August 5, 2004
Here are the details of our story:
We left for vacation on Friday evening, July 9, headed for Topsail Island in North Carolina. It was a vacation for my entire family; not only my wife and kids, but also my mom and dad, my two brothers, my sister, and their families. Overall, there were 13 of us in a caravan of 3 vehicles. We made half the journey on Friday evening, stopped at a hotel to get some rest at about the halfway point, and finished the drive on Saturday.
When we arrived at our condos, the weather was perfect beach weather: hot and humid. After the long drive, unloading our luggage and carrying it up three flights of stairs in the heat, we were all exhausted and were ready to call it a night. After a quick dip in the pool, we put the kids to bed and crashed on any available couch. I was exhausted, and fell into a deep sleep. Some time later, Gwen woke me up to come to bed, and I was shocked at how much time had passed. I knew I must have been very tired. When I got off the couch to walk to the bedroom, I noticed a strange tingling in my left hand and left foot. I figured they had fallen asleep from sleeping in an awkward position on the couch. After sleeping in bed for a couple hours, I woke up in the middle of the night and noticed that the tingling/numbness had increased to include about half of my arm and leg. I was a bit concerned at this point, but still believed it was from sleeping in an awkward position.
When I woke up in the morning the tingling and numbness were still there, and had spread to a portion of my left torso and a bit of the left side of my face. After getting up and around for a while and finding no change in these symptoms, I decided that I should see a doctor. My dad drove me to the nearest emergency room to get things checked out.
While in the emergency room, they decided to do a CAT scan to find out what was going on. My symptoms were very much like a mild stroke, but did not completely fit the profile of a typical stroke. I'm 33 years old and in otherwise very good health. The CAT scan revealed a lesion on the right side of my brain. In order to find the cause, more tests were ordered. I was admitted to the hospital and prepared for tests the following day (Monday, July 12). They did lots of tests on me, including strength tests, blood tests, heart tests, MRI, MRA, and general observation of my symptoms. All of the tests were looking good, and I was feeling good; hopeful that they would let me out to enjoy the rest of my vacation.
After the doctor looked at my MRI, he came to my room to deliver some very startling news. The MRI revealed what looked like some type of mass or growth in the right side of my brain. He did not have enough information to tell me any details, and told me that I would need to find a good hospital close to home for more tests to be done. He released me from the hospital within an hour, and told me to take it easy but enjoy as much of my vacation as possible. Although this was very difficult on my family, I was very thankful to have all of them with me for support, especially since we were so far from home.
We were able to schedule an appointment at the Cleveland Clinic on Monday morning, July 19. The hospital in North Carolina gave me all of my test reports and images to hand deliver. I was thankful not to have to repeat so many tests. Having a July 19 appointment also enabled us to finish our vacation and leave for home according to our original plans. We certainly savored every moment we had, living in the shadow of such scary circumstances.
We left for home on Saturday morning, July 17. About halfway home, our van broke down. It was Saturday evening, and very difficult to find help. Every mechanic, towing service, car rental place, etc. was closed until Monday. We knew we couldn't wait until Monday to have our van fixed, nor to find a rental car to get us the rest of the way home; I didn't want to miss my Monday morning doctor's appointment. I guess when it rains, it pours!
We woke up early Sunday morning, got out the phone book, and began to call every mechanic and car rental service we could find. We finally found someone who would tow our van and fix it on Sunday. What a blessing! After replacing the fuel filter and the fuel pump, we were on the road again by Sunday afternoon.
We had no more problems the rest of the trip, and got home late Sunday night. We were able to keep the doctor's appointment at the Cleveland Clinic on Monday morning. We were very tired, but we made it.
At the Cleveland Clinic, they did some of their own exams, and reviewed the pictures and reports from North Carolina. The doctor showed us the MRI pictures, discussed our options, and gave her recommendation. The pictures look scary, but I have a lot of confidence in the Cleveland Clinic. The doctor recommended that we take a biopsy of the tumor to see what we're dealing with and determine the best way to treat it.
The biopsy was done on Thursday, July 22. The procedure involved drilling a small hole in my skull (about the size of a nickel), and inserting a blunt needle to extract a tissue sample from the tumor. Although the risks involved with this procedure were not high percentage risks, it was a scary time. I was extremely thankful to wake up in the recovery room with all of my physical and mental capabilities in tact. After a couple days of observation in the hospital, they sent me home on Saturday, July 24. I was able to be up and around right away; I was even able to be in church the very next day.
Prior to the biopsy, my symptoms had diminished significantly. Since the biopsy, the symptoms have increased to the level when I first went to the emergency room on vacation. Overall, I'm feeling well. Having the flu feels worse than what I'm dealing with now. My energy level is good, and increasing each day. Since I work from home, I've been able to keep up my regular work schedule. There are some day-to-day activities I'm still not able to do. The doctor told me not to lift anything over twenty pounds, not to bend down at the waist, and not to drive. These restrictions have been the most difficult. But I'm surrounded by family and friends who have been extremely supportive and helpful.
I've never had a seizure, I'm not having any headaches, and I'm not in any pain. I never lost any ability to speak or concentrate, and even the mild numbness I feel on my left side hasn't kept me from doing my normal daily tasks. They did a good job with the biopsy. They shaved only a small patch of hair and made the incision near the part in my hair. By looking at me, most people can't even tell it's there. Even beyond the biopsy, it's very difficult to tell by looking at me that there is anything different about me. I'm extremely thankful that despite the seriousness of this issue, I still look the same and I'm still able to live normally.
The most challenging aspect of this ordeal is the emotional side. It has been very draining on my family and me, but we're doing well. We've discussed the situation with our children (Kaylee: 8, Joshua: 7, and Nathan: 5), and they're handling it well. We spend a lot of time together, reading the Bible, praying, talking, and playing. It's amazing how quickly and dramatically life can change, and how priorities change as a result.
I've been amazed by the prayer support I've received, some from people I don't even know. I believe that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of people who know of my situation and are praying for my family and me. Although it has been hard to find hope in the middle of such a trying time, I'm confident in the power of God and the power of prayer. These have held us up from the beginning. We have seen answers to specific prayers all along the way. We can even match answers to prayers with specific times that people were praying. It is so good to know that God is right beside us during this difficult time. It would be impossible to face this trial without Him. He is our refuge and our strength; an ever-present help in times of trouble. The road ahead may be long and full of challenges, but He has promised never to leave us. I know without a doubt that His promises are true!
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