‘Doctors said my surgery would be smooth, and all would go well. To my surprise, I woke up in the ICU with tubes coming out of me, double vision, and not able to walk.’: Man describes his ‘life after brain tumor’

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“Almost 9 years ago and after 5 hours of brain surgery to remove a small tumor about the size of a grape, I woke up in the ICU without the ability to walk, double vision, and tubes coming out of me. That was a huge shock to me as medical professionals assured me it would be a smooth surgery, and all would go well. They predicted I would be back to my baseball routine and wouldn’t even know I had surgery after a few weeks.

Before surgery, I had just broken 7 baseball records which included having the most homeruns, the most doubles, the most stolen bases, struck out the most batters, etc. I was living in Las Vegas, Nevada, with my girlfriend and her 3 kids at the time. Our love was strong, passionate and glowing. Near the end of our relationship, the 2 younger kids even started calling me ‘dad.’ For those of you who understand the importance of that… No words are needed as that one word says so much!

Word got out that I had broken many records. The significance of my situation was that I was usually the smallest guy on the baseball field. It is quite unusual for little guy to be a power hitter and fast too. There was some talk about inviting me to attend the next Cleveland Indians tryouts in the early spring in a few months. Many felt confident I would make the team even though I was in my early 30s and not as young as professional baseball teams prefer. It’s safe to assume I didn’t attend tryouts after having brain surgery.

Side by side of man in baseball uniform beside his bats that have his name on them
Courtesy of Brandon Carter

In the fall, I noticed my balance, vision and fatigue was getting worse. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to walk on a trampoline, mattress or maybe we were having a small earthquake. My vision became difficult for me to focus on specific things as they didn’t appear clear to me in the beginning after looking at it. Because I’ve always had excellent stamina and been in great shape, a major red flag caught my attention. For example, just going up a flight of stairs left me winded, I would sleep much longer than usual, and I uncommonly wanted to take naps. I knew something was way off.

My girlfriend and I decided I would fly to Seattle, Washington, for better medical options as Las Vegas wasn’t well known for that. I scheduled an appointment with an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor in Seattle to investigate my symptoms. I stayed with my parents just outside of Seattle. Many people had previously suggested I may have had a severe case of vertigo or an inner ear issue. The ENT doctor ordered an MRI of my head to rule out things like Multiple Sclerosis, etc. After the test and the next day, my doctor requested I come into his office to go over the MRI results.

While he showed me the MRI of my head, he stated it looked as if I had a small tumor about the size of a grape in the middle, lower back of my head. In an instant, my whole world came crashing down. Thoughts of hard work to accomplish all I had in life swiftly went through my mind. Those thoughts instantly had me tearing up saying there goes my baseball dreams, and he hugged me with comfort.

I was especially grateful that I was alone in that MRI result appointment to be honest. I had no idea what the results were going to be. I imagine many people might like a loved one beside them during such a time. That wasn’t the case with me. I think if anyone else had accompanied me, they might have freaked out in that moment. Most likely, that would’ve made me freak out too! He commented how I would have a tough road ahead of me, but in an optimistic way, pending on how well I approached and dealt with my recovery. He then referred me to a renowned neurosurgeon who was the head of a team of neurosurgeons.

I was in complete shock after that appointment, as I’m sure anyone would be in my situation. No one, including me, ever thought that I had a brain tumor. Remembering the ride home on the bus, I was simply trying to just focus enough on getting up the few stairs to board it, so I didn’t stumble or trip.

I knew I needed to call my mom as she was waiting in extreme anticipation of the results of the appointment. I had no idea how to break the news to her though. I’m sure that’s a parent’s worst nightmare to receive a call like that from your child explaining they have a brain tumor. My heart hurt, and stomach drastically sank with compassion and sorrow knowing I needed to make that call.

Man sits on couch playing guitar
Courtesy of Brandon Carter

The mere thought of explaining my situation triggered me to think in depth of how life would be for me at that point. Suddenly, all my plans in life didn’t exist anymore. A deep emotion of helplessness and despair came over me as normally I controlled life. Now, it seemed as if life was controlling me! Almost instantly, it felt as if it didn’t matter how hard I worked for anything in life and things were so insignificant to me. That it was all simply erased because of a small brain tumor.

I ended up being terribly blunt and almost emotionless in shock. I asked my mother to tell the others in my family about my tumor discovery, as I couldn’t handle bearing that burden along with all the other emotions going through my mind at the time.

