RI education chief back after brain tumor surgery
PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Back in the spring, when state Education Commissioner Deborah Gist was getting stabbing pains in her head nearly every day, she announced to colleagues in the office, ‘‘I think I have a brain tumor.’’
She didn’t actually mean it, but it turned out to be true.
Gist has returned to work two months after surgery to remove a grape-size tumor that doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital say would certainly have grown and could have become malignant. She resumes her duties as head of elementary and secondary education on Monday, but has been back in the office this week.
She began meeting with senior staff three weeks ago at her apartment in downtown Providence as part of the transition back.
‘‘I actually bounced back pretty quickly,’’ Gist said in an interview Wednesday at the state Department of Education, where she had a basket full of get-well cards from students, teachers and others. ‘‘I'm happy to be well.’’
Doctors had believed the tumor, a meningioma, was benign, as the vast majority of them are. But Gist said the mass turned out to be a grade 2 atypical tumor, meaning it could have become malignant and aggressive.
Doctors discovered it after Gist hit her head on a luggage bin and suffered a concussion while traveling to Atlanta in July. In retrospect, she’s grateful it happened, as she had been writing off her symptoms.
She said the recovery has been full of ups and downs but she feels great.
‘‘It was challenging to have to sit still,’’ she said. ‘‘I'm not someone who really has much of an off button.’’
While recovering, she said, she relied a lot on her faith and spent ‘‘quiet time’’ meditating or taking walks when she felt up to it. She isn’t supposed to bend over or lift heavy things. The other directive from her doctor: ‘‘He just said that I should pay attention to my body,’’ she said.
Gist’s physicians will monitor her for any sign of the tumor’s return, but she said they are confident they got all of it in the Sept. 25 surgery.
Gist’s return as commissioner comes as the state prepares to merge its two education boards, one for elementary and secondary education and another for higher education.
George Caruolo, an attorney and former state lawmaker who serves as chairman of the Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education, has been nominated by Gov. Lincoln Chafee to head the reconstituted Rhode Island Board of Education.
Gist said she and Caruolo have forged a constructive working relationship on K-12 issues.
‘‘I think there’s a huge opportunity with the merger of the boards,’’ she said. ‘‘I don’t think it will fundamentally change our focus. I'm going to stay focused on what I've been focusing on.’’