Last year, comedy writer and mother of five Jeannie Gaffigan (and wife of comedian Jim Gaffigan) was taking her children to the doctor when she unexpectedly became the patient. She realized she couldn’t hear out of her left ear, and her family’s pediatrician recommended that she get it checked.
The reason for her hearing loss completely shocked her. “They discovered I had a six-centimeter brain tumor the size of a pear blocking my brainstem,” Gaffigan tells Health. “So they told me I needed an urgent craniotomy—removal of the tumor.”
Gaffigan’s tumor was later identified as a type called benign papilloma of the choroid plexus; her surgeon, Joshua Bederson, MD, told People it had likely been growing for over a year. She had her surgery in April 2017 and endured a lengthy recovery, unable to walk and also temporarily dependent on a feeding tube.
Now that she’s in better health, Gaffigan wants others to know what she wished she did differently—so the tumor might have been caught at an earlier stage with fewer side effects.
“I kind of wish that I had paid more attention to my own health, rather than just taking care of everyone else,” she says, referring to her role as the caregiver to her large family. “And taking care of myself a little better, so I could’ve perhaps avoided the complications of the surgery.”
One of those complications was a paralyzed vocal cord, which has necessitated speech and swallow therapy. The condition has led to her voice weakening and then disappearing by late afternoon because only one of her vocal cords works.
This ordeal has encouraged Gaffigan to focus on herself and her own health—and she hopes other women do the same. “My advice for other women is to listen to your body and really take care of yourself,” she says. “And resist the instinct to only take care of other people.”
Gaffigan is also putting her support behind better treatment of caregivers—like her husband Jim, who tended to her while she was recovering from her surgery. She’s partnered with Tylenol on their #HowWeCare campaign, which provides caregivers with gift cards to Uber and Handy to help with day-to-day tasks. (Visit tylenol.com/howwecare to learn more about providing caregivers with resources to make caring for others easier.)