Other Posts part 2/2…

——— Co-Residents ———

I mentioned that I began my training as an Emergency Medicine resident. Besides dealing with the sickest of the sick, the field also requires that you call for help when needed. This could include a call to an Orthopedist for an unstable fracture, or a conversation with a Cardiologist if you suspected a heart attack. Many times, these people whom you are calling for help are less than thrilled to field a call from a green-behind-the-ears Emergency Medicine resident. Once in a while you will be lucky and speak with someone who is warm and at least feigns happiness to speak to you. The first such call I placed was to Megha, a Family Medicine resident, and she is one of the warmest people that I know. Since that phone call much has happened: I switched programs, became close friends with Megha, was diagnosed with a brain mass, and had a child.

Greg, also a very close friend, is the first person I wanted to speak to when I considered running for chief. He is outspoken and opinionated, and is a kind soul. As I mentioned in his post, I hoped to work in a practice with him after completing my residency. Greg’s patients love him not only because of his medical acumen, but also because he is extremely intelligent beyond the scope of medicine. He was the one I went to when I had any questions ranging from medical ones to philosophical ones: he always seemed to know the answer.

Their posts were as different as their personalities. While Greg’s focused on the diagnosis as well as his friendship with me, Megha chose to more fully answer the question, detailing the logistical hurdles my absence presented. There is not one article I prefer over the other; I just think it is interesting to contrast the two. After reading through each of their pieces, I feel a bevy of emotions, most prominently I feel appreciative, as I had no idea that so many logistical aspects were involved. Lying in the hospital bed, I had no idea that so much had gone into filling the void of my absence, I didn’t realize the work it took to make everything run smoothly. I also felt a little disappointed after reading through Megha’s piece, when she spoke of all the resistance they were met with, and how many of the residents were reluctant to take any extra calls. This disappointment, however, came with uplifting thoughts as well. While many of the residents resisted Greg and Megha’s decisions, the rest of the residents, went out of their way to help us. I can only imagine how helpless one must feel when met with resistance to helping a friend in need. But the truth is that they all helped; not only by helping to cover for my absence, but their thoughts and prayers have helped me in ways they cannot know. In the end, the differences in each of their posts perfectly reflected their leadership styles and what ultimately made them such great chiefs. While Megha has a ‘take no bull$*!+’ attitude and dealt largely with the organizational aspects of the residency, Greg many times served as the ‘good cop’ often using his compassion to convey his message.

Greg and Megha
Greg and Megha

While Greg and Megha were the chiefs when I was diagnosed, Aimee and Dani were their successors. I am close with everyone in the program, yet I thought their perspectives as co-chiefs after Greg and Megha, would provide a unique dynamic. On the surface Aimee and Dani seem like two completely different personalities: Aimee is warm and always seems to be smiling; bubbly is a good word to describe her. Dani, on the other hand, can be blunt , and has no problem telling you what’s on her mind. To a passer-by they seem like very different people. Since I have the privilege of knowing them both well, I know they possess more similarities than meets the eye. They are both warm people with big hearts. They also both do everything in their power for their patients. If any of my loved ones were to fall ill I would want one of them caring for them. I cannot wait to see how they fare as clinicians. Their articles each serve as reminders to me of where I have been, and where I want to go. I found Dani’s marvel at the human body to heal particularly powerful. Thinking back to the progress I have made since the first hours after the surgery boggles my mind. It really makes me appreciate the power of the human body to heal. Aimee’s perspective of my turning from physician to patient is also poignant yet true. Even though many who see me remark that “now you get to see things from the other side,” I had not given much thought to the transition from physician to patient, Aimee’s piece motivates me to not only recover but think about differing aspects of this ordeal.

 

Dani
Dani
Aimee and her husband John
Aimee and her husband John

—– Titubation —-

While I have learned to cope with my widened, slowed gait, and my delayed, monotone speech, I have not yet learned to deal with my titubation. If someone were to ask me now “what is the biggest issue you face with your recovery?” My response would be my titubation. I take a mental note every time it occurs in front of others and I know that it has occurred in front of most of my guest bloggers. I liken it to the elephant in the room that no one is mentioning. Hopefully this is because I am making a bigger deal of it than it actually is, but the reality is that every one of them are too nice and compassionate to write about it, and fear that writing or placing any attention to it might somehow upset me.

