Tag Archives: hope

Blessing in Disguise

“It’s the scars that make you stronger,
It’s the hard times that make you wise,
It’s the sweet things only time brings,
That arrive like a blessing in disguise.”

You know the story, but eleven years ago, I was fearful and afraid, unsure if I would wake up from surgery, or what my life would be like afterwards.  Yet, things have worked out very well and after another amazing night at our sixth annual Playing for the Cure: Brainstormin’ event on Friday night, I can one-hundred percent say my diagnosis was a blessing in disguise.

As I stood at the podium and looked out to the crowd, all 300+ of you, I was overwhelmed, humbled and proud.  This was our largest crowd ever and I am so glad to see this event continue to grow and help others.  It wasn’t until after I was diagnosed that I heard and met so many people and families affected by a brain tumor and for you to come and be a part of this special event was fantastic to see.  I got to meet many of you and hope you know that you are now part of a special community with individuals who truly understand and get it, so I welcome you into the CTBTA family.  We’re gaining momentum and with special thanks to all of the media outlets that supported this event, especially the Hartford Courant, WTIC-1080, WTNH and WFSB, we will continue to expand our footprint and reach and raise awareness.

On behalf of the CTBTA, I had the distinct pleasure to honor and remember the life of June Rice by awarding three inspiring brain tumor survivors with a “June Rice Courage Award.”

Darcy, Steve and Cesar – I hope you are as proud of yourselves as the CTBTA and I are of you.  You have demonstrated such strength, resiliency and bravery and are an inspiration to everyone.    Thank you for allowing us to share your story and spread hope.  Continue fighting, and know we are always here to support you.

Kim, Melissa and your entire family – what a pleasure it was for us to honor June.  You made your mom so proud with your heartwarming speech, there was not a dry eye in the room.  Though her and I never met, I am grateful that we have connected and hope our friendship will last eternally.  As you vowed to me, you and your family have my absolute support and friendship today, tomorrow and always and we, the CTBTA, are here to support you all.

To all of our sponsors, especially the Yale Brain Tumor Center at Smilow Cancer Hospital , thank you for your tremendous show of support.  I am, and will always be, eternally grateful to you for returning me to good health and helping me find my voice in the quest to work alongside brain tumor centers in the state to help others and ensure that no family goes through what we endured in 2008.   A giant thank you to our Platinum Sponsors, Carla’s Pasta and Specialty Packaging; our Gold Sponsors, iHeart Media and Harte Auto Group; Silver Sponsors included Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Beirne Wealth Consulting, Women on Wealth, BMO Harris Bank, People’s United Bank, Al Mac Motors, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Edge Technology Services; thank you to our Bronze Sponsors including Russo, Russo & Slania, Guida’s Dairy, UKS, Blum Shapiro and Unitas Club; and Friends of Brainstormin’ Stop & Shop and Webster Bank.  Events like this succeed because of you, and we hope that you will continue to support us until our mission has been fulfilled.

Friends, old and new, from the bottom of my heart, I thank you.  Erienne and all of the members of Blanket Statement, thank you for joining us and being a part of this memorable occasion, you were amazing.  We also want to thank Carla’s Pasta and Shoreline Cafe and Catering for donating all of the food, and to Beach Donuts for supporting us.  Last but not least, to our partner and friend, Ed Crowley and the staff at Stony Creek Brewery, I appreciate all of your support, enthusiasm and compassion for our cause.  I look forward to sharing the amount we raised with you soon, and planning for 2020 very soon, but until then, let us rejoice and celebrate this achievement.

“It’s the sweet things only time brings,
That arrive like a blessing in disguise.”

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

CTBTA_LOGO_Standard-RGBPlaying for the Cure: Brainstormin’ is 30 days away!  Along with my family and the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance, I am really looking forward to another great year and building on the success we’ve had since 2014.

