For many of us, life drastically changes after we are given the diagnosis of an Epidermoid Tumor. For some, a wait and watch approach is taken, and an MRI at regularly scheduled intervals dictates the next step in treatment. For people in this group they must live knowing that a tumor, a foreign body, resides in their brain. For others, surgery to remove the mass is deemed necessary. This is by no means a benign surgery; it is brain surgery for which your skull must be opened. The point is that regardless of the approach, life goes on and you must re-enter it at some point.
For me, this tumor was discovered in the midst of my medical training, as I was slated to enter the last year of my three-year residency. Due to the severity of my symptoms surgery was needed. Re-entrance back to my life has been rocky and continues to be an ongoing journey, but it is one that is necessary. This re-entrance is not only defined by work; people re-enter into family life, friendships, and society in general. I had not been back to the clinic for 20 months, had a newborn son waiting at home, and my wife and elder son were anxious for me to return from the hospital. It does not matter how long you’ve been away or even if you’ve been sidelined at all, after being diagnosed with an Epidermoid Brain tumor your life is changed and it is up to you to re-enter it. This change may be subtle, or more overt (as in my case), but the mere act of being diagnosed with this condition alters you in one way or another.
I am not a fan of using sports metaphors, but I cannot think of another way to better tie it to the situation: when an athlete suffers from an injury, such as an ACL tear, the surgery to repair this injury only marks the beginning of the journey for return. After the surgery this athlete must begin the process of rehabilitation (in this example, physically strengthening their knee). The recovery though is not complete once strength and mobility is back to the pre-injury form; what many overlook is the mental component of the recovery: this mental aspect of recovery begins before the physical does – once the injury occurs, he/she must go through the process of coping with the injury. The Kübler-Ross model (an often used model in medicine that details stages of grief) states this begins with denial and ends with acceptance. Then the athlete is faced with the decision to return or not: is undergoing surgery and/or rehabilitation for a non-guaranteed outcome worth it? Next there is the mental hurdle of returning to the field (or rink, court, pitch, pool), and facing questions like will my injury hold up? What if I get injured again? Will I ever be as I was before? The point is that there is an endless mental battle that is often overlooked. Now you may wonder, that’s great, but how does it relate to Epidermoid Tumors? The reason I use this metaphor is that all of us also face these mental barriers when trying to return to our lives. Yes, some of us like myself, are also confronted with physical limitations, but the mental rehabilitation is something universal to all of our experiences with this tumor.
The question then becomes, “Are we ready for the challenges this tumor carries with it?” While the physical challenges can often be overcome with time in the gym and/or medicine, the mental hurdles are ones that no medicine or sweat can fix. It is a battle that many of us do not foresee, but in order to re-enter into our lives completely, it is a battle that we must win.