“How brain cancer EMPOWERed me to create and experience the life I envision” (step 1 of my 8-step plan to get you back on track towards pursuing the life you envision despite a cancer diagnosis or other major life-altering event).
STEP 1: Perform a self-assessment. What is my vision for my life? Write it down.
This post stems from a very simple, yet very powerful question: What is my vision for my life? If you would have asked me that question prior to June 26, 2015, I probably would have said something along the lines of, “I envision a life where my wife Ashley and I have created a happy, healthy, and love-filled family and home; where we both have jobs that are fulfilling and that we enjoy; and where we invest our resources in creating memorable and rewarding experiences. This would likely manifest as lots of fun, challenging, and interesting adventure trips around the world.” A more succinct way of putting this would be, “My vision for my life is to build a HAPPY and HEALTHY home and family together with my wife Ashley, and to have many fun and fulfilling adventures and experiences around the world with her.”
Getting back to that date of June 26th, 2015, that was the day that Ashley and I were scheduled to close on our first home together, a house that we designed and built from the ground up and watched grow together over the course of 8 exciting months. This was part of our grand vision for our life together, our “forever” house where we would start and grow a family, and which would serve as our home base for all of our future adventures around the world.
Speaking of adventures, a few short weeks earlier in May of 2015, we had just completed a week-long trek on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, which was by far the coolest and most rewarding trip we had ever taken together, and it was the first of what we dreamed would be a lifetime of amazing adventures. Earlier on that very same day, Friday the 26th of June, I had an MRI of my brain to figure out why I had been experiencing some very serious headaches and visual disturbances over the weeks following our return from Peru. A few hours before we were supposed to be at the lawyer’s office for the closing on our new house, we received a phone call from my doctor’s office: the brain MRI revealed a golf ball-sized mass on my right thalamus and I was to go straight to the emergency room.
The next day, instead of participating in the scheduled move into our brand-new house we found ourselves sitting face-to-face with world-renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Allan Friedman at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Medical Center. Ashley and I learned that day just how quickly the course of our life could (and would) change, from the very height of excitement about the awesome trip we had just taken and moving into our brand-new home, to the very depths of uncertainty and despair as Dr. Friedman laid out the stark reality that I would be undergoing an urgent yet incredibly risky brain surgery just four days later.
One week after surgery we would discover that the cause of all of my strange and sudden symptoms was a very aggressive malignant brain tumor called a grade 4 glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), which historically has a very poor rate of survival (median survival time left untreated is something like 15 months). My vision for my life clearly did not include a provision for brain cancer, so what to do now? Suffice it to say, we were very unprepared for all of the trials, tribulations, and minutiae of recovery from surgery, radiation and chemotherapy treatments, immunotherapy treatments, physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychotherapy, medical bills and health insurance issues, and seemingly endless visits to the Duke Cancer Center for follow-up MRI scans, PET scans, blood draws for lab work, and doctor’s appointments. This was a far cry from the life I had previously envisioned, but it is the life that I was suddenly thrown into and have been living ever since that fateful day on June 26th, 2015.