Tag Archives: CTBTA

The Man

I took last night to let the news sink in, or at least I tried to, but yesterday’s news brought too much excitement.  I knew the day would come and I was optimistic, but I have still yet to process it.  Yes, yesterday I received the best news ever from my medical team at Yale .  After 11 long years of battling this beast, starting at age 24 which required 5 surgeries, radiation, an onset of seizures and pretty much uprooting my life and changing the course of my career, albeit I am grateful – I am officially “tumor free!”

Upon seeing my doctor walk into the room, my heart sank and I got a pit in my stomach, fearing something was wrong.  Fortunately, that was a fleeting fear as he quickly sported a big smile, proudly pronouncing “It’s gone, my friend!”  Simultaneously, Ashley and I both exhaled a big sigh of relief as smiles ran across our faces.  In an instant, the realization that I had won the battle set in because though my tumor was benign, given its chemical makeup and the history, I knew there was always a chance.   Yesterday however, those fears vanished when I heard he was 100% confident and certain that the tumor is gone forever and looking at the scan myself, seeing nothing but brain and a working shunt, a song ran through my head:

“Somewhere I heard that life is a test
I been through the worst but I still give my best
God made my mold different from the rest
Then he broke that mold so I know I’m blessed”

For more than a decade, my life has been anything but ordinary as I was always hesitant and wondering “what if.”  But now that I know I have five years and with the best doctor out there, I  know this is behind me and I owe it to you, especially my parents.  You have all supported me in the darkest of times, when I thought I would never recover to be able to speak, read or write again, or that I would ever regain the strength lost on one side of my body, and for that I am forever grateful.  So to show my gratitude, I am resolved to pay it forward and help anyone fighting this diagnosis and in need through the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance.

When I first joined the CTBTA, I was fortunate to meet Tracey, Greg, Jen, Andy, Stacey, Ron, Kim H., Susan, David, KC, Maria, KPD and Terry.  Since then, the Board and organization has grown and new members have joined, as has our footprint and impact on the state.  But I want to recognize the founding members for taking the chance in starting this organization so that patients, such as myself, don’t have to battle this alone.  I am incredibly grateful for the introduction to you and thank you for embracing me with open arms, welcoming me to the Board and allowing me to rise the ranks to your Executive Director.   Together, we can and will, make Connecticut a center of excellence in brain tumor care and be the resource that new patients and families need.

Thank you all, from the bottom of my heart.  So as one chapter closes, a new one begins…

Don’t Stop Believin’

Where has the time gone?   Admittedly, and my apologies to all of you, but since starting my new position, my blogging has gotten away from me as I have needed to give more of myself to the position and to get my feet under me.  However, with this work, my commitment, passion and dedication to the cause has only grown.

Santa responded favorably to my list, but the end of 2018 was still difficult.  As the Board and I continued to process the loss of Tracey, the strongest brain tumor warrior I have ever met, I kept asking “why?” but remained committed to the fulfilling our mission.

During our first Board meeting in 2019, a common thread formed – though we were collectively hurting, our commitment and dedication was unwavering.  The CT Brain Tumor Alliance will continue to assist patients and families, serving as a resource to bring awareness, hope and partners together to find the cure and help everyone facing this diagnosis.  The passing of Tracey has been very difficult, but I am so proud of her family, friends and our Board, all of whom are resolved to continue her legacy and push the needle further in helping to make Connecticut a center of excellence in brain tumor care.  I previously mentioned the picture in my office of her and I, and upon arriving every day, I look at it for my inspiration and hope that I can make half the impact that she did.  So, to that end, Connecticut, get ready.  The CTBTA is coming for you and we are moving full speed ahead with two great events on May 4th to kick off Brain Tumor Awareness Month.

