Sometimes people speak into your life in a paragraph, sometimes it only takes a sentence. Thursday, January 28 it took only those 5 sweet words: TODAY IS A NEW DAY!
The day prior, I was scheduled to undergo brain surgery on a tumor that was discovered on my 31st birthday, January 17, 2016. The CT scan that had revealed the tumor showed a mass in my left cerebellum approximately 4.0 cm x 3.7 cm x 3.1 cm, which in terms of tumors, is large, I’m told. An MRI was done to confirm the level of swelling around the tumor and hopefully be used to identify what type of tumor we were dealing with. All scans seemed to indicate the tumor was a hemangioblastoma, a typically benign (non-cancerous) tumor that is vascular in nature. The neurosurgeon referred to this as the type of tumor that if you look at it wrong, it bleeds. Because of my heart health and being on blood thinners, this type of tumor was particularly distressing to the surgeon, as bleeding in the brain is a bad thing. So the plan for surgery was simple, we don’t know what it is, so we need to find out. The best way to do that is to start with a biopsy. We take a piece of it, evaluate it, and if it is a hemangioblastoma we stop and close up the wound. If it’s anything other than a hemangioblastoma we see what we can get based on how it looks. If its the hemangio, we would then schedule an angiogram of the brain which would allow us to see where the tumor was being fed from, in terms of blood vessels, and then we could plan a second surgery to remove the tumor and would know in what order to attack the feeder vessels. It was clear this had the potential to be the first of multiple surgeries, it was clear there were intense risks in play, and it was clear that I was in good hands with a knowledgeable surgical team, doctor and staff. I was comfortable with the plan, it met every logical test I could come up with. I had confidence that the outcome would be positive. I had prayed, prepared, planned and was surrounded in support by literally an entire community of family, friends, coworkers, and strangers. Its true though, that despite whatever confidence or calm I had, the plan still had a large amount of unknown remaining in it. The goal was simply to gather information and that had to be enough, we would let go and let God.
After the surgery, as I was recovering from the sedation, I was told I would go for post-op MRI scans of the head, neck, and spine. The tests would be done overnight and would be read by 6am. Dr. Pollack had other surgeries that day, so she was unable to come and give me any preliminary results. Heather and my family were aware of some information, but I couldn’t get a good read how positive or not the results were from them, most of the focus was simply on my being comfortable. Around 8pm I asked Heather to let me know what happened, she indicated that it probably was not the hemangioblastoma, and that she went in and removed more than she expected, but that the surgery took 6.5 hours, which was about 3 hours longer than originally anticipated. We simply were in the position again that we didn’t know what we would be facing. The night was truthfully very rough from there on out, there was a lot of pain, I had never been through any major surgery before and I wasn’t sure how my body would react to the pain. On top of that, I was not allowing myself to relax enough to heal. I would continuously try to think my way through the pain instead of let the body recover. Around 3am, I was taken to MRI for the scans, and I repeated the mantra that had been my source of strength throughout this entire process. “This is what you need to do for your girls, you be strong, you can do this, they are worth it. This is what you need to do for your girls, you be strong, you can do this, they are worth it.” And so with that warrior cry repeating in my head, calming and relaxing breaths echoing through my lungs and a deep concentration on maintaining a calm heartbeat I made it through the tests with a renewed sense of confidence in what was to come.
The next morning, when Dr. Pollack and her team entered the room, she looked at us, it was Heather and I, the core of our family, waking up from the long first night after surgery, a large smile on her face, Dr. Pollack simply exclaimed, “it’s all gone”. The only thing I can remember mustering was, “are you serious?”. She said, yep, all gone. In surgery, she had received the initial pathology reports that showed it was not the hemangioblastoma and that it was a cancerous tumor and appeared very cystic, in her words, “I knew this was my shot at it, so I went back in slowly went for it”. She asked if I wanted to see it, I said absolutely, we looked at the scans from the pre and post-op MRI, and sure enough, the tumor was removed. We discussed how this was not the intended outcome of the surgery, but based on the initial results of the pathology and the position, her access to it and everything that makes her a great neurosurgeon, she was able to go for it and removed it all. You could tell she was as genuine about these results as Heather and I were. You cannot fake the care and concern for patients lives in the way she was reacting to this news with us. Not in a way that made her seem any less of a great doctor, but she was reacting in the way that makes her seem more like a great person. She was even so gracious as to say I did amazing yesterday, as if that would play any role in the outcome, but she insisted I did well and because of that “TODAY IS A NEW DAY”.
It was in this life changing series of events, that we again learned about the Grace of God. It was in this simple and life altering way, the words of Dr. Fromke, the on-call neurosurgeon we had met a week before when discovering the tumor, told us that God’s Grace was Enough and God’s Grace was Sufficient had come to fruition. The plan and desired outcome of surgery were not what we had anticipated, but God’s plans were made perfect because God’s Grace was Enough, God’s Grace was Sufficient and now, TODAY IS A NEW DAY!