Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I don't mean to turn this blog into a rolling review of a year in the life of Brain Boy. But like Spazziversary a couple of weeks ago, today feels like a day worth noting.

A year ago this morning I was in surgery -- the first of two, it turned out -- to try to figure out what was going on. It was less than two weeks after the seizures that sent me to the hospital, and MRIs and other tests were inconclusive. The best way to know what this mass was in my head and how to treat it, my doctor said, was to do a needle biopsy.

Well, that seemed simple enough; it barely sounded like brain surgery.

All they'd do, Dr. Silbergeld explained, is peel back a piece of scalp above the hairline on my right temple, drill a dime-sized hole, and use a needle to extract a small sample of the mass (possibly but not necessarily a tumor), which could then be examined in a lab. They'd plug the hole with a piece of titanium, sew me up and in a few days we'd know what was what. Nothing to it.

When I look at the above photo, which Michelle took with her phone in the surgery prep room and which we later dubbed "Mr. Cool," I think, what an idiot.

In the picture I look totally calm, and I was. Almost happy, which I don't think I was. The biggest, most immediate drags were having to get up early enough to be at the hospital's neurosurgery wing by 5 a.m., and not being able to drink any coffee.

I remember them taking my pulse and it was something incredible, like 58, an athlete's pulse, betraying no nerves whatsoever. And I remember joking with the nurse who was prepping me. He was shaving a target for the surgeon and for some reason talking about the little battery-powered razor he was using.

"I like it," he said. "It has a disposable head."

"Just like the patients," I said. Ho ho.

Michelle, who is used to my stupid jokes, groaned, but the guy got all nervous. Uh, no, um, our patients are blah blah blah, and I would never blub blub blub ....

I ended up having to reassure him. Sheesh.

Why was I so calm? Either I was buying all that nothing-to-it nonsense, which doesn't sound like me, or I just didn't know enough to be scared or mad, both of which I had come around to by the second surgery, in January.

I think what got me through that morning and a lot of the year since was a brilliant short-sightedness. Somehow I managed (and some of the time still do) not to think about the big picture, but to concentrate on the moment just ahead.

OK, now we're going to have you lie still on this table for an MRI. ... OK, now it's time to swallow a pill. ... OK, now I'm going to shave your head with my disposable razor ...

Nature's gift of self-preservation, I suppose. It's also like being on a newspaper deadline. Don't freak out. Just do this one little thing.

In the end, for those who weren't following along at the time, the surgery was a bust. Successful, I guess, in that my brain didn't leak out of the hole and I woke up later, but unsuccessful in that the biopsy was inconclusive, even after an extra week of testing in the lab.

I recovered from the surgery well enough to go home after only one day in the hospital, but I think it was slow going after that. A lot of it I don't remember very well.

A year later, I'm not sure I'm still Mr. Cool. I feel lucky to be here, and to be free so far of the seizures that put me in the hospital in the first place. But I've also grown tired of the whole deal, of the monthly chemotherapy (month eight concluded last night), even of trying to put a good face on things or make a joke or reassure the next guy that I'm all right.

As I admit sometimes to Michelle and to Mich, both of whom have been incredible this past year, I'm sick of stuff.

The charm of brain cancer has begun to wear off.


Ronelle said...

You are entitled to the entire range of emotions you describe in your blog -you HAVE EARNED THEM. However, once you have had some time I am sure you will return to the realization that you ARE still here visitng the Oregon coast, making bad pancakes, cracking bad jokes and showing everybody how to live for each moment. I am happy to share all of those things -even from a distance. Allow yourself whatever emotions you need to feel and then remind yourself how lucky you are and how lucky we who love you are too...and then...with your army of support in tow, you will carry on!

Rita said...

Yeah - you still are Mr. Cool! And then some.
I guess brain cancer can be a lot of things....charming is not one of them. It isn't any wonder that you get 'sick of stuff'. I endorse everything that Ronelle said - you have earned the right and all of us understand that, so allow yourself whatever emotions you need to feel.

Really perfectly said, Ronelle.

Recalling these new 'versaries' this first year will remind us all of the long way you have come and the phenomenal strength you have shown.
A great post, Mark.

michelle said...

Man, it makes me so sad to be at work when I should be with you on your surgiversary. Poop.

Michele Matassa Flores said...

Mark, you've done such a remarkable job of being Mr. Cool through this whole entire thing. I say that to everyone who asks how you are -- and, by the way, that still happens about three times a day. Try to look at this day as a tribute to your ability to stay on top. You're my role model, just like you were when we were 4 and 8.

Mark said...

Thanks you guys, those are all really nice comments.

Ronelle, I'm glad you're happy to share those things you mentioned ... and as far as the pancakes are concerned, you're lucky to be doing it from 3,000 miles away.

kateco said...

I've been apoplexed with anxiety all day because I'm going tomorrow for my first physical in 6 years. Couldn't paint today, but I found a way to get a few Cheetos down -- you know the kind of day.

Anyway, way to make me feel like a puss.

Crabby surgeversary to you. I hate all the crap you have to deal with and -- as you know -- I love this blog.