Within a week, my mother accompanied me to a consultation with the neurosurgeon. He confirmed using the MRI of my head that it was a brain tumor. He thought it was benign but wouldn’t know for sure until he performed the biopsy during surgery. He guessed it was a slow-growing tumor that I had since a child. Later, I found out there were only 10 medical cases of my tumor in the world and I was the first adult case. Brain tumors aren’t rare. But, the specific kind I had was. The neurosurgeon wanted to take a vote with his team in the next few days to decide on whether to remove the tumor or not. That vote increased my confidence level to have the surgery and not get a second opinion as many would suggest. My tumor was starting to branch out like octopus legs, which would make it nearly impossible to remove later on with my severe symptoms.

Less than a week later during another consultation with my mother and I, the neurosurgeon said it was a unanimous decision to remove the tumor immediately. We were given the expectation that in a few weeks after brain surgery, I would be back in my routine and not even knowing I had it because it would go so well. He was so convincing I even made plans to go to a Halloween party as a brain patient a few days following my surgery. That’s how reassuring he made it seem, along with the factor I was quite the trooper when it came to tough things.

Hearing that my baseball dreams were still a possibility had me excited and extremely positive, convinced my surgery would be a piece of cake. My brain surgery was scheduled a week after the consultation, a few days before Halloween in 2009.

Stitches on back of man's head who had brain surgery to remove tumor
Courtesy of Brandon Carter

As I explained in the beginning, I woke up in the ICU with tubes coming out of me, double vision, and lost the ability to walk. I felt that my balance was severely off, to a point I wouldn’t even attempt to walk. There aren’t any words to perfectly describe my feelings of being scared and realizing the magnitude of my situation. ‘Severely alarmed and confused’ is the most descriptive and possibly the best way I could express the way I felt when I woke up from my surgery.

However, I had a quick and intense moment of clarity in the first few minutes of being conscious- most of my symptoms were most likely permanent. That moment of clarity forced me to examine the reality of going any further in baseball. All my dreams diminished instantly again.

I felt like I was on a roller coaster of emotions. From the first diagnosis I was under the impression I couldn’t pursue baseball anymore. Then, during the consultation right before surgery, I was under the impression I could. Now, to wake up realizing I couldn’t again was overwhelming! I wanted to cry after contemplating all the effects of my condition. But, I was still in shock with the realization of all the factors, which made thinking rationally extremely difficult.

My body shut down emotionally. Being overloaded with a massive amount of information and excessive loss, rendered me to be emotionally numb. The only thing I felt like doing was crying, feeling life wasn’t fair. The nurse walked in shortly after I awoke and had a few minutes to ‘gather myself.’ I asked her what happened during my surgery as my expectation was completely opposite of the reality of the situation. She said she would go get the doctor. I replied in an extremely blunt way, ‘You do that!’ was not the most pleasant of patients.

Man lying in hospital bed after brain surgery to remove tumor
Courtesy of Brandon Carter

When the doctor came in, he expressed to me the tumor was benign as he predicted. That my double vision should go away in a few days, which it did. However, he did explain to me that I probably wouldn’t ever walk again. Hearing that news triggered negative thoughts racing through my mind. After a moment of marinating on that news, I quickly thought of who I was and told the doctor to not tell me what I can’t do, and that I forgive him. I was confident in my relentlessness and hard work ethic I would walk again no matter what it took!

He explained to me how a patient had a similar surgery 4 hours before mine and he didn’t make it. After hearing that news, I immediately became grateful to God for even being alive! My thoughts at that point weren’t focused on what I couldn’t do, they were focused on what I could do. I was presented with a choice. To either let this destroy me, or make the best of it. I chose to make the best of it. I’d work hard on everything to get back to the Brandon I used to be no matter how long or what it took. Failure was not an option.

I spent the next few weeks in the hospital practicing on walking and writing. My fine motor skills and dexterity were severely impacted as a result from surgery.  I had excellent penmanship and knew calligraphy. I was devastated I couldn’t even read my own writing in the beginning!

Side by side of man's handwriting before and after brain surgery that looks very different
Courtesy of Brandon Carter

After a few weeks I was able to progress in my walking from using a walker to walking quite normal. To this day people are amazed when I tell them I learned to walk again, and they claim they can’t even tell! The feeling I experience after I graduated from a ‘walker’ was one of serious pride, determination and self-confidence. I still felt ‘broken,’ but, this helped me feel much more whole. I also was able to conquer my writing skills to a point it was clearly legible. I knew that would be something to continue practicing in my recovery.

I spent the next two years recovering at my parent’s home in Seattle, Washington. To be living back with my parents again at age 33 was extremely humbling. It required so much patience not only from myself, but my parents to deal with me each day with my issues and significant loss. Most of my everyday routine was taking a walk with the dog around the neighborhood and practicing writing or ‘homework’ given to me from previous therapy appointments.