We’ll be back at Stony Creek Brewery in Branford for this annual event that celebrates brain tumor warriors, caregivers, doctors, nurses, family and friends as we gather together in our quest to find the cure and improve treatment methods.  I cannot say enough about the staff at the brewery, including Ed Crowley, Ali and Norm – you three make this a great event, and I am humbled by you bringing additional awareness to the cause during the month of September for your Charity Wednesdays!

Thanks to our presenting sponsor, Smilow Cancer Hospital/Yale New Haven Health, we are well on our way toward surpassing our goal of raising $50,000!  In addition, thank you to Carla’s Pasta, Specialty Packaging, Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Beirne Wealth Consulting, Edge Technology Services, People’s United Bank, Al Mac Motors, BMO Harris Bank, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, Russo, Russo & Slania, UKS, Blum Shapiro, Unitas Club, Guida’s Dairy, Stop & Shop and Webster Bank!  We could not do this without you and your loyalty over the years.  A big shout out to iHeart Media for your support and partnership with us, and to Renee DiNino, our emcee for the fifth straight year – we appreciate the enthusiasm and passion you exude. 

What began as a “concert” has morphed into a fun night out, all for a great cause.  We’ll have live music by Blanket Statement; pasta prepared by our friends at Carla’s; sandwiches and wraps donated by Shoreline Cafe and Catering; the best donuts from Beach Donuts; an amazing raffle and live auction which will include two tickets next to the dugout for the Red Sox/O’s game on September 28th, thanks to Mary Beth Rossi; as well as a separate raffle for the street scooter donated by Al Mac Motors.  Better yet, we are offering anyone that buys a ticket and raises $250 in donations or through a sponsorship a three-hour open bar (just be sure to bring a designated drive or Uber for the night, please!).

However, saving the best for last is the announcement of our decision to honor and celebrate the life of June Rice who passed last December after a courageous and hard-fought battle with brain cancer.  Though I was never fortunate enough to meet June, I am blessed to have formed a friendship with her son-in-law Ed Crowley, the owner of Stony Creek Brewery, and his wife Kim.  Late last summer, when Ed shared June’s diagnosis with me, my heart broke.  Always in my thoughts and prayers, I messaged him from time-to-time and I sensed hope and comfort when he sent me a photo of our poster promoting last year’s event in her room at Smilow.  The week following her passing, Ashley and I went to see Nick Fradiani play a holiday show at Infinity Hall in Hartford.  Seated two rows in front of us were Ed, Kim and their entire family.  Unbeknownst to me at that moment was the connection between Nick and the Crowley family, but suddenly, in the middle of the show,  Nick spoke about June and his friendship with Kim and her family.  His words were strong and poignant as he paid tribute to her by singing a beautiful rendition of Hallelujah, one of the songs he performed at her services.  Along with everyone else in the theater that night, I was moved and felt the hairs on my neck stand straight up.  This memorable and beautiful moment was the impetus that brought the aforementioned idea to life.

A couple months later, I met with Kim and Ed to discuss some ideas I had for the event.  As we began talking, it did not take long for me to realize what an impact June made on her family.  I wanted to do something special and kicked around some ideas internally and eventually, I landed on the creation of the June Rice Courage Award.  This award will be presented to three patients treated by June’s surgeon, all who embody her spirit and fight, and which I hope will serve as a permanent fixture of her legacy.

Through efforts such as this fundraiser and the awareness that results, I am confident that we will move the needle, even if just a little at a time.  IMG_0289 copy Doctors and researchers are hard at work, looking to learn as much as they can about brain tumors and their genetic makeup to create targeted and precise treatments.  The day will come, I am sure of it; but until it does, the CTBTA will continue to provide hope and support, as well as funding for these important milestones.

If you have not done so yet, check out the link above to purchase your tickets and make a donation.  I hope to see you there!

Event Details

Date:  September 20, 2019
Doors Open:  6:30pm
Ticket Price:  General Admission – $40.00 through 9/19.  $50.00 day-of, if tickets remain.  Free for Brain Tumor Warriors
Live Music:  Blanket Statement

For tickets, donations and sponsorships, visit: https://ctbta.rallybound.org/brainstormin

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.