You and Me

As a brain tumor survivor, I feel lucky and blessed to be alive.  I have been fortunate enough to return to work, getting to go out with friends and family and live my life worry free (for the most part).  But what I sometimes neglect to reflect upon is the stress and burdens placed on my primary caretaker, namely my loving and caring wife, Ashley.

ashley_chris_406I appreciate and recognize the struggles that she experienced, as well as the hardships that she will continue to endure as my primary caregiver.  While I am not in her shoes, it is only natural to worry.  And everyday, Ashley and I each find difficulty in managing our lives and finding happiness with all that we have going on such as finding success in our jobs, financial pressures, affording a quality of life with the rising costs of healthcare and simply juggling the added stresses of everyday life.  All of this sounds like a recipe for mental exhaustion.   Whether she experiences these stresses, I do not know as she has never told me, but I would not blame her for needing an outlet of her own.

Her and I both know that, for the rest of my life, I will have to continue to get yearly MRIs and be alert for changes to my cognitive functions.  Just because my tumor was removed and I am now “cured” in clinical terms does not guarantee success.  As I alluded to, a brain tumor diagnosis is a chronic issue.  Additionally, as previously stated, I am on anti-seizure medicine and likely will be for the rest of my life, but hearing her ask “Do you have any idea what it’s like for me to worry that every time you get in the car, you’ll have a seizure and I won’t be there to grab the wheel?”  destroys me.  However, the unfortunate truth is that I had a brain tumor and am on epileptic medications does not mean that I stop living; rather, I must and will carry on.  And for her, this means that she will unfortunately need to be burdened by these unintended consequences.

Just this past January, she took time off from her job to be with me as I recovered from surgery.  The comfort of knowing that she was here, in the house to guide and assist me in the recovery process was healing in and of itself.  Hearing her voice throughout the day was so comforting and kept me at ease.  From “I just can’t believe how good you look!” to “I’m so proud of you, you’re really doing great!” was music to my ears.  Always having her genuinely concerned was such a gratifying feeling, but I have come to expect nothing less from her.

As I learned throughout the years, there is a silver lining to all of this, and that is that I now that I will have her by my side as a source of comfort and support, and this simple fact makes me feel a thousand times better.

This is just the start for us.  Last year, we added our pride and joy Coddington to our family.

IMG_0913He could be the most energetic and playful dog I have ever encountered and brings just another smile to our faces (except when he chews holes into the couch), and I cannot wait to see what the future holds in store for us.

While I sincerely hope that the worst is now behind me, I cannot be certain but at least I can find comfort in knowing that if something were to again occur, I have the best caretaker ever right here with me.  In 2008, a few days after my second surgery for the hematoma, my parents brought me my phone so that I can read the abundance of messages from family and friends.  Yet, there was one email that stuck out to me, and that was from Ashley.

The email was simple, yet full of love and compassion.  She offered me the hope, spirit and drive needed to get better and recover.  If words could talk, these would be yelling.  Though I hated the fact that I could only lay in my bed while she visited, she saw something different.  I was not expecting to see the words “proud” and “brave” after our visit, but I did.  I was filled with joy when i read down further and saw that she wrote she’d like to come visit again soon, so long as I was okay with it.  To have the girl that I loved tell me after seeing me in such a grave state tell me to keep smiling and that she loves me made me the happiest guy ever.  From that moment on, I knew that I needed to get better and continue improving.  I was so disappointed that this had happened to me and I was lying in a hospital bed not knowing when I would have the opportunity, but I was determined.

Seven years later, I can say that I did it.  I am through the worst, but know that none of this would have been possible but for your support, guidance, friendship and love.  This is our story.

“You and me together, we could do anything, Baby
You and me together yeah, yeah
Two of us together, we could do anything, baby
You and me together yeah, yeah
Two of us together yeah, yeah
Two of us together, we could do anything, baby”

When You’re On A Holiday, You Can’t Find The Words To Say

Last week, Ashley and I were away on vacation and I had one goal in mind – to relax and forget about the everyday grind for a while.  Out of the gates, 2015 was fast and furious with the surgery for my regrowth, to returning to work everyday with an occasional “day off” for my followup doctors’ appointments.  It was definitely time.

We had kicked around some ideas of where to go, but we settled on the El Conquistador in Puerto Rico.  The resort is located in Fajardo, about 45 minutes outside of the bustling city of San Juan.  As you head up the driveway to the property, you are surrounded by sprawling acres of golf courses, tennis courts, palm trees and other natural vegetation.  Then suddenly, the resort appears right before your eyes.  Growing up, I have had the luxury of traveling to some great destinations over the years, and this one ranks up there with the greats.

Aside from being a phenomenal vacation, the trip also provided me with time to reflect on the past.  We left on July 2nd, which happened to be my seven-year “brainaversary”.  In comparison, these two days could not have been any more different.  This July 2nd, I was elated and jubilant; then, I was uneasy and wracked with emotions.  Two days later, on July 4th, Ashley and I watched a magnificent firework display from the balcony of the lobby with other guests of the resort.  And as I stood there watching IMG_3427the fireworks going off over the water, I had a flashback to July 4, 2008 while laying in my hospital bed watching the firework over the New Haven harbor.  I remembering enjoying that night, feeling happy with the prognosis I was given and the great strides I was making in my recovery, yet it was still difficult as a hospital was the last place I wanted to be that night.  The feeling I had this year is hard to describe, but there was a definite sense of joy and relief as I watched the fireworks right before my eyes over the waters of the Caribbean.  This was where I wanted to be and to have come so far made me proud.

Two days later, Ashley and I hopped on onto the first ferry over to Palomino Island, a private island owned by the resort.  Guests ride the high speed ferry from the marina to the island and within 15 minutes, you step off into another world. There was a definite calming sense from being one of the few people on an island in the middle of the ocean so early in the morning, but we wanted to pick the best spot we can find.  When we found our spot on the beach,IMG_1798 I took it all in; I found myself reflecting once again.  But I learned a few years ago that you need to realize that it is okay to reflect and actually process what you went through, so I did.  I went back to July 6, 2008.

Throughout the past seven years, this was the scariest day for everyone involved.  Ashley had been at the hospital with me on July 5th for a visit and we were all smiles.  Though I was unable to communicate with her at that time, I was so happy to have her by my side, spending time with me.  Not less than 12 hours later though, I was being rushed into the OR for emergency surgery.  I had done a complete 180 and was manifesting symptoms similar to a stroke.  The right side of my body had gone lifeless.  Would I make it out alive?  Would I have permanent side effects that would leave me a in a vegetative state?

Flash forward to the present day, I looked over to my left and there was Ashley, right by my side again.  I am so fortunate for her.  And as I stared at the aqua blue water, it was hard to believe that I had come this far.  I experienced a rush of gratitude to be so blessed to experience all that this beautiful life has to offer.  The beginning of the year proved that life isn’t always easy, but whether I’m preparing for surgery or floating in the Caribbean, isn’t it amazing to just be here?   To be fully functioning and experiencing each moment makes it all worth it.