“In the sufferer who has come to seek my counsel, let me see only the human being.”
—Medieval Scholar Maimonides’ “Physician’s Prayer” (Hebrew taken from the website of the National Library of Israel)
Dear Dr. Lee,
When I came to seek your care for my meningioma, I was naturally fearful. Not only did I fret over questions of survival and recovery, over the implications of my illness for my loved ones and myself, but I also wondered whether I’d be able to find a doctor who could fully attend to the unique complexity of my case. Years after the operation, I write this letter with a heart profoundly expanded with gratitude. I have you to thank for my intact vision, cognitive functions, and personality—special quirks and all—after being told by so many others that they would be compromised or irrevocably lost. In addition to caring for me with your superb knowledge, method, and craftsmanship, you gave me exceptional personal attention, reaching out to my husband and children in the hospital, checking up on me post-surgery during your off-hours, speaking to me with unending patience and compassion—and the list goes on.
Thank you for brilliantly doing what nobody else could medically do, and thank you for continuing to treat me with so much humanity during my annual (cross-continental!) checkups. You see me not as a collection of symptoms, but as a human being, not as a nondescript patient, but as an individual. I am tremendously grateful to have found you. Wishing you and your family health, love, and success, that whatever you wish may find fulfillment.
With much love,
Kathryn Meyer (63 years old, 7.4 cm bilateral frontal falx meningioma), Valparaiso, IN
9:00 am, November 23, 2013
Dear Dr. Lee:
A year ago today, at this very hour, you were putting your God-given gifts to work as you removed a rather large tumor from my brain. You and God are a great team supported by a host of prayer warriors by our side. It was so very good to see you this past Monday, thank you face-to-face and bringing closure to a year of amazing healing. To me it is a miracle and a second chance to make a difference in this world. I remember coming out of the recovery room last year and, already, feeling and knowing a cloud had been lifted from me and that night, lying in the hospital bed, singing in my mind and gently signing with my hands the words to “Our God is an Awesome God.” This morning, I awoke with a grateful heart, thinking of you, singing with full voice, prancing with joy across the room and raising my arms in my victory dance to those words. What a difference a year makes.
As Thanksgiving approaches, you are, most assuredly, among my countless reasons to give thanks along with my faithful husband, Rachel, Dr. Lobo and all who care for others at the Cleveland Clinic. Again, thank you for being an instrument of healing and restoring me to good, life-satisfying health. Life is good. I look forward to seeing you in 2 years in sunny SoCal. Blessings on your new beginnings at St. Joseph’s, Burbank.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and all those you hold near and dear.
With a heart overflowing with gratitude.
Dear Dr. Lee:
It is my great pleasure and privilege to have this opportunity to express my deepest gratitude to you for the gift of life and the "joie de vivre" I experience everyday. I came across the note I sent to you on the year anniversary of my surgery and I send it along as well. It remains true today.
Prior to 2005, I lived an active, productive and satisfying life enjoying my family with a growing number of grandchildren and my profession as a psychotherapist. Then, I began a subtle and insidious decline into depression and obsessive-compulsive behaviors. Unbeknownst to me, a rather large benign meningioma was growing in my brain as I sank deeper and deeper into the non-functioning state you first saw me in on Nov. 15, 2012. I believe it was God's plan to match me with your God-given passion for healing and your open surgery schedule on Nov. 23rd, which was the next time I saw you in the operating room.
I believe all things happen for a reason and, when we are able to embrace the challenges, we grow and the blessings flow. I loved life and enjoyed life prior to my brain tumor. Now, I have a personal experience of what it means to be suck in depression and OCD, a much deeper empathy for the struggle than ever before. I have a profound awareness for how precious life is, how meaningful each moment is. I know in the depths of my soul that I am here to bring love and peace to the world around me. I live a more intentional and conscious life as daily I seek ways to scatter a little joy. The Thanksgiving after my surgery, in response to 'why am I thankful', I answered, "For every breath I take." ... and, so I continue to be.
I am following your prescription to "go out and live life to the fullest." Less than a year after my surgery, I climbed to the top of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome and, in October 2015, climbed to the Tiger's Nest in Bhutan during an around the world journey. My husband and I are enjoying our grandchildren and traveling to many of the places on our bucket list. Life is good and, once again with thanks to you, I am living a life of gratitude and joy.
