From the day that I was diagnosed to the weeks after the shunt insertion and still to this day, my family and friends played such a huge role in my recovery. I think we too often take for granted how important having a reliable support group can be – but they are so much more than that. Having someone to laugh with or who can take your mind off things can go a long way during a period like this.
For the first time in three months, I had consecutive weekends filled with socializing and excitement. On Sunday, September 14, 2008, the Giants were playing the St. Louis Rams. I was downstairs watching the pregame show when the doorbell rang. My mom yelled down to me: “Chris…there’s someone here to see you.” All I wanted to do was the watch the game! Well when I went upstairs, at the door was my friend with a tray of food. I looked at him and then looked back at my parents – did I miss something? One by one, all my friends came over to the house to watch the game with me. Surprise! I was in shock but elated nonetheless. I just couldn’t believe that everyone had come by just to spend the afternoon with me and hang out like we had grown so accustomed to doing. I had not been in a social setting with so many people in a long time and was uneasy at first.
My scars were still not healed, so I put on my baseball cap backwards to cover them up and I was ready for a great afternoon. The last time I had seen everyone all in one place was the afternoon prior to the emergency surgery to remove the hematoma that almost took my life. On that day, I was a shell of the person I was on game day. My friends looked at me in amazement – it was awesome. We joked, laughed, ate everything in sight and as if that day weren’t bittersweet enough, watched the Giants were victorious. And speaking of joking, out of nowhere, I heard a couple of friends doing impressions of Arnold Schwarzenegger, but what do you think the quote was? None other than “It’s not a tuuuuumor!” from Kindergarten Cop. Some things just never change….
I was so excited that they came by to break the ice and hang out with me, but what I remember most of all is that they did not let it bother them that I was still not 100% and looked somewhat like Frankenstein. They all could’ve gone to the sports bar to watch the game but instead they came over to watch the game with me. Those are true friends and a sure way to make anyone feel good about themselves, no matter the situation.
The game ended too soon but I was already busy looking for plans for the following weekend. I talked to Ashley almost every free chance I had the following week and practically invited myself up to Rhode Island for the upcoming weekend. I had been cleared to drive but Ashley, being the nervous Nellie that she is, pleaded that she come down to Connecticut to pick me up. Believe it or not – I turned down her offer and drove. This was such a liberating feeling and something I had to do in order to regain my confidence with everyday tasks. To this day though, she still shakes her head when I remind her about that decision.
Driving across the Newport Bridge and headed north towards Bristol, I had flashbacks to the last time I was in Newport – the afternoon walking the town with my mom searching for apartments to rent for the upcoming year. As I was having these thoughts, I quickly realized how fortunate I was after living through such a harrowing life experience. I then crossed over the Mt. Hope Bridge and felt like I was back where I belonged. Coming over the bridge, I could see the red, white and blue painted lines on the street. Over to my left, there was the law school. I took a good long look at it. I told it that I’d be back, but not yet. First things first – visit Ashley and the rest of my law school friends.
The last time that I had been with everyone all in the same place in this setting was the day of our last final. If you’re unfamiliar with law school, you enter as a 1L and spend the duration of your 1L year with the same group of people. I found this to be beneficial because many of our classmates became very close friends with each other. We got each other through the many ups and downs. And on the day of our very last final, after all appellate briefs had been written and argued and final exams completed, it was time for a proper send off at one of the local pubs. So when I saw everyone together for the first time since that day, it was bittersweet.
I was still wearing my hat backwards to cover the scars and somewhat nervous to be around such brilliant people. I had just spent my summer reading Dr. Seuss books and memorizing farm animals on flash cards while everyone else spent their summer in law offices. “What was this going to be like?” I wondered. But then I realized – I’m a warrior and though I was nowhere near as smart as those I associated with, I was now mentally tougher. There was a “Section C” party at one our classmate’s house and there I was – laughing, talking and having a good time just as I had done months earlier.
Friends are always there to pick you up when you’re down and help you through the tough times. For me, I was quickly shown two weekends in a row how important friends and support groups are and can be. And that’s one of the reasons I’ve decided to now give back.
I recently reached out to the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance to discuss ways in which I can pay forward the gift that I have been given. While I can never provide a medical miracle, I am able to be there to listen to those who are undergoing what I went through and show them that through their adversity, things can and will get better. But for those friends, I would be a shell of the person I am today.
To them all – thank you. You each played a profound role in my recovery and showed me the power of friendship…and for that, I am forever grateful.