What Would You Do Differently Today if You Were Having Brain Surgery Tomorrow?

Standard

For you and me this is a hypothetical question, because in that way we’re lucky.

But the rhetoric is real for my friend.

A couple of weeks ago, I went to get a fast food dinner to support some of my favorite families, because the restaurant was giving half the value of anything purchased that night to their school.  I’m all about the two-toned beauty of take-out and showing up when it counts, so to me, it was a win-win.

Based on the ginormous line snaking out the door when I got there, half the neighborhood agreed.  Regardless, I dutifully stepped up, wrenched my phone from the ankle-biters, and hummed We Want the Funk under my breath to pass the time.

George Clinton

We want the funk! George Clinton Image via Flickr

It seemed that the lady behind me, who was clutching two kids wearing the uniform of the school I was there to support, didn’t like old-school hip-hop.  Or me.  She was mad, and she wasn’t singing a decades-old song under her breath.  Instead, she ran off a litany of rants that sounded a lot like:

“This line is ridiculous!”

“Do people (me) think we have all night to order?”

“I can’t believe,” heavy sigh, “that someone (me again) would be on their phone in the middle of a restaurant.”

My son, Taylor, was at basketball practice, my husband out of town, I had two straight-from-the-pool, dripping wet daughters next to me, I needed to be three places at once, I wanted to be a good friend, and I quickly glanced at my phone to place the order Taylor had texted about an hour before.

That’s it.

She probably thought I was playing Fruit Ninja, or trolling Safari for articles about Demi Moore.  But I wasn’t.  I was just doing my job as short-order cook and chauffeur extraordinaire for the fam.  Oh yeah, and supporting her kids’ school.

Fruit Ninja is played by using a touch pad to ...

Fruit Ninja Image via Wikipedia

As the back of my head absorbed her string of accusations, it became obvious she was frazzled.  But no more so than anyone else.  Her kids were probably hungry.  Ditto that.  And she obviously didn’t mind taking the news ticker of complaints running through her mind straight to the street.

That’s where I stopped short.

I was this close to going there, and shoving my phone down her throat.  But my soggy girls, wilting by the minute and aware that something was off, stared up at me with a look that questioned a lot more than the menu.  So I kept my mouth shut.

A side view of a Rotary phone

A rotary phone is hard to shove down someone’s throat. Image via Wikipedia

Instead, I stood there and thought of twelve things I’d say to her if I were alone.  That night?  I woke up at 3:00 a.m. and thought of twenty-three more.  I completely obsessed over ways I could fictitiously tell her where to go and how to get there until the next day, when I found out about my friend’s brain tumor.

And then?  That lady disappeared, and instead of stalking my every thought, took up zero percent of my space.  Which is where she should have been all along.

I tell anyone who will listen, but especially my kids, that it’s the small things in life that matter.  What I don’t often let on, because I forget it myself, is there are many smaller ones that don’t.

With that in mind, I’m asking you to help me with one of those small things that matters most.  Whether you pray, think positively, or wish upon stars, please keep my friend in your heart.  His surgery really is tomorrow, he’s one of the good guys, and the world is a much better place with him around.

***

This is my friend's brain tumor.

What was your first thought when you found out about your tumor?

Am I going to die? Be paralyzed? Permanently brain-damaged? What am I going to tell my oldest daughter, Maria?

What is your present state of mind?

That my life is on hold.  I’m worried complications may draw out what I expect to be an unpleasant experience, and I’m not looking forward to a hole being drilled in my head.  I’m also hoping that I’m not too much of a burden on my wife.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

To be healthy, financially independent, and spend my days reading, skiing, trail running, cycling, traveling, and playing with my kids.

What is your greatest fear?

Disappointing the people who rely on me.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

My quick temper.

What is the trait you most deplore in others?

Intellectual arrogance and physical bullying.

What would happen if you elected not to have surgery?

The tumor would continue to grow over the years.  It would cause more hearing loss and balance problems, as well as ringing in my ears, and double vision.  It would damage nerves that would make the left side of my face droop.  I would lose the ability to close my left eyelid and my sense of taste.  I could have difficulty swallowing which would make it difficult or impossible to drink or eat, and I might have to be fed through a stomach tube.  I would suffer fine motor control problems in my left hand.  The tumor would eventually grow into the brain stem, which controls involuntary muscle like the lungs and heart.  My lungs and heart could stop functioning.

What do you consider your greatest achievements?

  • Graduating from West Point in the top 5% of my class.
  • Successfully leading my Army unit on long deployments in Bangladesh to build schools, the Kingdom of Tonga to build water desalinization plants, and Micronesia to complete various civic action projects for the islanders.
  • Finding a great woman to marry.

What have been your greatest struggles?

