Grandma, the neurosurgeon, a tree and me…a story of deep-rooted friendship and love

Lanette & Carrie in front of the table plant now tree 22 years later

I’m so pleased to be given the opportunity to share this story in the International Brain Tumour Alliance’s annual magazine, “Brain Tumour.” I got the chance to share this story about my neurosurgeon after sharing it in conversation.

Grandma, the neurosurgeon, a tree and me … a story of deep-rooted friendship and love

By Lanette Veres
Founder and President of Gray Matters Foundation, United States

credit: Published in IBTA magazine  2014 edition ( The International Brain Tumor Alliance)

This is a story about a grandmother, a wonderful neurosurgeon, a tree and me.

Twenty-two years ago my grandmother was diagnosed with a brain tumour. She had surgery but her wishes were simple: “I want quality, not quantity.”

I clearly remember the day of the surgery. I had a big family so we filled the waiting room taking turns going in to give my grandmother hugs before she went for her operation. It was so tough. My grandmother was the rock and the foundation to which we all ran when needing solid ground.

“Now what?” I thought. “Oh no, that ground is shaken,” I remember sitting in the waiting room when Dr. Carrie Walters, the neurosurgeon, came out to give us an update.

A few hours later pathology confirmed that Grandma had a brain tumour called glioblastoma. There was no Internet
in those days so I actually went to the library and looked the word up in medical dictionaries. It was not good. I was so sad.

I cried: “No, why her?” Not Grandma – the kindest lady I knew. Sadly, Grandma died nine weeks later. The nine weeks seemed to go so fast. It was my first experience of death but it showed me that there was no room for fear. This experience of being with Grandma grew in me the peace to be with others needing comfort. It was like a little seed being planted, helping me grow into something I could never imagine.

The amazing thing about that whole journey 22 years ago little did I know that the very experience I was having
to go through with my grandma was preparing me for my own challenges just a few years later and would eventually be the reason why I created The Gray Matters

Above: Gray Matters Founder and President Lanette Veres (left) with her neurosurgeon, Dr Carrie Walters (right), in front of “The Tree”

60 Brain Tumour

Foundation, a 501c3 not-for profit based in Arizona, USA.

When Grandma died we bought a plant for Dr Walters the surgeon. Just a simple little plant. In our hearts we felt that it wasn’t a flower that would die in a week but that hopefully it would thrive and grow for a long time.

If it was a plant it would represent not only a thank you from us to the surgeon, but it would represent life itself.

Now go with me six years later.
I was living a very comfortable life. I had
a great job as a premier banker at a financial institution. I had high sales goals. I had moved up in the company pretty fast and loved what I did. I was a single mom raising my kids. Life was good.

Five years into my career I started getting headaches. I assumed it was

stress headaches – after all my job was pretty stressful. I was responsible for some very high sales goals. I had to secure $4 million a quarter – I did $6 million.

After going to the doctor and insisting on headache relief I was given a scan on the morning of 14th August 1998.
A few hours later I got a telephone
call. I was sitting at my desk. Yes! I was sitting at work and wasn’t even given the courtesy of being told the results
of the scan in person. Instead, I was asked over the phone for the name
of my pharmacy and told I had a mass on the right side of my brain and needed surgery.

Incredulously, I said: “I have a brain tumor? My grandma died from that six years ago.” The man on the phone asked if I knew the neurosurgeon which I did.

So he set me up with a referral and my treatment journey began.

The shock to my family and friends, and having to wait for the appointment, was horrible. But once we met with the neurosurgeon it all fell into place. It was Dr. Carrie Walters, the person who had operated on my grandmother.

When we realized the connection to my grandmother, Dr. Walters said: “I have the tree you gave me.”

“Tree?” I asked.

“Well,” said Dr. Walters, “it was a plant when you gave it to me but now it’s so big that I’ve had to move it outside.”

Dr Walters then said: “I know you’re going to be fine. Your Grandma’s tree is alive. Now, let’s get this thing out of your head so you can feel better.”

On the day of my neurosurgery, Dr. Walters brought me a photo of “The Tree”. It was beautiful. Ironically, after my surgery, a friend bought me a plant just like it. Mine is outside now too…and getting very big.

I have had five neurosurgeries and

at my last surgery, I had a new surgeon because Dr. Walters had retired. But Dr Walters attended my surgery anyway. She came into my room and she brought me a leaf from “The Tree”.

She said: “I know you’re going to be fine. Your Grandma’s tree is big, beautiful and flourishing.”

Dr Walters and I get together often and especially every year on my “tumorversary” to celebrate my life.

We talk about how our story is like
the tree Dr Walters was the trunk, the strength that holds limbs that reach out to the world, following the sun. Some limbs are battered and some are stronger but the leaves are the product of all that the trunk shares. Dr Walters and I have come up with many metaphors for the tree over the years.

On one anniversary, some years back, I found a tree tapestry in a frame. You add the leaves by sewing them in. So each year I give Dr Walters a leaf and thank her.

It was Dr Walters’ dedication to her career that kept me alive. Her passion paid

off. Her care for my grandmother, although Grandma died, created a new life for me, a life lived through love. Now, through Gray Matters that love is extended to 21 countries and almost all 50 US States.

There is one more thing I need to tell you about this story and this journey.
Dr Walters became a neurosurgeon because her grandmother died from a glioblastoma.

   Click here to subscribe to IBTA’s “Brain Tumour” Magazine. You can also check out their website for more information at