The next morning, the doctor – not a nurse or aide – called me and suggested I visit her immediately and I bring a family member. Since my family was 2,000 miles away, one of my roommates accompanied me to the urgent appointment.
The diagnosis caught me by surprise. How could I have cancer? I exercised regularly, ate well, never used tobacco products or illegal drugs, and my last sip of wine (or any alcohol for that matter) occurred 20 years earlier. I could not comprehend the doctor’s words “you have brain cancer.” At least I now understood that a brain tumor, rather than an icy road and a collision, caused me to see strange images and experience a brief episode of blindness.
After surgery to remove the brain tumor, surgery to install a shunt, a dose of chemo that caused the metastasized tumors inside and outside my spine to grow, and several weeks of radiation treatments, the medical community proclaimed that they had done everything possible. I could not swallow beverages, eat solid food, walk a straight line, think, remember, or see well, but the doctors said they had done everything they could.
During the year after cancer treatments, I frequently slept more than 20 hours per day, always carried a barf bucket with me, and through considerable experience learned to anticipate vomit a few seconds before it breached my mouth. I was so dizzy when I moved that I did not want to go anywhere or do anything.
However, after years of physical, cognitive, speech, and vision therapy, I settled into what many therapists referred to as my “new normal” – I remembered very little, I fatigued quickly, but I relearned the basic skills expected by society. I could walk short distances with a little assistance, brush my teeth without covering my face in toothpaste, shave with an electric razor, shower while seated, dress as long as buttons were not involved, eat without stabbing my eyes with a fork, drink without spilling on myself, and buy groceries as long the items of interest were at eye level. Most importantly, I could move without the barf bucket.
I no longer think of vacation as a detour from success. I appreciate the fact that I am alive and able to join my family and friends on vacation. I no longer think of free time as a waste of time. During my free time, I read, write, learn, share, and volunteer. Brain injury has definitely caused me to re-evaluate and reorder my priorities, but life is more satisfying after the brain injury.
I have continued to stretch and reset the boundaries of my new normal. I attended online classes, participated in face-to-face classes, earned professional certifications, worked as a management consultant, taught a few classes, spoke at events, vacationed, and started this blog. There is more I want to do, but I have made major steps forward, achieved goals that seemed impossible years earlier, and enjoyed life after brain injury.
If you are not satisfied with your new normal, what are you doing to change it?
Thanks to Frank Pray for guiding me during the creation of this post; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, who made it possible to include the pictures and text in this post.