of five.
And Jeannie’s tumor is what’s known as a choroid plexus papilloma. These rare growths affect the brain stem, the area that controls the transmission of messages from the brain to the rest of the body. This part of the brain also governs rudimentary motor functions including breathing, swallowing, heart rate, blood pressure and consciousness.
So, as time was of the essence, Jeannie quickly began treatment at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital. And there, the medical professionals’ first plan of action was to create a 3D map of her brain using MRI scanners. The cutting-edge approach enabled neurosurgeons to remove the growth with a remarkable degree of accuracy “not possible even a year or two ago,” according to Jeannie’s doctor Joshua Bederson.
However, in order to create the best possible image of Jeannie’s brain, she had to endure seven long hours in an MRI scanner. But while the enclosed space may have been a nightmare for more claustrophobic patients, Jeannie tackled the challenge with bravery and humor.
Recalling her scan experiences to WebMD, Jeannie revealed, “I asked the technicians what would happen if I screamed in there, and they were, like, ‘Oh, that’s okay. We can’t hear you, anyway.’” Meanwhile, her husband Jim said, “Jeannie came out of the MRI machine with fresh comedy ideas, saying, ‘Hey, Jim! Write this down.’”
But despite the couple’s natural funny bones, it wasn’t always so easy to laugh. “It was really scary for a while,” Jim would later admit on an episode of Late Night with Seth Meyers. “There were moments when I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. If anything happens to my wife, those five kids are going to be put up for adoption.’”
Jeannie eventually underwent brain surgery in April 2017. And after nine hours on the operating table, the first stage of her ordeal was over. In fact, the result was far better than either Jeannie or Jim could have hoped for.
Indeed, while speaking to People in May 2017, Jim revealed, “We were prepped for the understanding that good news would be like, ‘We got 85 percent of it.’ But they removed all the tumor, and there was no damage to her 12 cranial nerves.”
And following her surgery, Jeannie took to social media, celebrating with an Instagram post. In the image, the doting mother is seen planting a kiss on one of her five children. The accompanying caption, meanwhile, simply reads, “I’m still alive!”
But although Jeannie had survived the surgery, her ordeal was far from over. Unable to swallow properly in the wake of her tumor, the writer ended up with saliva in her lungs. This in turn developed into a case of aspiration pneumonia and required a feeding tube to be inserted as Jeannie fought to regain her health.
Luckily, thanks to the expert care of Dr. Bederson, Jeannie beat the infection and began to recover slowly but surely. And after months of physiotherapy, the producer and her husband Jim attended the 60th Grammy Awards together in January 2018.
However, even if Jeannie is now back on her feet, it’s clear that the brain tumor has reshaped her life. “My whole life has changed,” she revealed to People . “The people who have come out of this have shown me how loved I am.” The writer added, “I want to help people get through the worst news that you can get.”