Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pre-Opt Part II - Becoming the leading amateur expert on brain tumors

Soon after discovering that I had a brain tumor (about a minute after I got home), I logged onto the American Brain Tumor Association’s excellent website ( to better understand what a brain tumor is, and what my chances of surviving might be.

And while all signs pointed to me having a Class I meningioma tumor, nobody really knew for sure what I had until they took a saber saw to my skull and peered inside. Ok, it wasn’t a saber saw; in good hospitals most operations are done with radial arm saws. (Personally, I recommend the 10” Sear’s Craftman, 3-horsepower radial arm saw with LaserTrac.)

In any case, my research revealed that I could possibly have one of the other tumors, many of which can start to infiltrate surrounding tissue. On top of that, the experts warn you to remember that “your tumor is unique and might not conform to the ‘average’ characteristics described.”

Well, that sounded ominous.  Do you mean my meningioma might decide one day to start infiltrating my brain instead of having a lovely time tap dancing in the tissue between my brain and my skull? 

The more I learned the more nervous and upset I got. 

So I just stopped reading.

Now this won’t work for everybody.  My son and sister became resident experts on the potential types of tumors, treatments, and worse-possible-case scenarios. And they are smarter than I am, have lots of degrees, and don’t mind reading seventeen letter words like Oglioastromcytoma (this is a particularly nasty tumor – see the ABTA website for details).

So how did I becalm the nasty thoughts emanating from the reality of a brain tumor? 


Black Humor.

Sophomoric Humor. 

Sophomorically Black Humor.

Said differently, if I didn’t have Black Humor, I wouldn’t have any humor at all. Actually, Ray Charles said it better in his song entitled “If it wasn’t for bad luck.” 

Maybe a better analogy is “Life is Beautiful” by Roberto Benigni. Why? Because, for me, the only way for me to cope with this depressing situation was to find the humor in having a tumor.

So, much to the chagrin of my doctors, nurses, orderlies, and yes, often my wife, I used gallows humor to mask my uneasiness, my concerns, and my nerves.

Now, for starters, medical professionals of all shapes and sizes often mention that some patients like to name their tumors.  Somehow, I couldn’t wrap my mind (so to speak) around the ideas.  While I can rationally understand that putting a name to some unknown and dangerous opponent both demystifies and dulls it, I had trouble finding the right name. 

Darth Vader – too cartoonish, plus you always knew he would lose in the end…and the end – was still TBD for me.

Dr. H.H. Holmes?  He is the villain in Erik Larson’s book, “Devil and the White City” and way too scary; I think he still scares the author.

Perry the Parasite – a bit childish, but this came closer to how I felt about my tumor.  It was feeding off my blood in order to grow. Which, of course, led to …

The Vampire Tumor -- This gave me visions of Bela Lugosi who scared the snot out of me as a child. And, alas, I’m too old to get into The Twilight Saga. Besides, I hear that they turn away anybody who’s over 30 at the movie theater.

The Blob!  - For those of you too young to remember, The Blob is a horror/science-fiction film from the 1950s that depicts a giant amoeba-like alien that lives by consuming (absorbing?) humans and growing ever larger. While I’ve never formally named my tumor, the name “The Blob” best captured the emotional landscape of my feelings about my tumor.

So I gave up on coming up with a name for my tumor. I decided instead to turn to – yes, you probably guessed it – American musical theater to demystify and express my inner feelings about the blob in my brain. So here it is (sung to the tune of “Oklahoma” with apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein):

Meningioma where a tumor grows rampant in my brain
Where my suffering head
Fights slow growing cells
In my precious arachnoid mater

Meningioma where my tumor's really quite large
While benign and slow
Has continuous growth
And those vicious cells squash my brain

We snip it and throw it in the trash
And my brain is alone AT LAST

And when I say hey! A yippy-i-o-ey
I'm only saying you're a pain Meningioma
Meningioma M-E-N-I-N-G-I-O-M-A
Meningioma, Not OK!

I sent the lyrics to my family for review.  The kinder-hearted ones made gentle “how interesting” noises.  But I’m sure they started to ask themselves, “How deep has this thing penetrated?” 

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