My Brain Tumor And How I Discovered Thoughts And Words Shape Reality
My cancer diagnosis radically altered the way I perceived the world. One moment I was a healthy teenager, focused on training and hanging out with my girlfriend. The next I was a brain cancer patient. Something like that puts everything into perspective. One of the earliest and most powerful impacts was that I began to reflect on the link between my thoughts, my words, and reality. I also became acutely attuned to the ways in which the people around me used their words. I couldn’t read their minds, although I could often guess at their internal state from other clues.
This wasn’t an idle pastime. It was a matter of life and death. Had I trusted the wrong person or the wrong words, I could have died. In this article, I’ll share what I learned about the way thoughts and words shape reality—and how we can unwittingly use them to deny reality.
How I discovered I had a brain tumor
I was a happy teenager, living a blessed life. Nothing difficult or painful was on my radar. Maybe that lulled me into a false sense of security. It’s true that I did get mild headaches pretty regularly. But I was young, and I had no reason to suspect that they signified anything serious. Besides, my dreams were too big to slow down for something minor like a headache. I ignored them and kept powering through.
On March 6, 2016, I couldn’t keep powering through any longer.
I remember exactly what I was doing before my brain stopped working. That morning, I was so motivated. It was time to get lean, hit my bulking goal, shred up for summer. So I prepped a meal, posted a picture on Instagram, and headed out for the gym. On the way there, I FaceTimed my girlfriend, set my phone on my knee, and smiled when I saw her face. I know, I know. Maybe I shouldn’t have been on the phone while I was driving. I was just trying to be a good boyfriend. And really, if I hadn’t called her, I’m not sure what would have happened.
Within seconds, something went wrong. I knew exactly what I was trying to say, but the words didn’t come out. I felt as though I were a badly programmed robot. As I began to slur my words, my girlfriend thought I was playing a joke on her. Then the seizure started. A few hours later, I woke up in the hospital. I heard voices, saw the bar of the bed in front of my face, and registered the doctor’s jacket on the other side. In noticed that my mom was there and then I passed out again.
The weird thing was, after I woke up, I felt fine. My parents caught me up on everything that had happened, and it just seemed…weird. I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t feel weak or in pain. I just wanted to go home and continue living my life. Sure, I’d had a seizure, but I figured it couldn’t be that bad. Maybe I’d over-trained or something; that was it.
Reality, next left
As hard as I tried to deny the severity of the situation, it soon became apparent that there was something seriously wrong with me. Even when the neurologist told me he saw something on the MRI, however, I wrote it off. When he said that whatever was in my brain was big enough that I needed to see a neurosurgeon, I couldn’t accept it. It seemed impossible that I could go from being in great health and looking forward to an amazing summer to being a candidate for brain surgery. When my family and I met the neurosurgeon, he shook my hand and got right to business: “Good to meet you. It looks like you’ve got something going on in there. Before we get started, we need to clear some things up…”
Whatever the mass in my brain was, it was in a difficult spot to reach. The neurosurgeon told me that surgery would leave me unable to speak or hear. I certainly wouldn’t be able to play basketball again. He offered me no hope. No faith. No solutions. No rush, even—he told me we could do the surgery within the next couple of weeks, after he came back from vacation with his family. For him, I was just another job on another day in the life of a neurosurgeon. He delivered his diagnosis with no thought about how it impacted me. If I’d taken his words to heart and accepted them as truth, I wouldn’t be writing this article. I’d be living with the deeply negative outcomes he mapped out for me.
Fortunately, I didn’t, and neither did my parents. They were as shocked by his attitude as I was, and as soon as we left his office they began making plans to get a second opinion. My Uncle Fred made a special request to his friend and former presidential candidate Ross Perot, who helped us gain access to a hospital he has heavily supported—MD Anderson, one of the top cancer facilities in the world. Thanks to their support and the blessing of God, we would soon meet with a new brain surgeon who had at least as much mental strength as my parents.
The second surgeon had a completely different demeanor from the previous doctor. He quickly said, “Would you be ready for surgery? We need to get this moving within thirty-six hours,” and when we relayed the other doctor’s concerns about loss of speaking and hearing, he interrupted. “Oh, no. If I’m doing your surgery, that will not happen.”
The power of thoughts and words
In the brief, intense period during me struggling to understand what was happening to me, my eyes were opened to the impact of both thoughts and words. You’re probably used to the idea that thoughts shape reality. There’s some truth to that, of course. In my case, however, I found myself attempting to shape a reality that simply wouldn’t budge. There was something in my brain, and no matter how determinedly I wanted it to disappear, it stubbornly remained.
I learned that thoughts are so powerful that we can completely delude ourselves with them. My thoughts were so far removed from what was actually happening. There I was, meeting with a doctor who was preparing to do surgery on my brain, still thinking I was invincible. In the end, I realized that true power comes from acceptance. When we acknowledge reality as it is, we have the power to face each moment as it comes. Life is a journey, and all we have is the day that’s in front of us. Don’t waste time running from reality.
On the other hand, I could have accepted the prognosis the first neurosurgeon gave me. If I’d done that, I probably wouldn’t be able to speak or hear right now. I learned that, while we use words to shape reality, our words reflect our perceptions and limitations. When we succumb to internal limitations, we close off our minds. We never see what’s truly possible.
Today, I try always to accept reality, while never allowing myself to be defeated by negative thoughts and negative words.
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