Brain Tumor Survivor: Michael S.
last Updated: 8/12/17
I wanted to share my story on this site because I vividly remember how much reading the accounts of others made me feel less alone. I remember how these stories gave me a glimmer of hope in a time where everything seemed to be growing darker, when the prognosis felt so grim. This narrative of mine has recently entered its seventh year, and I have passed enough milestones that now motivate me to write about my experience.
Seated in the emergency department, in May 2009, a nurse pushed lorazepam into my IV line to control my shaking before transporting me to an MRI. The CT image in front of me displayed a lesion in my brain that would later be diagnosed as an anaplastic astrocytoma. At that moment, I was a twenty-three year old biomedical engineer working for a medical device company in research and development, had recently moved in with my girlfriend, and had always been healthy. Everything changed; I become a cancer patient overnight. The events following my diagnosis were a blur. Following an awake craniotomy, I began treatment that included external beam radiation and concurrent chemotherapy in the form of Temodar.
Following my initial treatment I began adjuvant therapy of five on twenty three days off Temodar. I was fortunate enough to have no delays due to neutropenia throughout my time receiving treatment. Fast forward a year and one recurrence scare (a second opinion was invaluable in avoiding a second craniotomy) I found myself in a completely different state and city with my now fiancée starting medical school. I was looking for a job, continuing my Temodar regimen, and trying to answer the ever present question in my mind: "What do I want to do with my life?" There were other questions of course, but the answer to this one I realized I actually had some control over. Ironically I had never had such introspection before I was diagnosed, when my perceived "time" seemed to be in oversupply.
The answer I came up with is that I wanted to matter; I wanted my life to have more meaning. I wanted to positively impact those around me during whatever time I had left on this planet. It sounds a little ridiculous and dramatic typed out like that but that is truly how I felt. And so, I began volunteering over the next year in medical clinics and mobile hospitals that went around the underserved neighborhoods of New Orleans. Eventually this culminated in my decision to become a physician and the desire to provide care to those who are diagnosed with cancer. My motivation came from a strong desire to reciprocate the heartfelt compassion and support I received during my treatment to patients of my own.
Four years later and a score of stable MRIs, I recently graduated medical school and matched into the field of radiation oncology. Although I have more years of training still ahead of me, I have found fulfillment in life that I would not have had otherwise. The future is always uncertain, for cancer survivors and for everyone else, and I am still learning how to balance living for the moment while planning for the time ahead. Those diagnosed with a brain tumor may tread very different paths, but we are all survivors beginning on Day 1. I have been living my life as such, and encourage those I meet as well as my future patients that although we may have cancer, we are not defined by it.
It's been over a year already; amazing how fast time flies. I recently had another stable MRI and decided with my oncologist to move to 1-year intervals. Quite the jump after going from every 2 months to 3, 4, and recently 6 months respectively. While less surveillance can be a little anxiety provoking, it also brings quite a sense of relief. Since the last update, I have also started my residency in radiation oncology and find fulfillment on a daily basis in the care and treatment of those diagnosed with cancer (especially since it wasn't that long ago I was in their situation). Life is good and I am fortunate to still be alive. Until next time.
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