I recently experienced a life-changing event – one of those traumatic, horizon-shifting, heart-wrenching happenings that are so drastic, it changes you at your core in a way you could never “will” to happen on your own.
2 years ago, after experiencing seizures, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor located deep within my brain, in a region neurosurgeons refer to as the eloquent cortex. I underwent a risky brain surgery while fully awake which allowed a skilled surgeon to achieve a gross total resection. After six months of recovery and experiencing absolutely no degenerative effects I was given a clean bill of health. My doctor asked me to return every few months for MRI scans so they could watch for any new tumor recurrence – because, in his words, “a brain tumor survivor is never truly out of the woods.”
The experience changed me in many ways, but by far the greatest way is that I now have an even deeper desire to enjoy connection with others – first, with my wife and daughter; then with my close friends and faith community. I’ve been married for fifteen years, my daughter is only four, and I pastor a new church in the heart of Orange County, California.
Although I have always tried to prioritize people over tasks, this is an area where I have consistently struggled. However, after experiencing the vulnerability of being completely reliant on my loved ones because of my brain surgery, I have truly learned there is nothing more valuable and worthy of investment than the people closest to you - both, so you can enjoy them when times are good and also lean on them when times are tough.
Two months ago, while reviewing my most recent MRI scan, my physician informed me that a new tumour has recurred. The seizures have returned, I am scheduled for another brain surgery next month and I am in the process of choosing what cancer treatment plan we will pursue. The future is uncertain and there are many unknowns, and yet I feel strong because I am being held up by my family and faith community.
“Why me?” It’s the universal question, one all of us ask when we face hard times. It is a short but complex question. Facing a disease with no cure, I am asking many complex questions. Humbly, I have no idea how the universe works – why some people must face such brutal obstacles while others escape with only minor bumps and bruises.
I found strange solace in learning that an estimated 23,880 adults (in the U.S.) will also be facing a similar diagnosis this year, a tumour in the brain or spinal cord. I pictured myself sitting in a Major League Baseball stadium packed to capacity with people all in the same boat as me. This image helped normalise the diagnosis. Each individual will have a unique road to walk and each of us will have the opportunity to experience various victories as we overcome numerous obstacles along the way.
Author credit: Jay Hewitt