This is the Cascade Brain & Spine Center (Bellingham, WA)…an ominously-named medical facility.  I used to drive by this place and think to myself, “Wow,  I hope I never have to make use of their facilities.”  Hmm…

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Sometime in mid-Oct. 2007, I had what I thought was a blackout and lost consciousness when I stood up quickly from the couch after feeling light-headed.  My doctor thought this was from a form of hyperventilating (I’d been feeling little “waves of pressure” go through my head for some time, but thought they were just fatigue). 

In May 2008, the day after a pretty rockin’ Memorial Day party at my house, it happened again.  Only this time, I hit the corner of the couch with one shoulder (which I seperated) and landed on the floor with the other (which I cracked).  Totally didn’t feel a thing; nor do I remember conversing with my roommate after he found me sprawled out on the floor.

About a month and a half later, in July, I rode my bike to my physical therapist (who I’d been seeing since injuring my rotator cuffs in the May fall).  At some point, I turned the corner to get to my driveway, hit the garage door opener…and the next thing I remember is being in my bathroom, bleeding from some severe facial cuts and feeling really nauseous.  After patching myself up a bit, I did some detective work and deduced that I’d started blacking out while on the bike, came inside and got partially undressed, then lost consciousness (hitting my right eye socket and forehead on the sharp corner of my dresser, pictured below), lay on the floor bleeding for awhile, and eventually got myself up and into the bathroom (again, not remembering a thing)…

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…the cut, by the way, missed my eyeball by about 1/2 inch and left the resulting dent.  I’ve since tried to replicate this damage with a shoe, a book, even a rock, with no success.  Seriously, I shouldn’t have an eye right now.

The next day (I’m a guy, remember), I got in to see my doctor’s Nurse Practitioner, who was understandably alarmed at the whole thing.  She right away scheduled me for a neuro MRI at…you guessed it, the Cascade Brain & Spine Center.  Ahh, sweet irony, you got me again!

Here’s what they found on July 18, 2008…

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After being told “You have a brain tumor,” I don’t really remember much.  Things just sort of slip into a cartoon-like surrealism at that point, when you know your old reality doesn’t exist anymore, and you haven’t decided how to feel about this one yet. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I believe everyone should have the experience of believing they might have a terminal illness.  While waiting four days for the neurosurgery consult, things got very real, very fast.   I had to accept that, yes, it was very likely this was how my story would end, and would be how my nieces and nephews would talk about me in years to come.  There’s really nothing you can do at that point but let God do what He was planning on doing anyway, and just let Him know that you’d like to be as useful as possible during the process.

My initial consult was hopeful, and before I knew it, I was getting wheeled into surgery at University of Washington Medical Center on August 14, 2008.  I gotta say, I felt great going in, knowing how much my quality of life would be improved by getting this lump outta my head (not to mention that I might be able to stop singing PUSA songs); the surgeons later described me as “ecstatic.”  They found this really odd; I just felt really comforted by the Holy Spirit about what was going on here.

Surgery was a success; though, as expected, I couldn’t move my left arm/leg for a few days (part of the rewiring process the Right Frontal Lobe was undergoing).  In the coming days, I had to stare at my limp limbs, think through what I wanted them to do, then grunt & strain to do things as simple as making a fist.  Breakthroughs eventually started building upon breakthroughs, though, and after a week I was on my way back up to Bellingham (saving my family a two-hour drive each way to see me), to re-learn how to walk and balance.  Things were looking great…

…then I got the pathology report back, which revealed the tumor to be cancerous.  Meaning, even though the tumor had been completely removed, it might try to come back.  Technically, this could be more devastating than the initial diagnosis; however, I just saw it as nothing more than another hurdle, plus I saw something I had that many others don’t: options.  So, even though doctors started throwing around average life spans after diagnosis, I just decided that I was going to be fine.  End of discussion.

I’ve told my doctors that I am choosing to walk the line between optimism and delusion; many folks I’ve since talked with have confirmed that this is really the only way to get through this kind of thing.  You can choose to become miserable, or you can decide that you’ll be fine.  Either way, you’ve made a choice. 

(Another angle of this reaction was my realizing that, if I was going to be fine, why would I want to spend that time missing out on what God might do during this short window of time?)  

Well, to make a very long story slightly shorter, Wednesday I wrap up the first leg of what will continue to be a very long journey (follow-up chemo for 6 mos., MRI’s every 6 mos. for at least 5 years).  We’re never out of the woods with this kind of thing, but really, are any of us really in control of things? 

I can honestly say that my first reactions were ones of disappointment“This isn’t the way my story’s supposed to play out!”  “You mean, after surgery and rehab, now I have to do radiation and chemo, too?”  “I really just wanted to get that telegram from Sam Wainwright, telling me that my problems were over and I could just walk away…”

But, you know what?  Having gone through all this, I can honestly say I feel nothing but gratitude.  Gratitude that those seizures didn’t severly injure myself (or others).  Gratitude that it was a pretty easy tumor to locate and remove.  Gratitude for all the amazing medical staff I’ve encountered along the way; for an unbelievable support network that’s stepped up in every way to help me through a challenging time; and for a diagnosis that was by no means a death sentence.  Gratitude for a loving God who comforts and guides us in ways we can’t see in the midst of dark storm clouds; and who answers that prayer I will never, ever pray again:

“God, things have been a little dry lately.  If you want to shake things up a little, I’m up for it…”

I look forward to seeing more of what He’s done in my life and yours through this whole thing…