Young Father Lives the Unexpected

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February 15, 2013 - McGaheysville, Virginia

I know the feeling. When something is wrong and it's difficult to put a finger on exactly what it is. So instead of investigating the symptoms, I dismissed it as stress from work, dehydration, or even what being a "normal" 34 year old dad was like. I didn't think too much of frequent long lasting headaches and fatigue. In fact, I thought I was a warrior for battling through these things without complaining. On March 10, 2011, I received word that my mother lost her battle with Parkinson's disease. Officially her cause of death was Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder. She was so weak and this was not unexpected news. It was still however painful and challenging. My wife and I were expecting her to deliver a new baby boy any day. And she did in fact have our son on March 14. Both the sorrow and the elation from these events were overwhelming. It was decided that my wife's parents would stay with our daughter then 3 and a half years old and I would fly from Virginia to Wisconsin for the funeral. I arrived in Wisconsin on March 16, where I went from the plane immediately to the visitation. The funeral was to be held the next day. Early in the morning on March 17, I awoke with the worst migraine headache I had ever experienced. I was nauseated and spent part of the night on the bathroom floor. I spent the day of the funeral in a daze. I really think no one noticed anything out of the ordinary given the circumstances. On the 18th of March, I helped my dad move furniture from the assisted living facility where my mother had spent the last couple of months of her life. I flew back to Virginia on the 19th of March. After spending the day with family on the 20th, I went to my primary care physician on the 21st of March. The purpose of the appointment was twofold. I was to get a Pertussis vaccination for our new baby and I described my symptoms to my doctor at that time. My primary care physician asked how my past week had gone and I explained everything I had been through. It was easy for both of us to explain the migraine as a stress induced headache. 3 months later I drove the family cross country from Virginia to Wisconsin for a family visit. Everyone was excited to see our new baby boy. We also traveled to go to a friend's wedding. During the trip, I was lightheaded and experienced that same dazed feeling I had felt before. After a week visiting family, I drove everyone back home to Virginia. We arrived home on a Thursday. On Sunday June 12, while preparing to do some yard work, I had 3 tonic clonic seizures. I was taken by ambulance to our local hospital in Harrisonburg, Virginia. A C/T scan revealed there was a mass on my brain. From Harrisonburg, I was airlifted to the University of Virginia Medical Center. By early in the morning on the 13th of June, it was suspected I had a brain tumor on my front temporal lobe. A biopsy was scheduled for the 21st of June and successfully completed. The initial diagnosis was a Grade II Oligoastrocytoma. My oncologist and neurosurgeon both recommended that the tumor be resected and I was to take a steroid called Dexamethazone. During the next couple of months initially I did a lot of sleeping but then found artificial energy from the steroid. I did many fix it projects around the house as I was off work. The tumor resection was scheduled for August 5th. There are two main things I remember from the resection. One was the admitting nurse for the surgery recommending I read Anti-Cancer by Dr. David Servan-Schreiber. The other was the neurosurgeon coming to my room and saying, "We got all of the tumor we thought we would be able to get." After the resection, the tumor was sent to pathology. A further investigation of the tumor resulted in an upgraded diagnosis Anaplastic Oligoastrocytoma. My wife and I met with the oncologist who shared the news of the upgraded diagnosis. He recommended we pursue radiation treatment. So we did. Radiation was set to begin the day after Labor Day. I spent the month of August reading Anti-Cancer and battling a complication from surgery, a Serratia infection. I found the information in the book to be extremely helpful in redefining myself to live with brain caner. Included in the book was research about foods that have cancer fighting properties specific to my diagnosis. There is also advice of how to live in a detoxified environment. Most importantly for me, there was advice about how to maintain physical activity while undergoing treatment. I asked my neurosurgeon to refer me to a physical therapist. Shortly thereafter, I was matched with Tom. Initially when I met Tom, I could not hold my legs off the ground, while lying on my back for any duration of time. Tom immediately recognized the need for me to increase my core strength. We set to work. With his guidance and inspiration, I dedicated myself to getting stronger. By October I was getting stronger and was taken off a broad spectrum antibiotic administered by a PICC line. In November, there was a rare reoccurrence of the infection which required a surgical clean out of the site and the administration of a broad spectrum antibiotic once again. It was decided the bone flap from my tumor resection was the source of the infection. It was removed on December 2, 2011. With perseverance By May of 2012, I was discharged from Tom's care as I was doing leg raises and other challenging exercises. I had also placed second in a 5k run. In May of 2012, imaging revealed my tumor was dormant and imaging again in December of 2012 revealed no change at the site of the tumor. My skull flap has yet to be replaced with an acrylic plate. Currently I have a tissue expander in place to stretch the skin on my head to make room to insert the plate. The kids are now 2 and 5 years old. We've had our challenges in meeting their needs while getting through surgeries and recoveries. Given the diagnosis and the complications, we are so thankful that we value every day together so much more!