My girlfriend at the time and I decided to end our relationship due to the circumstance which of course, was heartbreaking. We all know romantic relationships can be ‘complicated’… this truly was!

One of the serious issues that started happening as soon as I started to recover at my parents was my appetite. Because I experienced an abundance of loss, the depression from that left me with no appetite. I found it terribly hard to eat. I began to lose weight. A lot to be accurate. I ended up going from 185 pounds to 135 pounds! I knew that I was getting thin, but, I didn’t think it was at all as severe as medical professionals claimed.

I was given an ultimatum. Medical professionals said my organs were shutting down due to the lack of appetite. I needed to eat more, or they would have to admit me back into the hospital to feed me with a tube. Hearing that was eye-opening! I ended up forcing food down even though I wasn’t hungry.

Man who had brain surgery to remove tumor sits in restaurant with two plates of food in front of him
Courtesy of Brandon Carter

I was thrilled to step on the weight scale and see that I gained 10 pounds. However, that was ‘fat weight’ I gained and not muscle weight. The memory of the muscular Brandon before surgery was engraved in my head. Part of my goal of getting me back would include getting my body back. It took a few years.  But, I am now in the best physical condition I’ve ever been in at 42 years old. I’m finally not just big and muscular. But, defined and cut too. Please know I’m a humble person. Just knowing where I was and all the hard work to get where I am now is something I’m extremely proud of.

Collage of man before brain surgery when he was muscular
Courtesy of Brandon Carter

I ended up moving across the state to Spokane, Washington, in an apartment by myself near most of my family. The independence and freedom I felt was immeasurable! What significantly added to those feelings was that I started driving again. That drastically changed my quality of life to a more ‘normal’ life. I also accepted a youth leadership position in my church over 14 and 15-year-olds. For the first time since my surgery, I started feeling hope again. I began to feel a peace within me that everything would be okay. Hope that my life wouldn’t be as bad as I predicted. Most of my days recently at that time had been full of true happiness, support, and love.

I ended up going back to college online. I knew everything was okay mentally. I wasn’t exactly sure how I would do in a classroom type setting with assignments, etc. I went to school for a year getting a 4.0 GPA.  I was proud of accomplishing that goal. Not just for getting a 4.0. But, that I got great grades even after having brain surgery. These accomplishments helped me get back to the Brandon that I once was. Even though they may not have been significant accomplishments to some, but, they were huge ones to me and my loved ones! It seemed I was able to do anything anyone else could do if not better, even though I had brain surgery. That feeling compelled me with the confidence to try something even if I was reluctant about it at first. One of the things my older brother said to me that always stands out is how he is always amazed by the things I can do when I try. That I seem to be successful at it no matter my limitations.

One of those limitations in question was answered by getting a part-time job. After a few months of work, I transferred my job to Utah where I could focus on writing my story and be even more independent. I accepted the calling in my church to be a Scoutmaster. I felt extremely inadequate to fulfill that calling. I barely had any scouting experience and physically, I didn’t feel confident to do some of the physical tasks that scouting may demand on campouts or activities. But, after a while and help from many other leaders and previous Scoutmasters, I found my calling as a scouting leader.

Collage of man who had brain surgery working as scout master in Utah
Courtesy of Brandon Carter

It was rewarding to have a young man come up to you and express his immense gratitude for your leadership help when at the beginning, you may have felt you had nothing to offer. That feeling might bring a tear to your eyes!

I knew I wanted to share my story, I wasn’t quite sure how until I decided to write a book about it. I was first reluctant to write it because I knew it involved me revisiting memories and all I lost. I also have been a private person my whole life. I realized sharing my story in a book meant expressing emotions in detail leaving me exposed and vulnerable. Feeling vulnerable is not the best feeling if you have trust issues, which I do for good reason. But, it was more important to me that I share this inspirational story of hope, because I was at a spot in life where I had lost all hope. My whole world turned upside down in an instant. There seemed like there was no light at the end of the tunnel for a long time.

My goal was to get the Brandon back that I once knew. Little did I know, I not only got back that Brandon, but, many other attributes, skills, strength (mental and physical), and characteristics I never had before. I want to help people in moments like I experienced. To ‘bounce back’ in life no matter the obstacle! I spent the first 4 years after surgery getting crucial things in my life back again and recovering. Then, I spent the next 4 years writing my story in a book to inspire and possibly rekindling your hope. To help you realize that anything is possible, no matter who tells you that you can’t do it.”

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Brandon Carter, 42, of Spokane, Washington. His book about his journey through recovery is called “Bouncing Back.” Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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