Hot dogs, burgers, beer, cookouts, fireworks and independence – all typical thoughts of the 4th of July (there is still no better memory than this photo from last year’s 4th of July getaway to Puerto Rico). For me, my thoughts this holiday weekend will always be a reminder of my journey and battle. In the blink of an eye, maybe not for all, my family included, this weekend will mark eight years since it all began. I still remember it vividly, being wheeled into the OR on July 2, 2008. Will I see my family again? Will I remember everyone’s faces? Will I be able to speak? The list of questions goes on and on, but I knew it was my only chance of living, so this weekend, I will be rejoicing. More importantly though, the past eight years have shown me how to live and what truly matters. There have been many bumps in the road and unexpected twists that I did not foresee, all of which caused me to reexamine my life, my dreams and the ultimate pursuit of happiness, but I am still exploring and figuring it out.
At age 24, I was so focused on my life and pursuing my dreams, all to make as much money as possible. Before starting law school, right through year one, I was, and still am to the extent I can be, overly ambitious. Growing up, I saw my parents dedicate their lives to their children. Whether it was Anheuser-Busch and driving back and forth to New York every day, Eagle Snacks, President of Cape Cod Potato Chips, followed by owning his own company, ShelfSpace Marketing, LLC, while simultaneously serving as the General Manager of Carla’s Pasta, my father was, and still very much is, a hard worker. My mother is just as incredible, a true inspiration. She not only raised my siblings and I, but she also taught us values and how to be a good person; she took care of the house and kept it spotless; always had breakfast, lunch and dinner ready – never failed; managed to drive all of us to lessons and appointments. Remarkably, she did much of this while battling and beating breast cancer and never missing a beat, and is now a para-professional at an elementary school. They always told my siblings and I: “hard work pays off.”
However, my life changed drastically between the ages of 24 and 32 and I am still waiting for my big break. Life has been a struggle since my diagnosis – surgeries, extended hospital stays, cognitive rehabilitation, physical rehab, etc. In addition, and as you know, I have struggled with passing the bar exam. I still have sky-high medical and student loan bills that I have yet to make even the smallest dent in because I’m not using my JD as I envisioned.
Yet, I am still smiling because all is not lost, not even in the smallest sense.
If this ordeal has taught me anything, it is that life does not go according to plan. Life throws you curveballs and you have to adjust accordingly. Sure, I could have packed it in after that semester off and thrown in the towel, but I wanted to prove to myself, and any doubters, that I could excel and earn my degree. However, what I did not know was that the initial three surgeries would not be the end, as seizures ensued, followed by a shunt revision, gamma knife surgery and one more craniotomy. But I followed my heart and did what I wanted and have absolutely no regrets about how the past eight years have unfolded.
At 32 years old, I look at my life in quarters – the fourth quarter was pure hell. It presented me with challenges and hardship, but now, with my renewed lease on life, I am restarting the clock and have an opportunity to explore new avenues and opportunities that perhaps would not have been possible had I gone down the path to being a lawyer. I have been part of some great conversations of late, some of which are right under my feet. I intend to continue exploring alternate opportunities with my firm; I just collaborated with the staff at the Yale Brain Tumor Center on content for its new website; I have been working with the Director of Special Events at Yale University on Brainstormin’ and am open to exploring opportunities there. On the nonprofit side of things, I am the Vice President of the CTBTA and am intrigued by what the future there may hold. I did not know how much I enjoyed fundraising and development, but it is an area that I truly enjoy, especially for a cause that I am so passionate about.
As I continue to reinvent myself, I get down on myself from time-to-time, due to what I perceive to be, “failures”. Yet, at the end of the day, I am reminded that I still have all that is important. As odd as it may sound, I feel blessed to have been dealt this diagnosis, as it made me a better, stronger person and has opened new doors and opportunities for me to pursue. I am exploring life and doing things I never thought I would do.
On Tuesday, I was interviewed by iHeart Radio and was asked, “How has this experience changed your life?”
To try to answer that concisely was difficult, but as I told the interviewer, these past eight years have been eye-opening, causing me to reexamine how I live my life and taking nothing for granted and never losing hope. We should all strive to live in the moment and not lose sight of what is important – family, health and friends.
“I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger.”