Many people will look at this title and wonder if maybe I received a bit too much chemotherapy or radiation. I might have, but I'm alive today.
In 1996, at the age of 26, I was diagnosed with a grade 3 oligodendroglioma. The tumor was located in the left temporal lobe, up against my speech center. Initial symptoms showed up during a routine physical exam with my new primary care physician. I remember him asking me the same questions over and over. I started thinking maybe he wasn't such a good doctor after all. He could not understand me. In fact, I was having a partial seizure. I was speaking what is called "word salad," but to me it was clear.
Within one week, after experiencing another partial seizure at home, I was scheduled for an EEG. Soon to follow were many CTs and MRIs. Two weeks later, I had an awake craniotomy to remove as much of the tumor as possible. I remember some details of the surgery. It was very interesting, but not painful.
The next step was radiation. It started about three months later and went right through Christmas and the New Year. Radiation lasted about six weeks. Another step accomplished; on to chemo I went. It consisted of Procarbazine, CCNU and Vincristine, a total of six rounds over twelve months.
Chemotherapy was a very challenging part of my life. During treatments, I was unable to drive due to tiredness and the possibility of having seizures. I really found out who my friends were. Many people drove me to work and treatments. I observed some of their driving techniques and sometimes wondered if I would be safer driving myself, but they always got me there, accident free.
Back to the beginning. How did I cope with a diagnosis like this? I wanted to punch or kick a hole in the wall. I didn't because I figured I would have to pay for that too. Why me? I was only 26 years old and working as a registered nurse in an adult intensive care unit. I didn't smoke or drink alcohol. Why couldn't this be someone else? My job was to help others.
After surgery, I was determined to go back to work. I worked off and on through radiation and chemo. My director at work was great. She understood what I was going through. She allowed me to take easier assignments and stay home when I needed to. Towards the end of the treatments, I took short-term disability leave. I was exhausted, but I had made it.
I made plans with my wife, Jodie, to do something fun, something to celebrate after seventeen months of hard work. Two months after my treatments, we were off to Disney World. Overall, the trip was well worth it. However, I would highly recommend that you skip the corndog-and-lemonade combination if you want to go on some wild rides after chemo.
Pets are great. My dog, Dakota kept me going every day through treatment. On the good days, Dakota made me walk him. On the bad days, he would sleep at my feet and only require a few belly rubs from me. He gave me something to do while Jodie continued to work as much as she could.
My wife and I occasionally left town between treatments. We would head to the mountains and find a cheap hotel to stay in. Most of the time I would just sleep, but anything to help us relax was a positive thing. Our marriage became much closer during this time.
Before my diagnosis, Jodie and I were planning out our whole lives. We would look years ahead. Our schedules had no openings. We now live day-to-day and week-to-week. This is much easier and less stressful. I now have more time to pray with God. Not a day goes by without my thanking God for being alive. My two favorite songs are "One More Day" and "Live Forever" by David Bailey, who is also a brain tumor survivor. If you have not yet heard his music, you need to.
Since my energy level has returned, I have become more active. I now play softball, ski, attempt to golf, and enjoy four-wheeling. Somewhere along the line, my wife signed me up at a fitness center. I think that physical activity is a great way to relieve stress and boost the body's immune system, so now I do a small amount of running and weightlifting.
Being a nurse with a cancer diagnosis has given me a new perspective. I enjoy helping others find information about their particular brain cancer and letting them know that getting a second opinion is okay. Knowing about your situation can decrease the fear of a cancer diagnosis. I feel that it is better to know than to not know. I enjoy sharing what I have been through with others so they don't have to feel alone.
All of the information I have shared with you is what I call the "benefits" of having a brain tumor. I have a new focus in life and it is a better one, full of purpose and meaning.