Written by Ron Christian
“Pick a plot and get your papers in order, you’ll be dead in a month.” That’s what the local neurosurgeon said. Those words served as my wake-up call. While my wife wept, I became angry. We had three very young children, and I was determined to see them grow up.
Weeks before, I had two seizures. The second seizure resulted in hospitalization, and within hours I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The local neurosurgeon did a biopsy and then gave his instructions on how to spend the little bit of time I had left … finding a plot.
After meeting with some of the best neurosurgeons in the country, we visited Mayo Clinic’s Fredric Meyer, M.D. Dr. Meyer was direct and to the point. He stated that although it was risky, the only option to survive was aggressive surgery. Even then, the odds for long term survival weren’t good. While not hopeful, at least Dr. Meyer was honest. When I asked him how many surgeries he did in a year, Dr. Meyer told me he averaged about 1,500 brain surgeries annually. He’s a no-nonsense, intelligent man and brilliant surgeon. We scheduled surgery for the next week.
After celebrating my oldest son’s sixth birthday at home, my wife, parents and I headed to back to Mayo for surgery. As he prepped me, Dr. Meyer explained that I would be awake for the surgery. My tumor was sitting on the motor cortex, and he wanted to remove as much tumor as possible without affecting my ability to move. Damage to the motor cortex would result in permanent paralysis.
The surgery proceeded along with Dr. Meyer asking me every few minutes to move my arms and legs. After he removed the bulk of the tumor, Dr. Meyer asked if I wanted to see it. The tumor that had irrevocably changed my life was a gray, lifeless, baseball-sized mass. Dr. Meyer continued to work to remove as much of the remaining tumor as possible. We both knew when he had finished, when my left side suddenly went limp.
I woke up the next day and still could not move my left side. Dr. Meyer came in early to see me, and he was very pleased. The pre-surgery MRI compared to the post-surgery MRI showed that he had skillfully removed about 98 percent of the tumor. This is truly a miracle. Further, he said the left-side paralysis would resolve over time.
"I was originally told I had only one month to live. Surgery improved my life expectancy … just how much we don’t know. But, Dr. Meyer’s surgery has resulted in 12 years and counting."
At the very least, Dr. Meyer’s surgery bought me more time. Just how much, we didn’t know. Post- surgery, Dr. Meyer worked in conjunction with Timothy Moynihan, M.D., and Greg Cascino, M.D., for oncology and neurology, respectively.
For the first few years, we lived literally life in three-month increments … from one Mayo visit until the next visit for the MRI that would show whether and how much the remaining tumor had grown. Slowly but surely, we graduated to six month increments and finally one year. I look at this progression as major milestones in my life.
I was originally told I had only one month to live. Surgery improved my life expectancy to a year or two or more … just how much we don’t know. But, Dr. Meyer’s surgery has resulted in 12 years and counting. Am I the same as before brain cancer? No, of course not. It’s hard to face mortality and the debilitating side effects of treatment and be the same. But, I have a new normal. I am alive and have watched my children grow up. My oldest – who was a kindergartner when I had surgery – is now a college freshman.
For my wife and children, cancer has been an ever present and unrelenting predator hiding in the corners of our house. Never a day goes by that cancer isn’t in the forefront of our minds. Yet, I am a religious man and fully believe that it is God’s grace that I am alive today. God’s grace and Dr. Meyer’s remarkable skill.
My wife and I receive frequent calls from people who have received a cancer diagnosis. The best advice that I can give is simply to go to Mayo. Find the best Mayo surgeon for the type of cancer and trust them. There is no substitute for getting the best medical treatment in the world … no substitute for greatness, skill, training, intellect and knowledge. Dr. Meyer gave me my life back. Dr. Meyer, Dr. Moynihan and Dr. Cascino give me quality of life each and every day.
There are no words of thanks that can ever express my gratitude. How do you thank someone for giving you your life back? Twelve years and counting … Thank you Dr. Meyer.