"Hope is a good thing... maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies." -Andy Dufresne
It was a bad time to have a physical problem. Luckily for me, however, I was discharged from the military and sent home - leaving my "neurological issue" to be fully diagnosed by civilian physicians. The diagnosis, as it were, only consisted of a simple cat scan, to reveal a very large and obvious Ependymoma tumor. The tumor was located in the posterior fossa region of my brain (near the brain stem and cerebellum) and was a stage II cancer. I was very fortunate to have a 100% total resection of the tumor, during a long craniotomy. I also had 5400 cgy's of radiation, to further treat the area.
My situation was extremely difficult because my wife and I were newlyweds. In addition, we had recently purchased a new home, had a five month old son, and several other responsibilities. I could barely walk, barely talk, and barely see... All of this, and I was only 27 years old. Furthermore, I was always extremely athletic and physically fit. My training regimen and exercise routine were second to none (Monday through Friday: lifting weights and running, for about ten years, like clockwork). I had a lifelong devotion to fitness. I never drank alcohol, used drugs or had any other bad habits. I've always competed, and done well. I was the “picture of health.”
So, when I was diagnosed, I was very depressed, to say the least. I went from being this "picture of health" to being a "picture of cancer." I couldn’t even drive a vehicle anymore! Even if I wanted to do something as simple as jump in my car and drive up to the corner gas station to buy a pack of gum, I had to load my five month old son into the vehicle, and get my wife to drive me. I had no independence!
My current 3+ year survival is highlighted by severe and uncorrectable diplopia (twisted and flip flopped double vision), and a very poor gait. In fact, the poor gait is the worst part of my new physical state. I feel "drunk" all the time, which is ironic, because I've never drank a drop of alcohol in my life. Even after three years, I constantly struggle with something as simple as walking...a far cry from being able to dunk a basketball!
So, how have I coped during my depression and new found physical state? Very easy - with love and hope from the two greatest people in the world (my wife and son: Shannon and Alex). Since the first day I was in the hospital, Shannon has never complained or shown any sign that she wasn’t willing to “fight.” That made all the difference to me. The fact that my beautiful bride (and best friend) was brave and thought I could win this battle, made me feel invincible. Just knowing that Shannon would stand by my side, no matter what, also encouraged me to accept my physical “limitations.” The way I saw it was simple, “If she doesn’t care, I don’t care.”
I just do the best that I can. Sometimes I fall down. Sometimes I get stared at in public. Sometimes I still get depressed. But Shannon and Alex always love me, so I get back up, I stare back, and I mirror the love of my wife and son.
When I was coming out of the hospital, I remember Shannon telling me that she would do anything for me, and that all I had to do was “the best that I can.” She went on to say that “the best” is all I can do. She said that she and Alex would always “do their best,” and stick by my side, as long as I did my best to meet them half way.
Since that cold autumn and winter in 2004, Shannon has been through it all. She has been my personal chauffeur, personal chef, and overall caretaker. Many of her caretaker responsibilities are incredible. I can only imagine that nearly any other young woman would have left me for dead.
As for my boy, his job has been an easy one… just loving me. Alex is 4 now, but he doesn’t know that daddy is different. He doesn’t recall my long period of hospitalization, radiation therapy or rehabilitation. He knows I use a cane and an eye patch, but to him, I am just Daddy. I’m the guy who wrestles on the floor with him and tickles him, and lets him watch Sponge Bob. I’m the guy who tells him it’s time for bed. And best of all, I’m the guy he tells, “I love you, Daddy.”
This love has made my life seem much more simple and understandable. I have discovered an uncanny ability to overcome virtually any adversity, through perseverance… which has been inspired by the two greatest people in the world. Their love and hope has kept me alive, and more importantly - it has kept me happy!
To enjoy a similar state of happiness, I think it is important for anyone trying to fight a brain tumor, to have someone, or a group of people, who love them and give them hope, as my wife and little boy have for me.
In closing, I would like to share a quote from someone who knows what it is like to persevere, despite adversity:
“Hope is a good thing… maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”