—- Different but the Same—-

I am eternally grateful to everyone that wrote for the blog, as well as for everyone’s good will towards me throughout this ordeal. Writing is unique in that no matter what you choose to write about, your personality comes through. In all the pieces written by family, friends, clinicians, and co-residents their warm hearts and kindness were evident. Hope also pervaded in each of their accounts. In writing this post I have reread every guest article and cannot help but feel the sense of hope that runs through each of their pieces.

 

 

Other Posts (1 of 2)…

Today I wanted to share my thoughts on previous posts. Let me first say that I know it’s very hard to write; it’s an art form in which the ultimate goal is to portray your message clearly to the reader. I’ve come to appreciate this in writing for the blog, which makes me more grateful to have had people contribute their thoughts. In one of my recent posts I discussed my process of generating a piece for the blog. When I release posts written by others I try my best not to alter (with the exception of an occasional grammatical mistake) their writing in order to preserve their voice.[1]

Let me say that this is not to serve as an ode to everyone who contributed to the blog; my gratitude to them for writing on my behalf goes without saying. My aim here is to provide my perspective on their perspective.

———- My Family ————

The first posts I must mention are those from my family: my wife, parents, sisters, and the interview with my son Christian. These were people that knew me before and after the diagnosis, those I called out for in the ICU, and those who are with me by my side every day.

I have to say that even though I remember much of the post-op/recovery period, after reading their pieces I realized there was much I either didn’t recall or remembered incorrectly.[2] It was no coincidence that my first guest post was from my wife—I know that without someone as strong and loving as her with me I could not have made it through this. One of my main worries during this ordeal was its effect on her, as often times the needs of the person closest to those who endure a traumatic experience can be overlooked. In fact, in the email I sent out to the residency telling them of my diagnosis, I made sure to ask that everyone look out for Fleur, as I knew this would be toughest on her. Her piece, besides being fantastically written, also shed much light on her view of the immediate aftermath of my surgery. We often discuss how my recovery is going currently. Many of my post ideas actually come from these conversations.

Hearing how my parents viewed my recovery was also very interesting. I imagine seeing their only son go through an ordeal like this was unspeakably tough. My biggest takeaways from their articles (and virtues I already knew of) was my mom’s optimism and my dad’s rationality. Until reading his piece, I had no idea of the extent of his doubts regarding my return to residency.

My dad- apparently hungry
My dad- apparently hungry

My love for my sisters has only been magnified through this experience and reading their articles brought tears to my eyes. Initially these were tears of sorrow, as while reading through their pieces a flood of childhood memories came rushing to my head and I knew with my condition that things would never be the same between us again; these tears of sorrow then turned to tears of happiness as I could feel the hope and love beaming through each of their articles.

Cormac and Alice
Cormac and Alice

I recently read an article in the American Academy of Family Physicians that dealt with the topic of children of those with chronic, debilitating conditions—it stated that these children were at risk of developing psychiatric conditions such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Depression, and Conduct Disorder (to name a few) stemming from having to deal with their parent’s disorder. It went on to state that open dialogue to make sure they know it is not their fault could help to curb development of these conditions. Thus when I interviewed him for the blog, I wanted to make sure he knew that this was in no way his fault.[3] Thankfully, he has taken my condition in stride and barely acknowledges it today.

—– Friends ——

I have decided to categorize the guest articles into ‘Family’, ‘Friends’, ‘Clinicians’, and ‘Co-Residents’. This merely provides a way to organize the posts and my thoughts. The reality is that I consider the clinicians and co-residents my friends as well but the fit was better in their respective sub-categories.

One of my closest friends is someone I met in college—Cliff Nguyen. I recently released his post. His piece also evoked a sense of hope in me (I smell a theme brewing here?). Reading his thoughts especially when we picked him up from the train station was a point of view that I had not thought of. In his piece he managed to transition from apprehension and anxiety to hope and optimism. Words cannot express how grateful I am to call him a friend.

—- Clinicians —–

It has been over a year and a half since that day in March when an MRI revealed my brain mass. I am still in awe that Dr. Kaufman was able to recall as much as he did. This is a person who sees over 40 patients every day. To remember my case with such detail is truly incredible.[4]

I mentioned in his post, that I did not particularly like him before that day in March. But now we have become close friends, often trading emails and collaborating on projects to publish. I’ve come to realize that while he is a tall and intimidating figure, he has a huge heart; the term ‘gentle giant’ comes to mind.

