So you have a brain tumor…now what?

Life is not fair. Crazy cliche I know, but when you are presented with challenges; whether they be financial, spiritual, or health related you start to ask “why me?”.  That is the natural reaction for most when we’re faced with hurdles in our lives. It is important not to feel ashamed or guilty when you react this way. Just learn to identify the feeling and start to address it rather than dwell in that place. Find what works best for you in order to gain some sort of acceptance of your situation, and then find a positive focus. Getting out of that dark, angry place of self-pity during an extreme life-challenge is easier said than done. It is my hope in starting to write about my experiences that I can record my encounters with the Universe’s challenges, how I dealt with them, where I didn’t succeed or struggled, and ultimately help myself and others in similar situations get to a more positive place in their lives.

I personally was taken to this place in my journey on August 4th, 2014. I received a call from my ENT physician while at work as a follow-up to a recent MRI I had done. I had the MRI in response to ringing in my left ear. While I had been told that the ringing was due to allergies and/or pressure in my ear canal, the ENT ordered an MRI as an extra precaution since the ringing had been going on for almost two years. Like most people, when your doctor calls you personally, you assume the worst. I was no different.

The result….a Meningioma OR an Acoustic Neuroma that was fairly “moderate” in size (2.6cm). The results were not conclusive as to which kind it was, but either way I was told “You have a BRAIN TUMOR“.

Naturally the first thoughts that overtake your mind are those of sheer panic (unlike anything I’ve ever felt in my 30 years up to that point), and “I am going to die”. Nothing wrong with feeling either of these things, because in the pantheon of health problems, brain tumors can be among the scariest.  I was told that I need to consult with Neuro Surgegons immediately. When I asked my doctor to elaborate on the prognosis and severity he told me I would need to defer to the “experts” because the tumor was in a “tricky spot” in the skull-base, and this was not his specialty. So of course this only made things worse.  One potential positive I was clinging to was whether it was a meningioma or acoustic neuroma,  either one of the tumors I was now facing were “typically” benign and slow growing, but still can be cancerous. That coupled with the moderate size and location made it imperative that I see a surgeon as soon as possible.

Here are a few of the major curveballs I need to mention in the story. First, I have an amazing wife who is the center of my universe. How could I possibly tell my best friend and partner that I have a brain tumor? I was a mess, and now more worried about this issue than the diagnosis. Second, and even bigger is that beautiful wife I just mentioned had given birth to our first child three weeks earlier. So not only was I going to have to drop a bombshell on my wife, I would be doing so to someone who had just gone through nine months of pregnancy, labor, and now that we are being honest, a bout of post-partum blues. The guilt I was already feeling on my commute home was eating me alive.

The big reveal was no better than I had played it out in my mind on the ride back from my office. The moment will be burned into my memory for as long as I live (hopefully another 60-75 years). My wife was changing our 3-week old son in our nursery and I couldn’t hold it back. I lost it when I told her “So the MRI results came back today, and the news wasn’t great”. There was a lot of crying and hugging and squeezing the baby as would be expected. The rest of that I will keep private, but full disclosure is that telling people closest to you will be one of the hardest things anyone with a serious health challenge will have to encounter in my opinion. So be prepared for it. Don’t be afraid to cry and swear, and be pitiful. In my opinion it is a necessary part of this process. Just do not stay there! Telling friends and family about a brain tumor after you have gone through your personal mourning period will be rough. My advice is to only tell those people who will be a positive influence in your journey back to “health” and normalcy. It is crucial to surround yourself in positivity from this point forward.

Over the course of the next few days I did something that most of us in this day and age do when they are given any kind of negative diagnosis. I went on the internet.  It is almost impossible to avoid this stage as most of us have made the web a part of our lives. Embrace this too. It is important to be informed about your situation ahead of any and all doctor visits. It can even be helpful to go on message boards in order to connect with people who are going through your situation or have already made it through their journey. There will be a point when you hit your “overexposure”  level for this however, and for me it was when I was spending 3 hours a day on a brain tumor message board. Eventually you get past the informative phase, and instead start reading about all of the negative outcomes of brain surgeries and become convinced all of these things are undoubtedly going to happen to you. Again, my message going forward will be to remain informed, REALISTIC about your situation and the challenges ahead, but not to dwell in the negative. When you find yourself in those message boards beyond 10 minutes…..shut it down! Go for a walk, read a book, meditate. You will need a positive outlet or something else to steer your focus.

That is where I want to stop this first entry. To remember to stay positive when possible, and always be real with yourself and your loved one’s when staying positive is too tough (this will be the case at many points).

At the time I am writing this entry and starting this blog, I am preparing for brain surgery. I want to document this journey from diagnosis, to surgery, and ultimately my recovery. Not just for myself, but for my wife, newborn son , and hopefully others in a similar situation that need to hear someone else’s journey.

I look forward to starting this project!

-Matthew Kendall

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