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Meet Mike

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It's hard to believe that December has snuck up on us already!! With the arrival of the new month we have a new member of our community to meet. Please meet Mike-better known on our community as mchesher and read more about his journey with brain cancer.

Hi, my name is Mike.  I’m currently 34 years old and approximately 18 months ago I was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  What I initially thought was some sort of vertigo and/or a flu turned out to be drastically different upon my wife eventually saying “enough is enough” and a visit to the local hospital emergency room, but more on the later.

I live in a suburb of Toronto called Oakville, with my wife Jacqueline and a 17 month old standard poodle puppy named Rudy.
 
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    Our first visit with little Rudy and still one of my favourite pictures ever!
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Rudy interrupted my nap here!
 
I enjoy watching pretty much any televised sport out there, taking my dog for walks and my wife’s cooking (she’s really good).   We both commute to downtown Toronto everyday, my wife works in the Investment Advisory world and I work in Anti-Money Laundering Compliance.  To make things more interesting, we work for different institutions as well!
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My wife and I at the BYU – Michigan game in September 2015.  
 
I also really like live sports as you can see from these pictures.  I have season tickets to the Argonauts with my dad and typically go to a University of Michigan football game with my wife every fall.
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My dad and I celebrating a big Argos East Final win in Montreal in 2012!
 
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No celebrations on this day but always nice to hang out with my Dad and the Grey Cup!

Around September 2014 I noticed some nagging headaches and that my balance wasn’t quite what it used to be.  I went to a walk-in clinic but at this point, it wasn’t really much.  On November 8 2014, Jacquie and I got married (there’s a recurring theme in my story where I owe her BIG TIME).  It was an incredibly happy time and no one was any the wiser what was going on in my brain at the time.  We were lucky enough to move out of our downtown Toronto apartment to Oakville late in November 2014.
 
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Back – my sister in law Carly, bridesmaid Heather, my mom and dad, me, wife Jacqueline, my father and mother in-law, sister-in-law Rachel, my sister Laura Front – my groomsmen Rob (friend & soccer buddy since about 5 years old), Scott (undergraduate roommate, Luke (friend since high school), best man Pete (undergrad roommate)

Fast forward to March 2015.  I went to a work social on a Thursday night and after 2 beers with dinner, met up with my wife (who had also met up with a friend downtown) and drove home from the GO Station about 2 hours later.  Upon getting home, I threw up several times.  I was mortified that my wife would think I was drunk and I was certain otherwise.  Anyhow onto Saturday and we had my wife’s sisters (and 1 of their boyfriends) over in the afternoon.  I remember feeling dizzy and told my wife I had to go lie down, thinking I had caught a flu or something.  I did basically the same on Sunday and Monday, still with the mindset that I’d get over this flu, but geez I’ve never experienced one this bad before.  My head was pulsing something fierce!  My wife’s 30th birthday was also Tuesday to make matters worse.  Thankfully her sisters took her out to dinner while I took another day off work and more or less stayed in bed, still with this throbbing headache.  At this point my dear wife was saying enough is enough and off to our hospital emerg that night, the night of her 30th birthday.  She was close to at her wit’s end with me and I was pretty cranky with every bump she hit on the way.

When we eventually saw the doctor, bless his soul, he noted that having a pulsing headache was not consistent with someone who has vertigo and had me do a CT scan.  This decision was the first step in what saved my life, no question about it.  I will never forget how much that pulsing in my head hurt.   The hospital is an interesting place to say the least on St Patrick’s Day (my wife’s birthday).  I saw several patients being supervised by police who I can only assume had overdosed on something or other.  I remember waiting for my CT scan and the other guy waiting was restrained with 2 police watching him.   I underwent the CT scan and by the time I was done, the original emerg doctor had completed his shift and the overnight one had started hers.  So this poor doctor started her shift that night delivering the message that the CT scan had identified a tumor and that I needed to go to Trillium Hospital where I’d have surgery.  My first thought, they have this wrong, this can’t be my diagnosis, this isn’t real life, etc.  

So now we’re at about 2 or 3am in the morning, and I’m loaded into the ambulance for my 10-15 minute ride in the ambulance.  Again, it didn’t feel like real life.  I was taken to what was now my room at Trillium in the neurosurgery wing, stripped down to my gown and started on the IV bags.  I went through 3 or 4 that night; I was so dehydrated at this stage.  It became incredibly real to me when my in-laws came around 5am or so, my poor wife in the midst of pulling an all-nighter.  I also can’t imagine all the phone calls she had to make, including to my parents (who are about 2 hours away but were there not long after).