His piece also brought me to tears (I promise I don’t cry that much) as his beautiful words brought on many emotions. The thought of someone of his stature, someone I had been so wrong about, producing such moving and kind words was amazing.

Dr. David Kaufman
Dr. David Kaufman

I also had my reservations about Dr. Andary before getting to know him. Before becoming a patient of his, I only knew about him by word of mouth in the hospital. He was known not only for being a fantastic clinician–one of the best in his field–but also for his bluntness and inability to deal with incompetence.[5] I have had several office visits with him since my discharge and have come to admire his many traits.[6] I would not say that I’ve learned anything new about him, except for his willingness to fight for his patients; however, I now view his traits through a different window: his bluntness and inability to handle incompetence actually serve as a veil for his compassion for his patients. His piece may have seemed straight-forward on the surface, but on subsequent reads, it also was an article filled with compassion and hope.

Dr. Michael Andary
Dr. Michael Andary

Besides caring for my family and this blog, therapy has been one of the few constants in my life. When I was in the hospital my days revolved around my therapy schedule. Therapy is a budding field that keeps everyone involved very busy. That is why I was so touched that Valerie and Cheris agreed to write an article on my behalf for the blog. But when I read through their posts I was in awe of their writing ability. These are people who for a living write: ‘ROM: 3/5’(ROM = range of movement) or ‘poor ADLs’ (ADL = activities of daily living) in patient notes. I am not trying to decry these notations as insignificant, I am just saying that the type of writing involved in their daily work is more practical, and less literary. Yet they somehow both produced incredibly touching pieces about their work with me. The juxtaposition of their articles provided an interesting dynamic in that one (Valerie) works primarily in the in-patient setting while the other (Cheris) in the out-patient environment. Reading each of their views on my recovery was not only interesting in that regard, but also fascinating in themselves.

Cheris Grasse
Cheris Grasse

 

[1] In fact, after I send a draft to Amy, she often sends back her edits with a note “I didn’t touch XXXX’s part.”

[2] If it comes down to either believing me (groggy on pain medications, and still hazy from the brain surgery) post-op or believing someone else who was not the recipient of brain surgery, I’d go with the latter.

[3] To this day, even with Fleur and I’s correcting, he is still adamant in his belief that my tumor was due to “eating too many potato chips.”

[4] It’d be like asking you what you had for lunch on January 3rd of this year. I can barely even remember what I had for lunch this past Wednesday.

[5] Although relative to him, everyone’s incompetent.

[6] When you’re fighting for things like the right to work, you want bluntness and intelligence on your side.

Writing

I was initially advised to write by my cousin, writer Pauline Chen, for therapeutic reasons. She told me that writing or journaling could be a very cathartic experience. When I began this blog, it enabled me to reach out to people who had not heard my story. Now my aim is not only therapeutic, but also to have my story be heard and to maybe provide hope. The response to the blog has been incredible. I have had friends with whom I hadn’t been in contact reach out and send me well wishes; I’ve had close friends tell me how much they enjoy it.

My cousin's book
My cousin’s book

I’ve been asked by many what my goal is with the blog: “Perhaps a book eventually?” I’m always asked. The answer is ‘yes’ eventually I’d like to put this together in the form of a book, but having this blog has been rewarding in its own right. I enjoy taking time out of the day to sit down specifically to write. The original aim of writing for therapeutic purposes is accomplished through blogging; my mind also works now in ways it never has. I find myself constantly thinking about how this current activity is affected by my condition and how my condition also affects it. I am now also pondering different ways to convey my message.

—– Communication ——

For humans, there are various ways to communicate. The obvious modes are through speech and written word. There are, however, more subtle ways of communicating, such as through body language or even actions. Because this tumor stripped me of my normal speech, I had to depend on the other forms of communication to express myself[1], mostly through writing. Thankfully I enjoy writing and am still able to do it, so I can depend on this modality. If I were unable to write, it’d be akin to trying to pay a bill without any money in the bank: it’s possible (with some fines), but in no way ideal.