At my first annual follow-up and the first time I had seen you since the operating room, I thanked you for giving me my life back. I will long remember your kind and humble response, "I am only an instrument of God." Truer words were never spoken and I am forever blessed. May God continue to bless you with a passion for healing and to be the difference in the lives you touch.
With deepest gratitude,
Melissa Dyer (35 years old, 5 cm olfactory groove meningioma), Green, Ohio.
(Mrs. Dyer did not mind revealing her full identity.)
The following is not a typical “patient testimonial.” Rather, it was truly a surprise e-mail, received from a patient who had her surgery 3 1/2 years ago, a few months prior to my departure from the Cleveland Clinic:
I wanted to express my heartfelt gratitude. You removed my large olfactory groove meningioma in December, 2013. I am pleased to say that I am doing great! I live my life with the last words you said to me during our last visit at Cleveland Clinic a few months before your departure. “Go and live your life. Love your life”. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think of you and send you positive mojo! I am now involved in advocacy for the brain tumor community in DC. Specifically, NIH funding, oral chemotherapeutic parity, and pediatric brain tumor research. I am finishing up my PhD in healthcare policy and plan to serve as an advocate for the brain tumor community long into the future. All thanks to you! I keep in touch with Rachel. She sent me an update on you and I am glad to hear you are well! You should know that you have quite the fan base on Facebook!
Interestingly, my brain tumor was a gift. The best gift I have ever received. It has brought me such immense gratitude and appreciation for life. I have taken the time to travel more (including climbing the Great Wall of China), appreciate all of the little moments with family and friends, reprioritize what is important. It has changed most aspects of my life. It has totally changed my outlook.
I can’t imagine what it must be like to perform such complex and intricate surgeries on a frequent basis. What a gift. You have my eternal respect and gratitude. You always will. I realize it is difficult to remember every case and every patient. That’s ok- it’s part of having a large and successful practice. My words are echoed by many of your collective patient population. You have given us all the most wonderful gift you can imagine - your life’s work that has forever changed our lives.
Wishing you all of the love and happiness this vast, vast world has to offer. You are simply an amazing human being!
Melissa Dyer, RN, MSN, MBA
Associate Lecturer, Parent Newborn Nursing
Health Care Policy and Delivery Systems Leadership
Kent State University College of Nursing
To the above email, I wrote back:
What a pleasant surprise to hear from you! You truly made my day!!! Glad to hear that you are doing well. Since it has been nearly 4 years, if you have not done so, please obtain a follow-up MRI.
I have recently completed my website (www.ValleyNI.com). Please visit it at your leisure. Under either “Patient Education” or “Meningioma Center” (within the “Centers of Excellence” heading), you will find the Handbook for Meningioma Patients. It was written for my future patients, but out of gratitude to my former patients. Please read, especially the Preface section. When you get a chance, please share the link with whomever you deem appropriate, including your Facebook pals.
Lastly, if you don’t mind, I would like to upload your email, without your name, just using your initials and your home town. Please provide me with your age at the time of your surgery and the city of your current residence. It will be uploaded, with your permission, to the “Testimonial” section.
Have a wonderful weekend. Give your dad an extra hug and kiss this (Father’s Day) weekend.
Joung H. Lee, M.D.
Melissa then wrote back:
How wonderful it is to hear back!
You may absolutely use any of my words in a testimonial. I am more than happy to share anything about my experience with you and your patients. My appreciation and love for you as a person is up there with my children, parents, and husband. I would do anything to help you and, therefore, other patients. Feel free to use my name and any other information you feel might be helpful. Would a picture be helpful? Sometimes putting a real face to the words can be helpful during a time when patients feel alone and isolated in their experience. If so, I am attaching a family picture taken this fall. Feel free to use it. I’m also attaching my faculty photo from Kent State, where I teach nursing. Likewise, you certainly do not have to use them. I’m just trying to help as much as possible. I was 35 at the time of diagnosis and surgery. I live in Green, Ohio.
