Ten years ago, my husband had brain surgery to remove a benign but life-threatening tumor that was growing from the inner ear and pressing into the brain stem. The growth was the size of an apricot and was wrapped around a clump of nerves that operated one side of his face, including the eye, mouth and ear. It took several months to obtain a diagnosis because the symptoms were easily attributed to other issues – like wax buildup in the ear making it hard to hear from the left side, numbness in the face and an aching jaw that could have resulted from a tooth abscess he had recently been treated for. When he finally was diagnosed with Acoustic Neuroma, he opted to get the tumor surgically removed. This meant a one-year wait list for one of Canada’s best neurosurgeons, operating at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.(If someone is to be poking around in your brain, you do want the best!)
It could have been a really crappy year of waiting for the scary day – worrying about will he make it and if he does, will he be changed somehow? Will he still be able to cycle, play hockey, ride his motorcycle, keep working as a freelance journalist? I had seen a documentary of a musician who had had a tumor removed from his brain and once recovered, his personally was changed. He had lost his sense of humor, didn’t joke around the way he used to. But he could still play music. His wife felt that it was almost like living with a different person he was so changed. I worried if something similar might happen to Robert. I quite liked him the way he was and prayed that his personality wasn’t touched.
But instead of ruminating on all that could go wrong, my husband chose to treat the wait as the best year of his life. Robert is a keen cyclist and had been coaching me on my cycling skills with Pearl, my new-to-me 12-speed bicycle. We had talked about touring on our bikes someday, and chose that year to do a week-long tour of Lac St-Jean, Quebec, called the Blueberry Tour – the area being famous for their luscious berries. It was my first cycle tour and I absolutely loved it, feeling a bit sad when it was over. We had the time of our lives, meeting like-minded people along this 256 km route that looped around the giant lake.
During that year, we cycled most weekends in the summer and fall, did Nordic skiing in the winter, hiked in the woods with our dogs on at-home weekends, hung out with family and friends on our huge front veranda with the panoramic view of farm land in the Cavan Hills.
Robert got through the nine-hour surgery beautifully and worked hard during a lengthy recovery, which included a second surgery to seal up a leak, and re-learning how to walk let alone ride. His body intuitively learned how to manage his balance with only one inner ear functioning, the nerves inside the other ear having been removed with the tumor. It was an incredibly challenging experience, but thanks to his dogged determination and positive attitude he got through it all.
It amazes me that he can still play hockey, ski, ride his motorcycle, and play a spirited game of badminton, all with compromised balance. Oh, and in spite of being 50 per cent deaf, hearing from one ear only, Robert has taught himself to play harmonica and cranks out some mean bluesy tunes.
Thankfully, his personality was untouched by the surgery. Because I like my Robert just the way he is.