A little over a year ago, I was informed that I had a massive tumor growing in my brain. I had recently suffered a grand mal seizure and then was being told that I needed to have brain surgery. When I asked when the surgery should occur, the response was “as soon as possible”. I was 34 years old. I would consider myself a fit, healthy person. I am a CPA and a successful professional. I am a father of two boys. Why do I have a brain tumor? Shouldn’t things like that be for people who made choices not to take care of themselves, people that made poor decisions that lead them to that diagnosis?
During surgery, I suffered two additional seizures, despite being on anti-seizure medication. After surgery, I had to work to be able to use my left hand as I did prior to surgery. People who saw me were sacred, I was pretty messed up. I had to use a pill box, to remember when and if I took all of my medication as I was on a bunch of things. They removed a tumor the size of a tennis ball out of my head. I then learned some additional information, the tumor was cancer, yes the dreaded C word. During surgery they could not get to all of the tumor, they had to stop or risk leaving me impaired. A good choice in my book. I have seen cancer at its worst as I watched my Dad succumb to cancer in 1998. I was afraid that the memory of his last few moments on October 3rd would be ingrained in my mind forever - and yes they are. I can easily take myself back to that room, back to the UW hospital. Back to watching the monitors as everything faded to zero. Watching cancer destroy my Dad. A year ago, I found myself back at the UW hospital, this time a different room, a different section of the hospital, a different doctor but the same foe – cancer.
I recently had my one year anniversary since surgery, I have also endured 12 months of chemotherapy. I am still here, the tumor is smaller, its losing, and now I am finished with the prescribed chemo treatments. Cancer is ugly, its painful, it destroys, it steals, it’s a thief in the night.
As I look back on this past year and look forward to the coming of Christmas and a day that we focus things like giving, grace and unconditional love. I can’t help but to think of the things I have gained during this experience, the gifts that I have received from cancer. It feels weird to write that – but yes, gifts that cancer has provided me: From the time spent in conversations with amazing people who drove me to and from work, because I was not legally able to drive due to the seizures. That was amazing time and wonderful conversations that I would not have had, if not for cancer. Looking back I cherish those moments, those people. From hearing daily prayers of my two boys who pray for “Dad’s brain tumor” and that chemo would not make Dad too sick. That coupled with some incredible questions that could only come from little boys, things such as “Dad you need to ask the doctor what color your tumor is” and “Dad you also need to ask in what direction does the tumor grow?” (it is funnier with hand gestures going up from the top of their heads). A gift of the support of my wife, who has had the unfortunate roll of having a front seat, window view of cancer. To watching over 160 people walk with me in support of my battle with brain cancer over two brain cancer walks in two different states. Seeing that same group of people raise over $16,000 in support of brain cancer support and research. Those are wonderful gifts, things that happened because of the presence of cancer. I have received gifts from the support of others who are battling a similar foe, a similar enemy that is intent on darkness and destruction. I have found a huge support of fellow brain tumor warriors via social media. People I can relate to, people who have amazing blogs, amazing stories, people who lift up. That is a gift. Here is one of my favorite quotes from a fellow warrior – Liz – “Whenever I hesitate, I think, “I could die from brain cancer tomorrow!” And then I jump.” Even to the the gift of this blog that my sister set up, so that I can share and express my triumphs, my fears, my hopes, my struggles. Who provided a name to enemy: Goliath. That has been a huge gift as it is somehow easier to battle, when the tumor has a name. The concept of flinging stones at cancer is a motivating gift. That once, a while ago, it only took one small stone to take down a giant. It was an upset of the ages and if it can happen once, it can happen again. The gift of some forever friends taking me to Zion and to the top of Angel’s Landing. To being able to associate with a group of tireless brain tumor fighters at the Chris Elliot Fund (www.endbraincancer.com) and get connected into a amazing network of brain cancer resources. So yes in some ways cancer is a gift – a gift to experience support, love, to come together to battle a common enemy.To feel many people lifting me up and holding me high of the ground. The secret is that I have something that cancer doesn’t; you see I have hope – I have faith – and in the end, I will choose how I define cancer, It will not define me. And that right there is a gift.