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Finding a brain tumor

Reflecting on the anniversary of my diagnosis

Little did I know it, but in a few moments my whole life was about to change. I walked into the emergency room at Mass Eye & Ear Infirmary and would not be home for 10 grueling days.

A day earlier, my optometrist called while I was outside playing with the boys in the snow (it seemed strange to call on a Sunday afternoon). I answered and Dr. Chang insisted that I go to the ER at MEEI first thing tomorrow morning. He told me he would call in the details and that they would be able to work-up the issue immediately. I thought we just had a routine eye exam where glasses would correct the blurry vision and headaches I had been experiencing the past few months. He wrote something else on my discharge paper that I did not think much of at the time "papilledema.”

“Is it terminal?” stumbled out of my mouth as the doctor in the ER informed me, “we found the cause of the papilledema." Pulling up my MRI scans, he showed me how a tumor was causing a dangerous amount of fluid to build up leading to the swollen cornea nerve and cranial pressure my optometrist noticed on Friday. The chill of this moment is still palpable for me today. I sat in shock. Exactly how long it all took escapes me, but soon the doctor was explaining how they would immediately admit me to the adjacent hospital, MGH, and get me to all the right people and places.

“Would you like to call your wife?” My Lord, I can’t do this. This happens to other people—not to me. I called Kate and she answered trembling (I assume the hospital was some unknown number). “It’s me… They found a tumor.” I’m not sure all that came out of my mouth in that moment, but it was full of tears and unanswerable questions. Unsure of what happens next, she suggested I call my family.

No visitors, no exceptions. COVID-19 has the hospital on lockdown. Not even my wife? I’m ushered to MGH on a stretcher, given the deep nasal COVID test and wait alone. Texts and calls start to come in. Kate quickly mobilized an army of believers. There were hundreds I’d find out later, all ready to go to prayer war on my behalf.

As the heat of the moment cooled and I spoke with my family and a few friends, a surgeon came in. She introduced herself, Dr. J. She walked me through what was happening. I’m not sure when, but Eric called. He was on the phone while Dr. J walked me through the scans. I sent him pictures asking what he thought. My confidence always grows around Eric. He probably thought I was a fool asking his opinion with a world-class neurosurgeon in the room 😉.

Dr. J had a special presence about her. It was like she commanded the room and everyone else paused. She would lead the surgery to remove the bulk of the tumor as soon as possible. Before leaving, probably realizing fear was settling in, she squeezed my arm. It felt like no one else would come within 6-feet of me without a swab or a needle. With compassion Dr. J told me, “Don’t worry. I do this hundreds of times each year. It’s going to be OK.” It was like God sent an angel to comfort me right when I needed it most.

Finally, I was admitted and given a room to myself. I wasn’t sure when the surgery would be scheduled, but I was told it was likely tomorrow or the following day, which would be my 35th birthday.

God met me in the valley that night as I sat utterly alone. Dozens of questions I didn’t want the answers to churned in my mind. I would not be allowed a single visitor and it remained that way for the duration of the most traumatic experience of my life.

But, I was never alone.

5. For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from him.
6. He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7. On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
- Psalm 62:5-7