Growing up in poor in Harlem Heights, NYC with an alcoholic, chain-smoking, wife-beating father.  I hated being poor, so I resolved at an early age to do well in school so I could secure a more stable future.  I try hard to be nothing like my father.

What do you admire most about your mother?

Despite living a life filled with abuse and hardship, she is a patient, forgiving, and caring person.

What do you admire most about your children?

  • Maria’s sweet sensitivity (age 10).
  • Michael’s resilience and independence in the face of three surgeries (age 8).
  • Alberto’s easy-going personality (age 8).
  • Andre’s sense of humor (age 5).
  • George’s tenderness (age 3).
  • Ann’s rambunctiousness (age 2).

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

First, the fear of losing a child.  Second, being jailed in a small cell forever with a beautiful view of mountains that I will never be allowed to explore.

Has your prognosis changed the way you look at life?

I worry less about things that don’t really matter.  I worked way too hard and traveled too much last year, so I’ve changed that and am spending more time with my family.

What is your motto?

I have two.

The Seven Ps (from the Army): “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance.”

“Life is good.”

***

As I look back at these questions and my brave friend’s replies, I’m struck by something I’m embarrassed to admit.  Before this week, I didn’t know the majority of his answers.  I’d never bothered to ask.

In our daily sprint against a fading clock, it’s a lot easier to say, “How are you,” in the form of a statement rather than a question, because society is conditioned to respond with a unilateral “fine.”

“Fine” makes things easy.  It’s an all-encompassing reply that rests in the gray matter of our conscience and allows us to smile, nod our heads, and move on with our day.  “Fine” is a free pass that someone stuck under the windshield wiper in the grocery store parking lot.  It’s when you wave to a neighbor from the porch instead of meeting her at the curb to talk.  “Fine” is convenient.  It’s Facebook…a click, a thumb’s up, quick comment, and I’ve done my job.  “Fine” is one of the small things in life that doesn’t count.

There’s something wrong with a world where I‘d rather shove my phone down a stranger’s throat than stop to ask what’s the matter, or that I go deep with a friend only in the face of pending danger and loss.  Or maybe there’s just something wrong with me.  Either way, I don’t like it, and from now on I’m replacing “How are you?” with “Who are you?”

It’s a small change that leads to a big question, and I, for one, would really like to know.  If I were having brain surgery tomorrow, that’s the first thing I’d do differently today.

02/16/12: I’m happy to report that my friend’s surgery was a success.  He’ll spend the next week recuperating in the hospital, and then he’s homeward bound to rest some more.  All of your thoughts, prayers, and positive wishes made a difference.  Thank you.

57 responses »

  1. Pingback: Another bloggers question… « This cluttered mind of mine…

  2. What a wonderful post. It really is so easy to jump to the negative, isn’t it? Thanks for giving me something to think about, and I certainly send hope and good will your friend’s way.

  3. Very insightful, Stacie. I certainly hope and pray things go well for your friend. It is trite to say this but life is too short to bother much with all the little annoyances. If you concentrate on the good things,the big important things, you’ll be all the more content.

  4. Wonderful post, I wish your friend all the best…..and it’s ironic that it takes something like that to put (small) things into perspective.

    I have a little card somewhere that says “Don’t sweat the small stuff…..and, it’s all small stuff”….

  5. I really like this post, Stacie. I love the way you incorporated your very brave friend’s interview, and your own insights as well. Yes, you are right, it’s too easy to skate along the surface of life (heavily facilitated by the million-and-one devices we have access to) rather than being present, really present, to one another. I am keeping your friend in my prayers.

  6. Some days its hard to see the forest through the trees. A little reminder that there are those fighting a bigger fight can certainly put things into perspective.

    My thoughts are with your friend and his family. I hope and pray for a positive outcome.

  7. Your story is beautifully written, and surely a treasure to him! Thanks for this great reminder of what’s really important! I’ve been praying that the surgery will go well, and for his family.

  8. This post really hit home for us. Megan had a brain tumor successfully removed the Saturday after Thanksgiving. I know in my heart and soul that it was through the power of prayer that we all survived. So, I will pray for your friend and his family.

  9. Absolutly stunning post! Something that everyone should stop to give a serious moment’s attention to. There are lots smaller things that do not matter in the least. And you thinking about challenging that woman continued to draw challenging energy to you. I think it is great that you could stop and redirect yourself. It is not easy to do, but once we learn to do that as a habit, we draw (attract) the supportive energy we need to be our Best.
    Will be sending wholeness and speedy recovery to your friend and strength to his family! I am ro-blogging this for my psot today! It is SOO worth it! xoxo AmberLena

    • Wow! What an awesome, inspiring, amazing comment. My friend is in surgery as I type and I know that all of the positive vibes aimed his way are making a difference. Thanks for being so kind, all the way around.

