ABTA

An Exclusive Club

It’s one thing to talk about brain tumors. It’s quite another thing to have one.

Rick Franzo realized that early on after his three experiences with brain tumors. In December of 2009, in an effort to help ease the loneliness and frustration faced by patients and their families, he created “Brain Tumor Talk” on Facebook to bring patients and their families together for support and information.

Today, the group has 8,900 plus members from the United States and 47 different countries. “It is an exclusive club that no one wants to be a part of,” says Franzo from his home in the Pocono Mountains area of Pennsylvania. “Before this diagnosis I thought I was one of the strongest people around. But it dropped me like a sack of dirt. It was a very humbling experience for me.”

The Facebook page is full of heartbreaking but also inspirational stories. Some ask for advice for common side effects such as seizures and severe headaches, for example, and others share photos of “battle scars” eliciting encouraging, positive comments. Someone might ask for help determining what it feels like when a seizure is coming on and another might offer a quote such as “I want to inspire people. I want someone to look at me and say ‘because of you I did not give up.’ “

“It is all about fellowship, surrounding people with others who “get it,” Franzo says of the Facebook page, which he believes is the largest general brain tumor support group in the world. The hardest part, he says, is when members lose their fight with the disease, which he likened to a “street fight” with no rules or referees.

His personal story is daunting and is one that he shares with others through public speaking and now in a career as a business coach. In May of 2009, he was playing horseshoes at a barbeque when all of a sudden, he lost all strength and coordination on the right side of his body. His throws were short and off, enough to get teased by his buddies and scaring him enough to see a doctor.  An MRI a few weeks later revealed a meningioma the size of a cheeseburger that doctors estimated had been growing for up to 10 years. While the tumor was benign – a word he and other survivors detest – he went through more than 10 hours of surgery and ended up with a titanium plate in his head and was paralyzed from the waist down, collateral damage from the “benign” brain tumor.

After extensive rehab, he had to learn to walk again, which he now is able to do. In 2011, another meningioma was diagnosed as residual growth, but is considered stable. A routine MRI found an acoustic neuroma tumor in 2017 and he underwent Gamma Knife radiosurgery. He has hearing loss in 50 percent of his right ear and struggles with balance issues.

“I want to show others that the tumors don’t get to win,” Franzo says of the disease. He credits the American Brain Tumor Association with giving him and others hope for the future in terms of advances in research in areas like genetic testing and breaking the blood/brain barrier for those with metastatic brain tumors. And, he is happy that the association assists patients and listens and learns from them. “Patient care is a lot better than it used to be.”

He is a peer mentor with the American Brain Tumor Association for others with brain tumors, was a host and speaker for the BT5k race in New York City in 2016 and directs people to the American Brain Tumor Association website to get good, accurate information, resources and support.

After more than 30 years of working in sales and marketing in both small and large companies in the areas of radio, retail grocery, catering and bookstores, he recently formed a C-Corp and became a franchisee for The Growth Coach, assisting small and medium-sized businesses. “My mission as a Growth Coach is to assist business owners who want to bring balance and stability to their professional and personal lives. I am excited as it is an alignment with my personal goals and an extension of my almost decade of advocacy and facilitation in the brain tumor community worldwide.”

To read Franzo’s story in book form or Kindle, Google How Horseshoes Saved My Life: A Tale of Two Brain Tumors.


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