As far as things can go, once the emerg doctor diagnosed me, I can honestly say lady luck has turned my way every single time for which I am incredibly thankful!  I was able to have surgery 3 days later on the Friday.  Prior to surgery was a few days of being hopped up on painkillers and what feels like being awake all the time!  Surgery took 5 hours and removed almost 99.5% of what was a somewhat large and aggressive tumor.  My biggest takeaway from the experience of surgery was seeing my family and my in-law family on my way down to the procedure.  Everyone was so sad and I still feel like I caused this sometimes and it’s a terrible feeling.  However, this surgery is step 2 in what saved my life and I am utterly thankful for the work the 2 neurosurgeons did that day.

Despite being a bit cranky for a day or so afterward (my head hurt give me a little break), I was released from hospital the following Monday.  It was tougher at first then I had imagined but then again, I wasn’t sure I was ever going to leave the hospital at all!  My wife is a saint though, she helped me with everything at first and I started getting back into doing things for myself again.  While this was great, I did find it frustrating when I was unable to do things, but you try to adapt I guess.  It’s not like you get a choice in the matter!

I was fortunate to be referred to Princess Margaret for follow-up.  My oncologist decided I was best suited for radiation and I underwent a total of 35 daily sessions.  My mother-in-law and one sister-in-law were kind enough to do the bulk of the driving to these sessions for me; however others pitched in if needed to.  I was and am very grateful for this because as we all know, this is not the most glamorous process.  Luckily the treatments worked and the MRI upon completion of the radiation was clear!  Given the nature of my tumor, I had to have my spine checked as well.  2 hours sweating in an MRI machine wasn’t my idea of a good time needless to say.  Anyhow, things were good and things have been clear since (I knock on wood as I say that).

So fast forward to today, things are good!  I was able to return to work full-time again a couple weeks after radiation was complete.  I currently participate in an exercise class at Wellspring in Toronto on my lunch hours twice a week where I work on my balance and fine motor skills.  Wellspring has several facilities and is an amazing resource with many programs for survivors.  I also participated in a study with one of the psychologists at Princess Margaret who has developed a program (like brain training) to assist people who have had a brain tumor.  I enjoyed it thoroughly and hope I helped her in getting the data she was looking for.  Lastly, I have also met with a social worker at Princess Margaret as well.  I carried guilt after my treatments were complete and she helped a great deal.  My takeaway line from her was “if you had a friend who had gone through what you had, would you be as hard on them as you are being on yourself?”  She was 100% right.  I took home my radiation mask when my treatments were complete.  We had a fire at my parents and burned it on my birthday this year, it was amazing. 
Thanks for reading all this.  It’s been incredibly helpful to me even in just writing it out here.  My heart goes out to anyone out there who doesn’t have 100% support from their spouse, parents, siblings, friends, colleagues, etc.  I couldn’t imagine, it has been hard enough and my entire support system has been fantastic.  Finally, I owe my wife a lifetime of happiness for the support and help she’s given me.  I like to say that people always show their true colours when the chips are down and I can safely say, she overwhelmingly has shown me hers.
 
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Pete and I at a Ticats – Argos game in 2013
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Rudy and me watching Raptors playoffs in the spring – he’s not too vested in the game!

Thank you Mike for sharing your story with us, we wish you nothing but happiness and clear scans ahead (knock on wood). You have been a valuable member of our community providing fantastic support to other members!




Comments

Hi Ali,

That's really nice to hear. From where I was it all seemed like a "machine" almost at times - nice to hear of the human element. Thanks for the comment - so far so good!
  • Posted Mon 05 Dec 2016 03:26 PM EST
I used to work at the Neurological Hospital and for a period in the neuroradiology department. We'd prepare reports of patients and came to recognise names of those who had brain tumours because they had so many CT scans. We always kept up with how a patient was doing and were always so happy with the success stories. We never got to meet the patients, though, because we were behind the scenes but were always rooting for the patients to get better. It's nice now to see a face. So happy for you Mike. Knocking on wood!
  • Posted Sat 03 Dec 2016 05:53 PM EST

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