  10. God, this is such a good post. First, I laughed out loud at the ‘shoving a rotary phone down someone’s throat’ and then secondly, you brought us back from the funny and finished with the real when you interviewed your friend. he sounds like an exceptional human being and since i believe in the concept, ‘you are the company that you keep’ – i know that you are one too. a great read. thank you.

  11. Having had four brain surgeries I can relate to this story. My friends and family were super. The last time I was really scared but they all were so encouraging and kept my spirits up. The greatest blessing of all is our friends and family
    and their love..

  12. Stac,
    Here I am again………tearful…….so much passion for your friend and his family comes through. I figured out who this was and will certainly keep him in my prayers. Things that happen can really take you in another direction when faced with life-threatening circumstances and with those beautiful children to consider. Keep writing……your gift has touched many readers and spoken to our hearts.
    Love,
    Mom

  13. This is really nice. Definitely worth thinking about how attentive we are in our relationships. What we remember about people, what we think to ask. I am constantly thinking about how I make conversation. I have always found ‘small talk’ hard, usually choosing to stay quiet assuming that things aren’t worth saying. Striving always to be a better listener, thinker, talker. Thanks for sharing. I wish your friend well.

      • Perhaps the writer is forever striving to become an authroity on his chosen topic? Obviously research is important to that end, and so listening and observation is paramount, but ultimately the satisfaction of producing the combinations of words that feel right and beautiful for US overcomes the hunger for truth. Maybe…

  14. I have to agree with an earlier comment. Where is the freakin’ LOVE button? What a thoughtful, beautifully-written, inspiring, humbling and incredible post. Can I say this without sounding condescending – I’m so PROUD of you. This is really amazing in its perception and execution. It also reinforces to me that I have the most amazing blogging bestie ever!!!!

    Reading this, I see so many fortunate people. Your friend because he has you as a friend and five incredible children. You because you have such a strong, brave and amazing friend in your life. Your kids and husband because they have such a caring and empathetic person in their life who loves them.

    When I was in grad school, I dated a young man whose sister had a type of cancer called synovial cell sarcoma. Though my relationship with the boy failed miserably, his 16-year old sister, Anna, became the little sister I never had. Over the course of the next couple years, we became extremely close. She died in her 18th year – on Easter. One day, I’ll tell her story in my blog, but today, I’ll just say that every time I begin to feel really sorry for myself or unhappy with my life, I remember Anna. I remember that I attended my prom and she didn’t. I remember that I’m alive and healthy – and she’s not. I remember that I get to hug my parents hundreds of times every year and she will never have that opportunity again. And I stop feeling sorry for myself and begin feeling grateful for everything in my life.

    Your blog post serves the same purpose for everyone reading it as Anna did for me so many years ago. You are reminding each of us to be grateful for every second that we have.

    • This is one of the many reasons why I’m BEYOND lucky that you’re my blogging bestie. Is the blogosphere getting tired of the mutual bestieness going back and forth? Probably not.

      Please tell my children what a caring and empathetic person I am. Somehow, I think coming from you, they’d believe it.

      =)

      • No – only in the blogosphere could someone write a moving, touching post about a person with a brain tumor, while her blogging bestie pens a post in which she pretty much cusses out all the old codgers in Florida. Who’d put us together in real life? One of us is going to Hell though, and I’m pretty sure it isn’t you.

      • I don’t know about that bestie. We have much left to discuss. I’m coming over to read about all the the SCs driving without a license as soon as I finish my submission. No, it’s still not done.

  15. Sorry to hear about your friend. I’ll be praying for him.

    Is there anything that can be done with Gamma Knife or Cyber Knife surgery? Too late isn’t it.

    I have a brain tumor and was fortunate enough for it to be treated with Gamma Knife in 1994 and so far has not grown or recurred. Shrunk for a while.

    I know the feelings dealing with this kind of tumor. The thought of having someone open your head and messing with the brain is more scary than I ever imagined. Coming out of it with deficits I wouldn’t have before going into it, is surreal. I will be praying all day and for a good recovery.

    I can’t imagine having so many children and facing this kind of surgery. Thinking of your friend. He’s on my prayer list.

    M

      • Hi, I am Stacie’s friend, formerly with the brain tumor. I looked into Gamma / Cyber Knife but it is not indicated for this type of tumor at my age, 45 years. It would retard the growth of the tumor only temporarily. The radiation would cause some scarring of surrounding brain tissues that could cause some deficits while also making future surgery more difficult. If the tumor grows back again in my life time to the point where it is causing neurological deficits (hopefully not for another 40+ years), then Gamma / Cyber Knife would be an option.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s