——- Process ——–

On every Monday and Friday I release a new post to the blog. As with everything else in life, what you see on the website is the result of a long, arduous process. Acclaimed author and professor William Zinsser once wrote that “Nobody becomes Tom Wolfe overnight, not even Tom Wolfe;”[2] Becoming good at any endeavor requires hard work. This is a lesson I had learned from my tennis days and my pursuit of a career in medicine. I believe it is a false notion that raw talent is all it takes for someone to succeed in their field. Was Michael Jordan born with some gifts that helped him become the best basketball player of all time? Of course yes, but it is no coincidence that he was also well known for his unbelievable work ethic, always being the first one at the gym and the last to leave. While ‘raw talent’ and natural abilities help, I believe that greatness requires a base of hard work, and that talent only aids in making this person great. My only point here is that to make this blog even just presentable takes more work than it seems. I will not fool myself into thinking that I have any natural talent when it comes to writing, but I have no issue telling you that I do work hard at it.

Book by William Zinsser
Book by William Zinsser

Because I release posts every Monday and Friday, I typically sit down to write each article the week before. I then send the completed article to my older sister, Amy, for editing.[3] She usually edits each piece and sends it back in 1-2 days. I then take one final look at the piece, make any necessary changes, and post it to the website.

I initially had a large reservoir of articles to post as I had spent much of my initial recovery writing. However now, I write most of the pieces only weeks prior to them being posted. Some who have followed the blog since its early days tell me that my style of writing has evolved over time. Even though it is probably due to my different views on my recovery, I’d like to think that the countless hours I have spent writing has resulted in an improvement in my writing skills. Zinsser goes on to say “if you went to work for a newspaper that required you to write two or three articles every day, you’d be a better writer after six months. You wouldn’t necessarily be writing well.”[4] My hope is that my practice is improving my writing.

——– Writing ———

Maya Angelou once said, “there is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”[5] Even though now I hope to share my story with anyone that will listen, the process of writing still serves its original intended purpose: to provide a medium in which I could let any emotions out that were trapped inside of me; for therapeutic reasons. As Maya Angelou said, keeping such a story untold can cause great damage to one’s psyche.

Maya Angelou
Maya Angelou

 

[1] I can thankfully still speak, but only in a delayed monotone way. Perhaps it’s because I’m self-conscious but I now try to avoid any situations that would involve speaking (i.e. telephone calls).

[2] On Writing Well, Collins,2006, p18

[3] Amy graduated from Yale University and is a great writer.

[4] P47

[5] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/writing

Traveling…

For today’s post I wanted to write about my recent experiences with travel, as my perspective on it now is very different than before I had my disabilities.

———- Hawaii ———-

Earlier this year my wife told me that she had been in contact with her childhood best friend, Tamara Moriarty, and she suggested we meet Tamara and her family in Hawaii. I agreed for a few reasons: 1. Fleur had not seen Tamara in many years, and this provided the opportunity to do so. And 2. The trip (at the time) was many months away, thus truly pondering any implications of this trip was beyond the scope of my thinking.[1] But as the trip grew near, more and more concerns began to plague me: Cormac would be 17 months at the time, how would he do during the 9-hour flight there and back? The last time I attempted to traverse a beach was in Long Beach Island (immediately after my discharge), which ended in a fall; how would I do on the beaches of Hawaii? How should I approach the titubation with Tamara and her husband Tim? As the trip approached, these worries really began to impact me, so much so that when my sister asked me if I was excited for the trip- my response was “No, not really. I’d rather be at home.”[2] I joked with her that I was probably the only person in history to NOT be excited to go to Hawaii.

Let me address each concern separately. Yes, Cormac seems to have endless energy. In fact the only time he slows down is when he sleeps, thus the prospect of 9 hours on a plane with him was daunting. I imagined 9 hours of him crying inconsolably. Thankfully, due to the hard work of my wife, the flights were pretty uneventful. In fact, most of the whining came from our 7 year old, who complained of headaches with flying. My wife is very in tune with Cormac’s needs, thus if she sensed him getting restless she would walk him up and down the aisles of the plane. Overall, I think he cried for a total of 10 minutes on both legs.

Walking, or even standing on the beach proved difficult, but luckily for me, Fleur understood my issues with the sand and would always be there to help me. Tamara and Tim also always picked areas (to plant) that were close to pavement. They also understood if I decided not to go in to the water.[3]

As far as titubation went, I only experienced it once in front of them, on the first night, at a restaurant. It was not a particularly bad episode. Actually, Tamara would later tell Fleur that she barely even noticed it, and only saw how I stopped eating and wondered if it was due to the titubation.