The Handbook for Meningioma Patients is excellent. Your kind words to patients, about your wife, and thanks to God demonstrate your kind heart and humility. Even as a master’s prepared nurse- I had so many questions and so much anxiety prior to and following my diagnosis and surgery. You were kind enough to meet with me several times prior to surgery to answer them. The answer to one question led to more questions. I just looked at the notebook I had during that time and found (literally) pages of questions. You were so kind- answering all of them. The Handbook would have answered all of my questions and relieved quite a bit of anxiety I had. You have included quantitative research in words that are understandable to the lay public. Knowledge is power and your Handbook gives patients knowledge in a time when they have little control. It also demonstrates your leadership in research and clinical experience and expertise in this area. It was such a blessing to have your expert hands in my type of tumor just an hour away. Should I have a recurrence, I will certainly be traveling across the country to CA.
Do you mind if I share it with the National Brain Tumor Society and American Brain Tumor Association? Please let me know if I can be of further assistance in any way. Again, thank you for taking the time to respond!
Melissa’s e-mail was received on Friday preceding Father’s Day. As I was so moved by her e-mail, I wanted to share it with my own children.
I sent them with the following short message:
An e-mail received this morning from a former patient.
Let’s all focus on what is truly important in life – God, love, family and health.
Praise the Lord! Have a great day and weekend!
Love you all,
Nicole (daughter-in-law) wrote: I just read this. Seriously... WOW. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful message! Sometimes it's so hard to prioritize the most important things in life when we all live such busy lives... BUT we need to remember to re-prioritize and thank God for all that we have. Love you guys so much! Have a wonderful weekend. 💕💕💕
My oldest son, Terry, wrote: WOW. This changed my mood completely and put things in perspective. Thank you for sharing and love you fam!
My second son, Nick, wrote: So amazing. Love you guys!
My youngest son, Ryan (Nicole’s husband), wrote: Amazing. I teared up. So proud and lucky. Love you all.
J.S. (62 years old, hemifacial spasm), Sun Valley, California
I had developed a facial spasm some years ago that eventually went away on its own. Then, in 2015, the facial spasm came back with a vengeance. What initially began as a mild eyelid flutter soon developed into a facial spasm running the length of the left side of my face. It got so bad that I became very self-conscious and, when not at work, began to stay home more and more out of embarrassment.
In preparation for my daughter’s April 2016 wedding, I saw my eye doctor who injected Botox to help with the spam. Unfortunately, that was not a successful solution. After months of searching for the right doctor, I was happy to find one in my own backyard (St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Burbank, California).
Dr. Joung Lee examined me, looked at test results, and confirmed the diagnosis of hemifacial spasm. He then recommended a microvascular decompression (MVD) - in simple terms, a “brain surgery” to relieve the pressure off of the facial nerve by inserting a Teflon felt between the offending artery and the nerve. I was a nervous wreck but Dr. Lee was so compassionate and informative that he put me totally at ease, especially during my brief hospital stay. His office staff and nurses are extremely cordial and helped me every step of the way. (My procedure was done in September 2016). The follow up since the procedure has been top notch.
Today, I am happy to report that the surgery was 100% successful. My only regret is not finding Dr. Lee sooner!
L.B. (48 years old, jugular tubercle meningioma), Studio City, California
My story is what they call a blessing in disguise. I was in a car accident not far from home one day. I was hit from behind, and suffered a concussion. This required an MRI, which revealed a meningioma. I was lucky to have been hit though, because the tumor was discovered while it was still relatively small. However, it was in a very tricky location, at the base of the skull, attached to the cranial nerve (“vagus nerve”) responsible for vocal function, coughing and swallowing.
Once again, I was lucky for my misfortune, because the perfect surgeon for the procedure, Dr. Joung H. Lee, had just moved back to Los Angeles to look after his aging mother, a top expert who wrote numerous scientific articles and books on skull base surgery and meningiomas. Not only is he an expert in his field, he has an excellent bed-side manner. In fact, his confidence in my full recovery fueled my confidence for the same. He even won over my mother, who can be skeptical of Western medicine. That was in 2014 (October 29).
Although it took several months for my voice to return to normal (actually better than before!), I feel Dr. Lee gave me a new lease on life, having been “cured” from a skull base meningioma. Today, I feel I am glad I went thru what I did to become the person I am today. Healthier, happier and more grateful for life's natural beauties. Thanks, God... Dr. Lee and Dr. Lee's mother!