In the morning at beautiful Elizabeth Park, which Tracey loved and adored, join us for our annual 5k, the Path of Hope.  If you’ve been to a previous Path of Hope, you have witnessed the beauty of seeing brain tumor patients, their caregivers, families and friends come together for a day of celebration, remembrance, passion and hope.  Building off our recent success last September, we are proud to bring our flagship event to May and begin this great month with a bang.  For further information and to register, please visit: https://www.ctbta.org/events/path-hope/event-info/

Also on May 4th, the CTBTA is proud to host “A Night in Paris.”  This special, one-time event is a dedication to the life and memory of Tracey.  An admirer of all things French, this memorable event will be filled with exquisite French cuisine, an exciting raffle and auction, all cast under the Eiffel Tower and French street signs in the place she loved the most.  Please join us to continue Tracey’s legacy of helping others and giving back.  Along with the members of this fantastic Committee and the CTBTA, I hope to see you there and encourage you to please attend if you can, or purchase a ticket for the benefit of a survivor whom Tracey treasured dearly: https://www.ctbta.org/events/night-paris/

There are just under three weeks from the big day and the excitement and pressure is mounting.  Sure, two events in one day may seem insurmountable to some, but I am determined to make it an exceptional day.  Thanks to our many sponsors who are supporting these events, all of the participants currently registered, and our dedicated group of volunteers, it is our commitment to bring hope to all who are fighting and allow the hospitals we partner with to continue their advancements.  May 4th, 2019 will be remembered as a day of mutual celebration where we all rejoiced and said “we did it!”  Here’s to you Tracey.

So Here’s My Lifelong Wish, My Grown Up Christmas List

Dear Santa,

As children we believe
The grandest sight to see
Was something lovely wrapped beneath the tree
But Heaven only knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal a heartached human soul
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone…

It’s been a while since I wrote you and I’m taking a leap of faith as I  write to you again this year, but what do I want for Christmas???

Well, since you asked, here it is.  It’s a bit unusual, but it’s my grown up Christmas list.

This past year, I was named the Executive Director of the CTBTA and the position has been extremely rewarding and fulfilling.  I truly believe that in the not-too-distant future, our state will be a ‘center for excellence’ in brain tumor care and treatment, but there is much work to be done and maybe you can help!  So, here goes nothing…

First, please help the hard work of our organization so that we may continue to enable the doctors and researchers to advance treatment methods.  Brain surgery is certainly not fun and takes months, if not years, to fully recover, so we want to see the day that surgery can be less invasive and to continually improve the standard of care for brain tumor patients.

Next, we need more clues and positive results to understand the drivers and causes of a brain tumor.  Help us to understand the underlying cause of a brain tumor so that the doctors and surgeons could take proactive measures to treat this disease.  Completion of this will help bring us my third wish, the cure!

Fourth, please bring those who are suffering comfort and support.  Whether they are recently diagnosed; a brain tumor warrior; a caregiver; or a parent, friend or family member of someone who is battling this diagnosis or coping with the insurmountable loss, everyone needs additional help and hope.  We pride ourselves on doing the best we can do provide hope and support, but our reach only goes so far and additional resources are needed.

Finally, the brain tumor community could use more joy and laughter.  This is a difficult diagnosis to cope with, but hope, laughter and joy are the best medicine.

I know this is a lot, and you might not be able to help with everything this year, but it would mean the world to all of us in the brain tumor community if you could help in any way possible.  I’d appreciate it!

Thanks,
Chris

p.s. I’ll leave cookies and milk!
p.p.s. Don’t forget gifts for Ashley and Coddington!

Oh, and it’s Time to Lend a Hand to Life, the Greatest Gift of All

There are not many instances where you would say a hospital visit is pleasant or joyous, but our annual check presentation from the Cusano Family Brain Tumor Fund to the Yale Brain Tumor Center stands as one of the few exceptions.

Along with Ashley and my parents, we went back to the place that is all too familiar for all of us.   Walking through those doors, I’d be lying if I said a myriad of thoughts wasn’t running through my head.  Ten years ago, I thought I was never going to go home from the hospital.  Monday was different though.  I could not run into the building fast enough as I was beaming with excitement and pride over what my family, friends, community partners and new acquaintances have done, and will continue to champion.