As I think back, it was a good trip that I enjoyed. I’ve never seen Christian so excited for a trip before. He also got along fantastically with Tamara and Tim’s elder son Sam. Most importantly, even though my tumor and subsequent increased time at home allowed me to spend more time with my family, being with them on a vacation trip was somehow different. Perhaps this is what people refer to when they use the term ‘quality time’.

The Chiou- Moriarty families in Hawaii
The Chiou- Moriarty families in Hawaii

———– Good People ————

If someone asked me to describe Tim and Tamara[4] it would be to call them ‘good salt of the Earth people’. I’ve yet to come across people that didn’t like them. They knew of my condition prior to the trip, and seemed to not be fazed or flustered by it at all. My condition has made me uncomfortable around people outside my family, but they were so warm and welcoming that I truly enjoyed my time with them.

——- Carlsbad ——-

On our way back we were to spend a week in Carlsbad (a suburb of San Diego) with my older sister Amy, her husband and family. My kind wife planned the trip so I could spend time with my family as well. It was incredible to see Amy and Amir and their three growing daughters. As I mentioned in an earlier post, Amy and Amir are both Emergency Department physicians. Amir works more and Amy works part time, but primarily stays home with their daughters. This means there are many days in which Amy is home alone with their three girls (their ages are 1,2,3). Yet somehow amidst the chaos of caring for three children Amy managed to be a wonderful host and sister. She always made sure we had great meals, and would schedule at least one outing a day. In the middle of our stay in Carlsbad, Fleur’s good friend and college roommate Jennie visited her. Jennie works for YouTube in San Francisco, exposing her to people from all walks of life. I’m not sure if it was this experience or her kind heart that made me comfortable to see her. I remember when I first saw her I was just awaking from a nap[5]. For some reason my titubation is worse after I get out of bed—I’m still trying to figure out why. It was a particularly bad episode of titubation, but Jennie did not even bat an eye. In fact, we had a long conversation during it. Usually I can detect some subtle changes indicating discomfort in body language when it occurs[6]. With Jennie she gave no such cues. Thinking back part of me even wonders if she noticed; it was such a bad episode though, that I’m sure she must have noticed.

The Chiou- Aminlari clan
The Chiou- Aminlari clan

The most important takeaway from my travels to Carlsbad is the importance of family.   I loved my sister and knew of her big heart, but appreciated it even more after the trip.

Nora, Rose, Cormac, Lila, and Christian in Carlsbad
Nora, Rose, Cormac, Lila, and Christian in Carlsbad

—— Traveling ——

I realize that my disability makes traveling difficult, but I believe it’s important for my sanity; it’s important to everyone’s sanity. When I hear of people who have never left their hometown, I am baffled. On the spectrum of traveling, I would consider myself closer to the ‘non-traveling’ end[7], but I do think it’s vital for one’s psyche. Even though I dreaded the logistical aspects of traveling, I am happy that I had the opportunity to spend time with such good people. Traveling 3,000 miles and overcoming my fears and apprehensions about the various aspects of travel was well worth it. I got to enjoy the company of the people I love, and build many happy memories with my own family and children.

[1] When faced with a question, I like to consider both the upsides as well as the downsides before coming to a conclusion.

[2] This is true, but I knew that Fleur should see Tamara.

[3] To lessen walking.

[4] There’s a cookie in New Zealand called ‘Timtams’.

[5] Neither Cormac nor any of Amy and Amir’s children slept well the night before.

[6] This can come in the form of increased or decreased eye contact, staring, or flustered speech.

[7] Meaning I don’t consider myself well-traveled and I do not like it. On the other end of the spectrum, there are people who have both visited exotic locales and love to travel.

Cliff

For today’s post I wanted to use a piece written by my dear friend Cliff Nguyen. As I mentioned in my previous post, Cliff was one of the first people I notified of my condition. He immediately responded, concerned. A few months ago while traveling to nearby Chicago for a convention, he came to visit me in Lansing.

Cliff and I were teammates on the tennis team at Harvard. My teammates and I are all friends, but Cliff and I were particularly close for some reason. Maybe it’s the fact that we’re both very soft spoken yet idealistic at the same time; or perhaps it’s because we’re both of Asian descent. I’m not sure why, but Cliff and I developed a very close friendship that continues to this day.[1]

Cliff’s path after college was not a conventional one.[2] Without going into the minutia of his many different occupations, he has been involved in a wide array of endeavors; these include real estate and professional tennis. Now he runs a newly opened restaurant in Anaheim, California called The Sawleaf Café, a place that serves Vietnamese dishes.

