The Procedure and Cancer Boy
by Travis McGinnis
I wrote these two pieces shortly after my brain surgery on August 7th, 2014 to remove a tumor. I re-read them the other day and decided to post them here on our blog.
These are basically journal entries. They're a deep and honest glimpse into what I was thinking and feeling at that point in my life.
Written August 29th, 2014
Today was the first day of the rest of my life. I entered into the hospital room with nothing but a bandage around my head and a gown around my waist. I was relieved and frightened all at once. I had never experienced this kind of thing before. A brain tumor had just been extracted from my noggin and here I lie, awake and breathing in a hospital room not more than 24 hours later.
The first 24-36 hours are rather a blur in my head. From being wheeled down what could have possibly been the last hallway of my life, I entered the Operating Room. I was placed onto a table and had all sorts of people approach me from all different angles.
“They’re going to come at you like a herd,” one gentleman said. The guy who said this was short, stalky, had a ponytail, and graying beard. His smile lit up the room.
“You’re going to feel a stick in your hand,” said Gray Beard. It was the needle for the IV. It hurt…not a lot, but enough to feel the pain shoot up my arm.
I lost track at who was in the room with me. First Dr. Meyer came in, shook my hand, and asked me some simple questions. Then one of his aids came in. They both disappeared, presumably to scrub up for surgery.
While he was talking, Dr. Meyer stifled a cough with his fist. He was wearing a surgical mask. I thought, “That’s not very sanitary!” The thought quickly left my mind. After all, he was Chair of The Neurosurgery Department for the Mayo Clinic. He’s basically the best brain surgeon in the world.
Next, I’m approached by a gentleman who identifies himself as Dr. Anderson with Anesthesiology. “You’re going to feel a burn go up into your right arm,” he said. “It means you’ll soon be taking a nap.”
He was right. I was.
Beeping. That's the next thing I remember.
I was being awakened.
5 hours later and the procedure was complete.
“Travis, can you hear me?” said an unfamiliar voice. I thought it was in my head as I slipped in and out of consciousness. It was Nealy Cray, Dr. Meyer’s Nurse Practitioner. She was behind a surgical mask, so I didn't recognize her at first.
Nauseated, I vomited. I’d learned that I puked half a dozen times already. I felt sick to my stomach. I puked again into a blue bowl…the remaining contents of my stomach came up that time. The rest after that were nothing but dry heaves.
I was unable to speak. Mute. I remember trying to speak while waking up, but nothing came out. It was a side effect of having my brain cut open. I was told that would be a possiblity...but deep down I hoped it wouldn't happen. I was scared that my speech would never come back.
“Do you want me to get your wife,” Nealy asked gently. Unable to speak, I nodded instead.
“Hi, Baby,” was the next thing I remember hearing. It was the soft voice of my wife. I looked up at her, smiled, and then passed back out.
The next blur of visitors are rather fuzzy, but I remember them in order. First, Mom and Dad. Dad touched my foot. I felt squeezes on my hands. I’m not sure how long they were around for.
Next to visit were my brother and sister. I remember hearing them ask things and me nodding to them, but not much else.
Then my aunt, Mary Pat; and mother-in-law, Connie. I remember looking up to see Mary Pat on my left, and Connie on my right. I closed my eyes and passed back out.
Next thing I remember is seeing my lovely wife’s smiling face. Not sure how long I had been out.
The nurse asked me something, not sure what it was. I tried so hard to speak. My brain struggled to connect the dots that turn thoughts into speech. After what felt like an eternity, I spoke for the first time in probably 18 hours.
“I’m good.” I said.
The smile on my bride’s face was from ear to ear. She heard me talk!
Written September 12th, 2014
I have cancer. There, I said it. It’s actually brain cancer, but who’s being specific? The nice thing about brain cancer is that it cannot spread to other parts of the body. That’s also the bad thing about brain cancer…it can’t spread!
Honestly though, I’m not sure I’d rather have any other type of cancer, because knowing what I know now, I can’t say that lung cancer would be better. How about pancreatic cancer, or prostate cancer? They’re all bad, but brain cancer is walk in the park so far.
A lot went through my mind when we found out the tumor was a Grade III Glioma. Grade IV is the worst. The grading scale is I-IV. Grade I is only found in children. Grade II is what we were hoping for. With Grade II, while technically it’s still cancerous, it grows so slowly that they just watch it over the next several years before deciding upon a treatment plan.
It was the night before our appointment with the neurologist at Mayo when we read the pathology report. It was a Grade III Oligoastrocytoma. You could’ve heard the sound of my broken heart as it shattered into a million little pieces.
I didn’t sleep that night, tossing and turning. I cried my eyes dry. I got up and went to the bathroom three or four times. My mind was a rollercoaster of thoughts. Mostly negative. I couldn’t help my mind from going there, despite my desperate pleas to make it stop. My heart was banging out of my chest. No matter how I lay, my ear drums pounded with nervousness. I saw every hour on the clock tick by.
What is he going to say tomorrow? Do I have 3-4 years to live? 7-9? Surely a Grade III Glioma can’t be that good. I’m going to die. What about my kids? Harper won’t even remember her daddy! Alexis won’t get to have me walk her down the aisle. Tatum is so confused as to what’s going on, will she even remember me? Kayleigh, my wife! What will she do without me? Will she re-marry? How long till she does? I love her so much. I don’t want to be selfish, but I don’t want her to get married to someone else either. I wish I had never read that damn pathology report. They don’t put anything in there about prognosis.
It was 7am when we got up. Longest. Night. Ever. It didn't help that our appointment wasn’t until 3:15 that afternoon. Even that was delayed by 2 hours because the doctor had to be at the hospital for something urgent. It was 5:15 when we left our appointment.
My prognosis is 15 years. It’s kind of weird when you think about it. I could be dead in 15 years. But, my odds of survival are in my favor. I have a greater than fifty percent chance of my tumor not coming back over the next fifteen years.
Honestly, I’m not that worried about it because it’s outside of my control. If I could control what would happen to me over the next 15 years, I’d certainly not choose this.
Never before have I come face-to-face with my own mortality. It’s like holding a poker hand and seeing your own death in the cards. There’s nothing you can do but to play it out. Knowing what I know, would I still play my hand differently?
I’m not sure, honestly.
Just imagine how far medicine will be in 15 years. How about just 2 years from now, or 5, or 10? Maybe there’ll be a cure, or more effective treatment options than radiation and chemotherapy. The strides we’re making in understanding how cancer works are mind-blowing.
Then again, I could step off the curb and be hit by a bus at any moment. There are a million ways to die in the west, so is it really worth getting all worked up over brain cancer? No, it’s really not.