Most have heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”. While I wholeheartedly agree with this, I also feel that this applies to healthcare and needing a village to heal patients as I have directly benefited from the efforts of my “village”, or per the ABTA, my commYOUnity. It is probable that I would have had similar success as I do now with surgery and therapy alone, but the quality of my life would have significantly lacked in comparison if I did not have the emotional and personal support I had and still do. To have traveled this journey alone seems unimaginable.
It wasn’t until December of last year that I felt well enough to start exploring avenues to get involved and possibly become a mentor or “buddy”. My desire to do so was inspired by my own struggles as I found myself often frustrated with the lack of clarity surrounding my diagnosis and then with recovering from disability. I would ask what I thought to be simple or general questions only to receive the run around. Was I the first brain tumor patient these individuals have ever encountered? Am I the first disabled person asking for information on the best course to be independent again? Driving was a huge goal I wanted to accomplish and for months I sought information or assistance but found myself directed from one person to another.
This passion also led me to the American Brain Tumor Association (ABTA) and the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance (CTBTA) . I was fortunate that through my efforts to advocate with ABTA, I was invited to Chicago where ABTA headquarters is located for the annual Patient and Family/Caregiver Conference at the end of July.
At the conference, I learned about current treatment methods and innovation in the areas of neurosurgical and neuroncological medicine. I remember hearing stories of other survivors and all I kept reveling in was, “they get it”. It was at that moment that I felt my struggles and concerns were validated by this amazing group of individuals who each struggled with and continuously persevere against a diagnosis that has wreaked just a little bit of havoc in their lives. I had never met any of them before then and yet I felt like I could relate to them and that we shared this bond through our experience.
This theme of comradery and commYOUnity was also relevant in the distinguished panel of speakers at the event including Drs. Susan Chang, Mark Johnson, Erik Sulman, and Joon H. Uhm to name a few. During one of the case review panel board seminars, whilst discussing the benefit in patient care with a tumor board vs a single MD approach, Dr. Lorenzo Munoz, a neurosurgeon at Rush University Medical Center, stated “I’m a smart guy, but I’m not smarter than all of us collectively”. It was a statement which was appreciated and applauded by many attendees who have personally benefited from a collaborative approach.
Later on, I was afforded the opportunity of attending a lecture given by APRN Kathy Lupica on “Quality of Life: Managing your Symptoms & Finding Support”. It was a humorous lecture with a touching tribute to the recurring theme of community in the lives of many patients.
Another inspiring aspect of the conference was the opportunity to hear actual patient and caregiver experiences. Two couples were asked to speak of their experience. Meet Martin & Karma who have bravely battled Martin’s Glioblastoma diagnosis and Donna VanRyn a 9 ½ year Glioblastoma survivor who credited much of her success to the love and support of her husband. They also echoed the sentiments of many gathered to hear their experience, particularly Donna, who stated she has done so well that people have a hard time registering her illness. “I look too good to be ill to others”. Overall, the conference was an amazing experience and an opportunity to meet wonderful individuals who will be partners in the continued effort to advocate for brain tumor patients and their caregivers.
Back in CT, I followed up the conference with the Connecticut Brain Tumor Alliance “Night of Hope” with attendees, friends, and fellow brain tumor survivors, including Chris and Ashley Cusano. It was an amazing evening of music, inspiration, and of course paella. We gathered and watched Morgan Platt’s rendition of “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten. We then ended the evening with inspiring words by Tracey Gamer-Fanning, President Emeritus of CTBTA. A 9yr brain cancer survivor, mother, wife, and relentless advocate whose message ensured that those present to hear her speak that night will never look at brain tumor patients the same again.
To say that I have been inspired by these two organizations, their members, and fellow volunteers is an understatement. I have recently been matched with another brain tumor patient and though she has mentioned that my random calls have brought her some joy and comfort, I make sure she knows that by allowing me to be a part of her community, she has done the same for me. So indeed, it takes a village to heal a patient.