Cliff's restaurant
Cliff’s restaurant

Several months ago Cliff ventured here to Lansing to pay me a visit. I asked Cliff if he would write about this visit for the blog. He agreed without hesitation. This is what he wrote:

I remember the day that I first saw Chris again after his surgery – this was approximately 13+ months after his surgery.  I was able to take my first vacation day in 11 months, coming to visit Chris after having gone to a work convention.

I had no idea what to expect, waiting at the train station that evening for him to come pick me up.  I had already had a number of different emotions over the months prior to seeing him.  I remember feeling the shock and emotion on the day I had gotten an email from him telling me that he was experiencing vision issues and that the cause turned out to be a brain tumor for which he would need surgery.  I also vividly remember an equally strong sense of shock and sadness (and guilt and regret) when discovering a year later that Chris was having after effects of delayed speech from his surgery – enough so that he was reluctant to speak with me over the phone.  Additionally, he had told me that he was frustrated with his recovery and had “essentially gone from fully functional to disabled overnight.”

Cliff and Christian
Cliff and Christian

As Fleur pulled up to the station with Chris in the passenger seat and Christian and Cormac in the back, I could feel my excitement to see them, yet prepared myself for the worst.  When Chris stepped out of the car, I realized I was totally unprepared.  I remembered him as a great, powerful athlete, but now he was moving slowly, with uncertainty and some imbalance.  But he came to give me a big, welcoming hug.  When he spoke to me, he did so carefully and deliberately, less expressively and more monotone.  You could feel that his thoughts were moving so much faster than his speech.  I was sad to see the after effects of the surgery on Chris, and I wondered to myself how this was affecting him and his family.

After spending that night and the following day with Chris however, I realized Chris’s relationship with his family was very strong.  He did everything he could and took on any role he could to support and take care of them at home.  They, in turn, loved and accepted him as he was, yet treated him as though he was fully recovered.  It was awesome to see and experience.

I was grateful for the time that I spent with him and that we were able to bond even more through one of his newer hobbies – cooking.  We were able to make some chicken pho!

My attempt at homemade pho after Cliff left
My attempt at homemade pho after Cliff left

In the end, I was reminded that what really defined Chris and what had always defined him to me was his spirit.  He is a man with a strong, resilient spirit; he is a friend with a kind, generous and supporting spirit.

 

[1] I am no different in that my friendship with most of my college acquaintances really ended after graduation, save for the occasional e-mail. The advent of Facebook has allowed me to keep in touch with more friends.

[2] Most people who graduated with Economic degrees went on to Wall Street for either Investment Banking or Consulting to financial companies.

Friends…

Helen Keller once said “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light.”[1] I have mentioned in previous posts that I am not sure where I would be without family; the same is true of my friends: without each and every one of them I know my physical and emotional recovery would not have progressed as it has. Every simple gesture, phone call, text, card, letter, and e-mail helps to boost my spirits and further my recovery efforts, more than they could possibly know.

Helen Keller
Helen Keller

—— Frustration ——-

image

I title this subsection ‘Frustration’ not to highlight and elaborate the frustration I have felt in my recovery[2], but to tell you of the frustration I have caused my friends. Before the tumor I was often called a ‘homebody’. I preferred to stay home. After the surgery, this inclination became even stronger. Being in public or even seeing friends in my state is something I avoid if possible, even though I know that my friends really do not feel uncomfortable with my condition. My avoidance of social interactions and outings has hurt my friends and friendships. During a recent visit from Megha, she told me that she was upset because it seemed that since the surgery I had shut down emotionally. “There was a period [after the surgery]” she said, “that I would try to contact you, but got nothing in return. No response.” Another friend of mine, Greg, texted me asking why I had not reached out to him more. He said that he was worried that I had shut out not only him but also everyone else in my life. Until writing this, I had not thought too much about it, but imagine having a friend in need that you want to help, who seems to avoid all contact with you. Under normal circumstances, this friendship would not survive; ties would be cut. Luckily for me, all of my friends have been extremely patient, and have persisted in their efforts to get in touch with me, even though I appear elusive.