Thanks to all of you for your support this year, we presented a check for $40,904.00!As a third party fundraiser for the Yale School of Medicine, I am proud, and speaking for my family, I know they are too.  Because of you, our friends and supporters, there is hope for brain tumor research and for patients.  Because of your participation and support, the doctors and researchers were enabled to take their research on central neurocytoma far enough to apply for federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (more on this coming soon).  The community has rallied and shown that a brain tumor messed with the wrong person (and family), and I am forever grateful for each and every one of you.

Together, since 2014, this gift fund has raised over $198,000 for The Cusano Family Brain Tumor Fund that is being used toward brain tumor research at Yale.  We have also forged relationships and friendships that will last a lifetime – countless partners, supporters and fellow brain tumor warriors that I have met along this journey.  Additionally, because of this event, I have friendship with Ed Jr. and the crew at Stony Creek Brewery and hope to have a collaborative effort on a charity beer that was sampled and brewed by Stephen and I.  We have also brought awareness to brain tumors and as my dear friend Tracey would say, we are making this journey a little less scary for the next person who is diagnosed.  But above all, we have developed a friendship with the doctors, nurses, researchers and development officers at Yale.  Each time I see them, I always begin by reminding them of my gratitude for saving my life and enabling me to sit here and write this entry.  I am hopeful and confident that together, we can and will make this diagnosis a little less scary.

With all of the good synergy and willingness to collaborate among the doctors, researchers and nonprofits such as the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance, better treatments will continue to develop until ultimately, the cure will be discovered.

I am speaking only from what I can see and what I believe, but I trust we are on the precipice of a breakthrough.  Sooner rather than later, the brain tumor community will have its “ah-ha!” moment.  Until then, our work must go on and we will continue to say thank you in the only way we know how.

Cheers!

Did You Ever Know That You’re My Hero

The brain tumor community lost one its greatest advocates and the fiercest warrior I have ever met, and perhaps will ever know, this past Friday.

Tracey Gamer-Fanning-Shimer, a co-founding member of the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance and its first Board president, passed away after her courageous battle with brain cancer.

Diagnosed in 2006 and given three-to-five years to live, she inspired many and touched countless lives, including mine.  I first reached out to the CTBTA in 2013, five years after being diagnosed and in need of an outlet for support and comfort.  The organization welcomed and embraced me with open arms, but Tracey and I had a special bond that I will cherish forever.

I know I am not alone in this, but she taught me the meaning of perseverance, love and how to truly enjoy life.  She was the most selfless and inspirational person I have ever met.  Never once did she complain or feel sorry for herself.  Always smiling and having a good time, she would come out and say something that made you do a double-take, but this was the Tracey that we knew and loved.

Yet, aside from how great of an individual she was, she also changed lives and made a profound impact on the brain tumor community, especially here in Connecticut.   The one thing about Tracey – she always, always put her friends and the brain tumor patients before her.  She allowed us to have a voice and spill our emotions.  Even when I knew she was not feeling her best, she would attend a Gray Ribbon Club meeting so that she can provide comfort and hope to someone battling.  She would often remind me – we are paying it forward.  That sort of compassion and love is not something you see everyday.

So Tracey, thank you for changing my life and the impact you made on me.  I admire you and everything that you did.  I will hang tight to the memories we shared and I promise to continue your fight.  It was an honor and my privilege to work alongside you in this mission and I promise to make you proud.

Rest in peace, my dear friend and I will see you again.

You Get What You Give

Are my eyes deceiving me, or are we really midway through August?  This means I’ve been on the job for a month already, and if the first month as Executive Director has taught me anything, it is that this disease is more prevalent and devastating than I think I ever could have imagined.

While fundraising and relationship building is the fun part of the job, I spend a large portion of my time meeting with the various hospitals and talking with patients and caregivers in need of support, and that is the most rewarding.  As I said when I first began this blog in 2013, I wanted to share my experience to not only meet fellow brain tumor survivors, but to be a source of hope for those who are going through this today.  I have even more admiration for our first Executive Director as I knew the job and duties covered an array of demanding and time-constraining tasks, but every day truly brings something different.

