A few years back during a visit to my gastroenterologist, he told me that he was just sharing with his secretary how inspired he was by me and my ability to bounce back from each medical setback, emerging stronger and a bit more wiser. Being that I had been seeing him for an entirely different set of challenges for close tot fifteen years, he had seen me move from one health setback to another. While I was taken aside and visibly humbled by his words, all I could come up with was some gibberish about how, after all these years of fighting, I was tired and I wasn’t to sure I wanted to fight anymore. Note that this was a few years prior to my latest discovery of another brain tumor and being diagnosed with a neurological disorder that has no cure or known treatment.
Still, to this day, I find myself fighting and adjusting to meet new challenges. Truth is, we’re all a lot stronger than we’ll ever give don’t give ourselves credit for. No matter what a person, or doctor tells you. It can’t override your desire, strength or determination to make the most out of what you have.To be happy with what you do have or can do and not to be preoccupied with the things you don’t.
Just for the hell of it. I decided to revisit twelve year old me and rewrite the article I mentioned in my last post “Unfinished Business” What I wrote below was taken from the school newspaper article I mentioned, a journal I kept at the time as well as memories that still remain fresh all these years later.
Several weeks ago, I began experiencing severe headaches. It all started during school hours and became such a distraction that I was often excused to go down to the Principals office to request they call home to have someone pick up and take me home. Being that I’ve built somewhat of a reputation as a trouble maker. I was initially scolded and told to stop slacking off and get my ass back to class. Days passed and as the headaches became more sever, my trips to the principals office increased. Despite all of the warning signs, health concerns took a back seat and I was sent to see a school shrink. I was asked questions like “Is there anything or anyone bothering you?” “Is everything okay at home?” You know, text book questions one would ask. “No, man. I’m just experiencing crippling headaches. Can I go home now?”
Within a couple of days I was in a doctors office. His assertion was I had been experiencing intense migraine headaches. Something that could easily be tamed by medication, which he described. In the days that followed, my condition worsened, I wasn’t making it to school and due to my parents conflicting work schedules. I was staying with my grandmother. By then. I was not capable of eating and could not handle any light, whatsoever. I vividly recall the overpowering light that emanated from my grandmothers 12′ inch B&W TV being more than my eyes could take. Quickly, (I’m talking about a matter of days.) I began hallucinating. (Here was this kid who sucked at fifth grade Math hallucinating ratios most kids don’t know of until grad school,) That’s when I remember being taken to the emergency room.
Upon arrival, I remember being taken in pretty quickly. (No three hour wait to have his temperature taken, given a few aspirin before being sent home with a bill resembling a school loan for this kid.) A CAT scan taken that night revealed a rather large pineal tumor on the middle of my brain. From there I was quickly admitted to the hospital where I had emergency surgery that was meant to keep me alive. Though I was not told at the time, my parents were gently told to make funeral arrangements. The date was October 11th and by all projections, I would be dead before I got to enjoy Thanksgiving dinner….
As I sat in the neurologist’s office going over recent tests we hoped would shed some light on my worsening speech patterns and balance issues, I tried to control my emotions as I felt myself choking up. As he shared the results and his conclusive diagnosis. I found myself struggling to hold back the tears and the snot bubble that was massing in my right nostril, Suddenly, as I felt my wife’s hand tighten on mine. I turned to her lovingly only to notice the tears rolling down her cheek.
The answers we had been hoping for were not there. This was a month that featured X-Rays on my shunt. An MRI and CAT Scan on my brain and enough blood work to make a vampire foam at the mouth. It turned out that my symptoms had nothing to do with a recently discovered meningioma brain tumor residing on the opposite side of the brain where my original pineal tumor (The one doctors deemed as terminal. Giving me a month to live at the ripe age of twelve.) had remained or my 2008 stroke that was brought on by a build up from the radiation I originally received to shrink said tumor. Issues that could be easily understood, treated and easily removed.
Instead, what they found was a rare, often genetic neurological disorder known as FAhr’s Syndrome. A disorder that has no cure or standard treatment. One that progresses over time, but won’t kill you. After the doctor went over each test with visual descriptions, he turned to us and said, “I wish I had better news for you.” A term which is easily translated to “Sorry, but you’re fucked.” Having amassed a stockpile of sarcasm and dark humor over the years, I asked, “If I drop you a few extra dollars for your next trip to the local strip club, would you prescribe a toxic cocktail that can put an end to my misery?” Instead of agreeing to my request, I was referred to physical and speech therapists. Complete with a follow up date and the name/number of a social worker.I was all but dismissed. The worst part of it all, at least for me, was seeing my wife cry. We’ve been through a lot together (My 2002 shunt replacement, 2008 stroke, my struggles and sleepless nights due to an ongoing struggle with Gastroesophageal reflux disease as well as my numerous trips to the Emergency Room.) and she’s been at my side during every bump in the road. She’s a loving, supporting and very strong woman. Yet, I’ve only seen her cry twice in all our years together. Both being times when I was hospitalized or being diagnosed with some kind of bullshit.
While it’s hard for me to properly articulate what I’m about to say. Life has taught me that there’s nothing I can’t handle. I’ve seen a lot and I’ve been through more. We are all a lot stronger than we ever give ourselves credit for. Though in my case, hearing stories from friends and loved ones who were around to witness some of the things I went through was more than I could take. More than I would ever want to burden anyone with. I don’t know if I ever told anybody this, but I often feel a tremendous sense of guilt for what I put them through. In getting the news of the next gift from God. I finally shared my thoughts of how I wished the original 10/11/1982 diagnosis of “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do. Your son will most likely be dead within the month.” Would have been fulfilled. Because, somehow, their saving me led to a lifetime of related bullshit that I couldn’t shield the people I loved from.
While my rant was not received well by family, friends, or my doctor. It was something I had been feeling and wanted to be honest about. In retrospect. I’ve lived a charmed life. One that’s granted me love, happiness and enough positive experiences to look look forward to and back on for years to come. All the negatives are just bumps along an otherwise smooth road.