—- Help —–

When I met with Dr. Osuch, she asked me how much help I was receiving from friends. I don’t quite remember my response, but she deduced from my body language that it wasn’t much. She could tell from our encounter that I did not like to ask for help. “I know it may seem like a lot to ask someone for help, but friends do want to help.” I liken this to arriving to a friend’s home, and when asked if I’d like anything to drink, I used to say “no thanks” thinking this was the polite response and that I was saving them time and effort by declining. But what Dr. Osuch was saying, and what I’ve realized is that by saying ‘no thanks’ I was building a metaphorical wall between my friend and me. This friend wants to get you a drink. By getting you a drink, your thirst is quenched, a need is met, your friend is helping you, and comfort is built. In my case, by not asking for help, I was inadvertently distancing myself from my friends.

—— Old Friends——

When I was diagnosed, I immediately called and told my family. I sent out a mass e-mail to the residency program. I then sent two more e-mails; one message was to my college roommates to whom I had remained very close, and the second e-mail was to a college teammate and dear friend of mine[3], Cliff Nguyen. I immediately received responses from everyone in the program. Every one of my roommates quickly sent me their well wishes. Cliff, even though trying to juggle family, a new business, and a serious relationship wrote me immediately to express his concern.

I often hear much debate about whether schools like Harvard are truly worth it; is the education there really better? Doesn’t 1 + 1 = 2 there like it does everywhere else? While yes, it’s true that the education there is likely the same as everywhere else, you will be hard pressed to find fellow classmates who are as accomplished and influential.[4] The reason I bring this up is that my roommates have all achieved incredible things. From providing clean water to Africa to making millions with companies like JP Morgan Chase, I beam with pride every time I hear of what they are doing. I am the lucky one who gets to call them my roommates. When I told them of my condition they all responded, each asking if there was anything they could do to help. One of my roommates, Jesse Oberst, flew in from New York to see me in the hospital. This ordeal has brought me closer with all of them—they were all getting married pre-tumor; now many of them are having children. Every time I hear of them having children I become excited, not only because it makes me happy that they’ll get to share in the same joy as I do with my sons, but it also serves as a reminder that no matter what happens, life goes on.

Jesse and the boys
Jesse and the boys
Cliff and Christian
Cliff and Christian

—– Blog ——

After I began blogging about my experience I sent out a ‘notification’ on Facebook. I received countless messages sending me well wishes. The response to this blog has been amazing. I originally wrote for therapeutic purposes, but now I write in hopes of telling my story and getting it heard. Having this blog allows me to share my experiences with others, whether it be an old friend, or a stranger who just came across this website by chance.

—- A Friend in Need… —-

What truly defines a friend? Is it someone you have shared experiences with? Is it someone that loves you? Maybe it’s someone who is willing to help when needed. The many acts of kindness I’ve come across in my recovery makes me think that everyone is willing to help and wants to help; if a friend is defined by their willingness to help then perhaps everyone is my friend. I know this idea may be too ‘kumbaya-ish’ for your taste, but it is truly how I feel, as this experience has reinforced my belief in the basic goodness of all human beings. Even though walking, especially in the dark[5], would be difficult for me, I agree with Helen Keller. I cannot imagine going through this journey alone.

[1] http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/30531-i-would-rather-walk-with-a-friend-in-the-dark

[2] I could devote a whole post to this feeling. In January I visited my older sister in California when she asked me “How is your recovery going Chris?” It seems like a simple, straightforward question, however, for some reason this question brought on a flood of emotions. I burst into tears. The only word I could manage to get out was “frustrating”. Even though I could only muster that one word, if I were coherent I would have told her how fumbling to get a straw out of its wrapper (because of my poor motor skills) or having to call out to my older son to corral my youngest (unfortunately 17 month olds like Cormac aren’t understanding of brain tumors and their ability to generate a slowed gait) was incredibly taxing to my psyche. One small occurrence is, in itself, only a minor annoyance. But when compounded together, it can be very emotionally difficult.

[3] I played tennis in college.

[4] For example, one of my roommates, Jesse Oberst, a coxswain for the national champion rowers, would often tell me of a ‘beef’ that two of his teammates were having with another Harvard undergrad over some website. It turns out that this ‘undergrad’ was Mark Zuckerberg, and the website was Facebook.

[5] Closing my eyes, or darkness exacerbates my and all cerebellar symptoms. Try to walk in a straight line with your eyes closed. It is really difficult. If you were able to do it, you can thank your cerebellum, as when you close your eyes your cerebellum kicks in.