COMING BACK STRONG!
It was early 1995 and my girlfriend at the time was complaining that I was having trouble hearing her. I made light of it by telling her I didn't want to be interrupted watching my beloved Pats to do my household chores (which those who know me will tell you I'm lousy at anyways!) Fortunately, she persisted and the bad news was about to get worse.
After many rounds of tests, it was determined that I had a benign brain tumor called an Acoustic Neuroma on my eighth cranial nerve (left side). I had no idea what any of this medical mumbo jumbo meant, but I knew it wasn't good. After the first several rounds of tests proved inconclusive, my doctor told me that I needed an MRI to see what was really going on. I had never had one but with all the negative things that I heard about this test I knew it would not be a lot of fun.
I remember driving down 93 south to Stoneham to see what fate had in store for me. Little did I know that what was about to happen was worse than I ever could have imagined! The very pleasant young technician pointed to a long, cylindrical (and very confining!) tube and said "just hop up on this table and slide on in.” She said, “You have to hold yourself perfectly still while you hear a constant loud banging.”
I asked her how long I would have to do this and she said 45 minutes. My answer was along the lines of "you are not going to put this big body in that little tube for 45 seconds, never mind 45 minutes.” I jumped up, thanked her for trying and flew out the door.
I called my doctor to report back that it was not going to happen and she said we had one more option (a CT scan), but if that didn't work I have to have an MRI. Fortunately the scan was conclusive and it was time to cowboy up (thank you Kevin Millar) for the biggest challenge of my life. It didn't dawn on me just how serious this was until the intake nurse started asking questions for the power of attorney form. Dad was with me for moral support which I found very comforting until I turned to him and saw the panic stricken look on his face. We completed the paperwork in stone-cold silence and off I went to be prepped for surgery. Fortunately it was quick and painless until the drugs kicked in and I was off to la la land.
Then the next thing I remember is waking up to the very relieved faces of Mom, Dad and Michele. It felt like I had just taken an extremely long nap when in reality it was 10 hours of excruciatingly detailed brain surgery. I was very fortunate to have what I consider to be the best neurological team in the world. It all seemed so simple when I jogged out the front door of BWH five days later, thinking (naively it turns out!) that the worst was behind me. Six weeks passed, I went back to work at Cahners and even decided to dip my toe back into the dating pool. I did so with a tremendous amount of skepticism and trepidation but it turned out to be far and away the best decision of my life!
But I'm getting ahead of myself and it wasn't destined to be quite that easy. When I went back in for what I thought was a routine follow up MRI, Dr. Black came out after checking the results with a frown on his face, I knew the news was not good. It turns out that while they had removed the entire tumor they had not killed off the surrounding tumor cells and it had grown back with a vengeance.
I asked my autoneurologist what would happen if I decided not to have the surgery. His response was very simple, "you will die" (thanks for your candor Dr. V!). I decided to go ahead with the surgery and was truly blessed to have arguably the best neurosurgeon heading up my team. Dr. Peter Black was truly the best of the best.
Aside from the permanent hearing loss in my left ear, I felt great and was ready to get back to a job that I loved (ad sales at Cahners). Shortly after that my life took an amazing turn, when I met my soulmate. Susan and I met through a personal ad in the local newspaper (yes kids they did have those before match and eHarmony). We began dating seriously and then moved in together.
Shortly thereafter it was determined that my tumor had returned with a vengeance.
It was time (in early 1997) for surgery number two. Sure was a heckuva birthday present! This one was more complex since they not only had to remove the tumor but scrape around it to remove the remaining tumor cells. The resulting headaches prevented me from sitting, standing or lying down. All I was able to do was drown my sorrows in comfort food. I ate and ate until I resembled a cross between the Goodyear Blimp and the Michelin Man.
It was time to commit to what has become a 20 year return to good health. Someone much wiser than I
( which actually encompasses a lot of people!), once said "slow and steady wins the race.” I took that advice and slowly began to re-shape my thinking and eating habits.
I am proud to say that with the help of Susan's cooking healthy meals and many hours in the gym, I have reached my high school football playing weight 47 years after playing my last game!
My new goal is to reach the age of 95 so that I can dance with my lovely bride on our 50th wedding anniversary!
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