My name is Joseph Weber, and I was diagnosed with WHO Grade III terminal brain cancer over President's day weekend, 2002. On Friday evening I experienced what appeared to be the onset of my first migraine headache ever! Having had been very healthy and physically fit up until that particular time in my life, the headache; the left-sided weakness; and just the overall feeling of increased general malaise, came as a complete shock! As the evening progressed, I found myself taking any type of over the counter pain and fever reducing medication I could find, and more than the recommended dose of two Tylenol capsules every other hour. As I lay in bed with an ice pack placed under my head I imagined every possible scenario as to what medical condition(s) could be at play here!
My first thought was that I may have incurred this increasing unbearable headache simply due to work-related and family stress. During that era of my life, I had been in a rocky marriage for 6 years and was working a highly stressful job as a Social Security disability examiner for the State of Washington. With a new home mortgage and our first son in tow I was willing to do whatever I could to bring in as high an income as possible. I was jumping at any overtime hours I could get to help pay off my student loans and finance our new (used) VW Jetta. Unfortunately I was also trying to do my utmost to maintain the yard and make any improvements on the home, all the while engaging in my church ministries of ushering and being the lead guitarist at our church (Calvary chapel at that time)!
My wife was also working nearly full-time hours as a sign-language interpreter, but was also pulling off beautifully the role of a full-time stay-at-home mom in less-than half the hours as her peers (in my opinion anyway). Tending to our domestic needs, my wife was dead tired by the end of the day. Consequently, we were knowingly spending less than ample time together as any couple who wanted to improve upon, let alone to barely keep afloat any normal expectations for any long lasting and intimate relationship.
Just as my headache began, I had become so angry at simply life itself that I began shouting out to God at the top of my lungs. I remember being in the bathroom and staring at myself in the mirror and seeing my face turning beat red and looking as if I wanted to smash everything around me. Fortunately my wife had not been home to hear or experience my first major temper tantrum in our marriage up until that point. After my several minute rant, I took my first two ibuprofen capsules, grabbed the ice pack and headed for the bed. Not being to really focus due to the pain I was in and out of consciousness and by the time my wife and son returned from shopping I could not even get up out of bed to make it to the door and assist her in bringing in the groceries. My wife was, indeed, surprised that I was in such an incapacitated state that she left the groceries and helped me to the car, where our five year old was still in his car seat. She rushed me to our medical facility and I waited in the car with my son while she quickly retrieved a wheelchair.
Within minutes she had me into urgent care, and as I was in acute distress, they took me right back to a room (thank God one was available). The nurse checked my vital signs were WNL, but my excruciating pain warranted an immediate medical consult with the physician assist on duty. He performed a standard medical exam and said that my sinuses were clear, hence ruling out that cause for the headache. Interestingly, however, he prescribed me Naproxen (a n anti infection agent) and recommended I get lots of rest. I pleaded for something for the pain, and he prescribed me with Percocet. After returning home that evening I took my first doses and looked forward to being able to get a good night's rest, and once the pain medicine kicked in, I slept almost through the whole day Saturday.
When I awoke the headache had become much worse than ever in just a few minutes time. That was the breaking point, and in tears I got into our van, and my wife rushed me to the ER at Saint Peter's Hospital in Olympia. On the way over I became so nauseated that I had her pull the car over to the shoulder and I got rid of whatever I had managed to consume that day!
At that time of my diagnosis I had already been employed by WA State Division of Disability Determination Services for four years, and another son had joined our family on 06/28/2002. Having already been employed by the agency since 9/98, my medical knowledge was already quite extensive. I had been twice promoted and was earning a fairly decent wage. I had everything I could have ever dreamed about up to that point in my life: a lovely wife, two beautiful young boys, a very nice home, two cars, and the list continues!
Upon being diagnosed, my world was literally flipped upside down.
Surviving brain surgery, radiation treatments, and chemo presented some minor necessary adjustments
However, the worse was yet to come. I not only began to feel as if I were losing my own human identity, but my family as well. Were it not for my own personal Christian beliefs, I would have given up on life. I knew it was only right to uphold my responsibilities as a husband and a father. So, what next?
I did my best over the course of several years to maintain my high job-level performance, take care of my spouse and help her to raise our three kids. At work I was very well liked and appreciated, hence management did their best to accommodate me for as long as they could. Not only was I allowed a lighter caseload, but I was treated with utmost respect and human dignity. That was to be expected within the very context of my position. Unfortunately, the road had to become really rough before the potholes could be fixed
First there were the demotions and the divorce. As you can imagine, these events added insult to injury. I became a broken man, with no hope, or even will to live. My children were literally my saving grace.
I realized it was now when the rubber must meet the road. I made my own choice to fill in those blasted potholes and move on with my life. I found that continuing on with any type of employment or volunteer services boosted my moral. I could afford to make my child-support payments and pay my dad rent. It was then that Determination really spread its wings.
I gleaned tremendous support from my family, my friends, and of course, from my dear precious children. Personally speaking, I cannot rule out miracles and I am simply unable to leave God out of the equation. As soon as I surrendered my situation the doors flew wide open to renewed strength and success. I was so poignantly reminded of the dream I said to myself,” I’m going to make this happen. Along with that proclamation came an optimism that hasn't stopped gaining impetus.
My first step among baby ones, was to reestablish my identity as a confident, outgoing, and intelligent human being. Having had to stop working and go on Social-security disability benefits was no doubt tough. However, this had provided me with firsthand experience for my present-day employment with TBISN (Traumatic brain-injury network).
So, you might ask,” how did Joe go about planning out his next strategic move? Would you like to know, asks Joe? Oh really, are you sure? Okay! Buckle up: HUMILITY, yeah, got to go and join a traumatic brain-injury support group. You want the real unadulterated full-meal deal? Okay, here goes: essentially, it wasn't any walk in the park. Stay tuned: next episode, please like my site!
All for now!