IN THEIR WORDS

Dave McGrath

Brain Cancer

My cancer story starts with the diagnosis of another disease. When I was 14, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. I had been having symptoms for over 2 years, but didn’t see a doctor until the pain was unbearable. Thanks to my neighbor “Dr. Bob,” emergency surgery was ordered. Crohn’s disease was found in my intestines and one and a half feet of them were removed. I was in the hospital for Christmas that year. It sucked, but I had loving family and friends who supported me.

Medically, things went pretty well for me up until my 18th birthday. I started having double vision and headaches. Unlike with my Crohn’s Disease symptoms, I decided to see a doctor right away. After seeing an optometrist, opthomologist, and opthomologist/neurologist, a CAT scan was ordered.

I will never forget lying down on the CT machine. There was a sticker with a cat looking through a magnifying glass that said “Don’t worry, it’s only a cat scan”—I wasn’t amused. When the CT technician came in and removed the headrest, she told me to lean farther back because the doctor wanted more pictures from a different angle.

I knew they must have found something. After the scan, my assumptions were confirmed when I saw the look on my mother’s face. She told me they had found a tumor in my brain. She was already trying to hold back the tears, so I gave her a smile. I told her the doctors took care of my Crohn’s, and they would take care of this, too. I knew when I told her I really had to believe it, so from that moment on I never stopped believing it. And thanks to my Crohn’s, I knew having loving and supporting friends and family made it easier to deal with medical issues.

Days before my scheduled biopsy to see if the tumor was cancerous, a blood test came back that told my doctors what kind of tumor I had. Good news, no brain surgery. Bad news, I had brain cancer. More good news, the doctors had a game plan to take care of the cancer. My course of treatment called for 4-6 rounds of chemotherapy (VP16, Bleomycin, Carboplatin) followed by radiation.

When I was having a bad day, I kept telling myself the cancer must be having an even worse day. And I was right. Six tough rounds of chemo later, the radiologist met with me to tell me the good news. The chemotherapy medication had done its job, and I didn’t need radiation. The doctors really had no explanation why I didn’t need radiation, but they told me I was done with treatment. I wasn’t going to argue with them.

People who also suffered young adult cancer like Danny Manning in my high school class and Greg Montalbano from my hometown inspired me, while my family, friends, doctors, and nurses supported me. Luckily, my cancer story has a happy ending. Not only did my brain cancer lead me to a job that I love, it led me to a job that gives reason to my battle with cancer. I now work at Hope Lodge, in Worcester, MA. It’s a house run by the American Cancer Society that provides free rooms to cancer patients from all over the world who are getting treatment in local hospitals. Every night, I get to hang out with guests, laugh, support, share cancer stories, and pass on what I learned from my battle with this disease. Pretty darn cool, I think.

"When I was having a bad day, I kept telling myself the cancer must be having an even worse day."

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