The CTBTA is proud to host the Gray Ribbon Club, a support group for patients and caregivers to meet with us to share our journeys of this disease.  We are not doctors and we are not psychologists.  But we, at the CTBTA, have all lived this disease and turned it into a positive and we want to share that experience.  Our meetings are not held in a sterile, cold hospital, but rather in an inviting setting, such as a coffee shop.  During our meeting last week, tears of both sadness and joy were shed, and nobody should feel wrong or bad about doing that.  I am overjoyed by the progress of our participants.  Witnessing the continued improvement in one particular attendee’s speech and word-finding skills causes the hairs on the back of my neck to rise.  Yet, with each celebratory round of applause, there are those raw moments where we share those dark and scary thoughts that nobody likes to talk about, but in this group, we have all been there.  As another participant shared, this is a daily battle and we need to find the joy in every day and the little things in life.  To this relentless battler – we’re here for you and you should never be afraid to let your guard down amongst us.

In addition to the Gray Ribbon Club, I have enjoyed building a friendship with one particular couple over the past month.  As young, thriving adults, their world was turned upside down when they received the diagnosis.  By a stroke of luck, we first met at a conference in June and exchanged contact information.  Later that month, I was hired in this capacity and we’ve been in constant contact since.  On two separate occasions, we met to simply talk and hopefully, allow them to forget about this hell they’ve been in even for a moment.  This family is tough and they taught me a lesson – “that there is nobody or anything in this world that can or will bring me down.”  You think you had a rough day?  Talk about resilience.

When the phone rings or the email notification chimes, I am there to respond and triage the issue, if need be.  Things that we all too often take for granted – the privilege to drive and get around; the opportunity to work and provide food for your family; our personalities and behavior, etc.  Each journey is different and with the help of our Board, the CTBTA is able to assist and through our patient assistance funds set up through the hospitals, we pride ourselves in offering hope to those in need.

For whatever tomorrow will bring, one thing is for certain – I will go home feeling a sense of pride in helping and working towards our ultimate goal of making Connecticut a center of excellence in brain tumor care.   I really couldn’t ask for anything more.

Celebrate Good Times, Come On!

Do you remember what you were doing exactly ten years ago, July 2, 2008?  I do.

It was 8:00a.m. and I was awake and alert, greeted by the surgical team, nurses, anesthesiologists and clinicians, as well as my family.  The day before, I learned that the cause of my double vision was a massive tumor sitting in the ventricles of my brain, complicated by hydrocephalus requiring surgery immediately.  As the preparation wrapped up, the clock turned to just about 9:00 and my family and I said our emotional goodbyes as I was rolled into the OR, but I remained confident.  When I would wake up, my life would change forever.  But how?

Admittedly, I never thought I’d say this, but this has been the best roller coaster ride I’ve ever been on.  Reflecting on the past decade, I’ve learned a lot about myself, but also about faith, perseverance and adversity.  In the darkest of times, I felt alone, scared and defeated – wondering when my life would take a turn for the better.

Now, exactly ten years later, I am turning to a new chapter in life as I say goodbye to my colleagues at the United Way and embark on the journey at the helm of the CT Brain Tumor Alliance, Inc. as the Executive Director.

More than ever, it is clear that this path happened for a reason and I am so grateful for my newfound appreciation for life and I live every day to the fullest.  So, for today, I would like to simply say “thank you” to everyone who has played a part of my life these past ten years.

Mom and Dad; Jackie, Wayne and Stephen; Ashley; my extended family and friends; my partners in this quest to find the cure; my friends and colleagues at the CTBTA; and last but not least, Dr. Piepmeier, my nurses, clinicians and therapists – THANK YOU.  Without each of you, I’d be lost at sea.

I am eager and excited to begin this journey to make Connecticut a center of excellence in brain tumor care.  I am honored and humbled, and look forward to working with the Board in my new role, deepening relationships, as well as building new ones, assisting patients and families as they adjust the sails, as well as supporting the endeavors that will be undertaken to make a brain tumor diagnosis less scary and ultimately, help find the cure.

For the past ten years, I have searched for the meaning behind all of this, and I am excited for this new beginning.  First things first though, a trip to Newport and Bristol, the place where this adventure began.