Every survivor has a story. This is mine. I worked for two years as a physical therapist before my life changing conversation with my PCP (Primary Care Physician). Before I get into that let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’m the consummate underdog. “You’re too small to play sports.” “Your GPA isn’t good enough to go to grad school.” “You want to move to San Diego? You don’t know anyone there!” People are always telling me what I can’t do. I tell them to shut up while I focus on how I’m going to do “it”. I always enjoy a good laugh. In Physical Therapy school, I would sit in the back with my friends and watch one of our classmates doze off then call his cell phone. We would always bite our lips to hold in our laughter watching him perk up and search frantically for his cell phone. He should have learned to turn off his phone the first time we did it. I’m also a huge nerd. I used to type out ALL my class notes and carry my clipboard everywhere. For this, I took a lot of verbal abuse from my classmates.
On my last clinical in Physical Therapy school, I woke up one morning and decided to move across the country to San Diego after graduation. So I did. Things were going great and I was on the top of the world. That all changed when I got a call from my PCP. In September 2005 I was diagnosed with a golf-ball sized brain tumor on at the base of my brain between the brain stem and cerebellum, a very dangerous area for surgery. In a month I had brain surgery to have it removed. I also had radiation therapy and a lengthy dose of outpatient physical and occupational therapy. Like most young people, I thought I was invincible. I found out the hard way I’m not. I’m very lucky.
I somehow ended up in a very strange predicament. As physical therapists, it is our job to help people regain their function in everyday life. Now, I would be on the receiving end of this relationship. What was even stranger was the fact that the people I used to work side by side with were now working with me as a patient. After my brain surgery I was left with impaired coordination, double vision, an extremely weak voice, and the inability to walk. Lucky for me, this would all be a “temporary” inconvenience. My cognition and motivation were 100% normal when I got home, but since I was not perceived by other people as “normal”, I got some peculiar responses from people. As Physical Therapists, it is ingrained in our practice to be good teachers. Since I cannot return to my career as a Physical Therapist yet, I decided to publish a book based on my personal blog about my experiences as a young adult brain tumor patient and healthcare professional. I decided that my experiences would be a unique learning opportunity for others. I started this project because I realized there is little funding for brain tumor research and young adult patients are a population that often times gets overlooked in favor of the “cute” pediatric population, the “wise/respected” geriatric population, or the “established” adult population.
Writing has always been a secret hobby of mine. In high school, I was a typical “jock”, but my English teacher made us write in journals for 10 minutes before class begun. I really looked forward to going to English classes every day. In college I was too busy with all my extra curricular activities to continue writing. After grad school I rediscovered my enjoyment of writing through blogging and am developing a loyal and small following. In Physical Therapy school, when most of my classmates groaned about writing a new paper, I always looked forward to the challenge. 10 months after my surgery I wanted to walk a charity 5K to raise money for the National Brain Tumor Foundation. People thought I was crazy for even trying this because I could barely walk with a walker. “You can’t even walk 100 yards. How are you going to walk 3.1 miles?” I was very fortunate to have a strong group of friends around me. Our team surprisingly won a trophy for being the top fundraising team in the uber glamorous Orange County! I like challenges because if you fail, “big deal”, at least you know your limits and hopefully you learn something. In the big picture it’s not really a “failure” if you walk away from the experience with a genuine lesson you can use or pass on to others. You will always be stuck where you are unless you try something new. I have LEAPED out of my comfort zone since I was diagnosed with a non-malignant brain tumor: I’ve published a book, started two organizations, and have a few new ideas up my sleeve. When I first heard those words “we found a mass in your head”, it scared the hell out of me! That horrible feeling of coming face-to-face with your mortality is what drives me. It was a very scary and confusing time. It was the worst feeling in the world. I don’t want anyone else fear the unknown, so everything I’m doing hopefully will make things a little easier for someone when faced with an intimidating diagnosis.
Eric currently resides in San Diego, California. He graduated with a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from the University of Michigan-Flint in December 2003 and also earned his CSCS Certification from the NSCA in October 2003. He is the founder of mAss Kickers Foundation. www.mAssKickers.com. Please visit his website www.ericgalvezdpt.com for more information about Eric and his book, Reversal: When a Therapist Becomes a Patient. The new edition will be available for pre-order on www.mAssKickers.com.