Brandon's Story: Finding My New Normal
Before cancer I was living the dream. I was 26, had a great job, amazing friends, a supportive family, and was living in downtown Toronto. I had a clear sense of where I was and where I was headed. Within a few years I would have a house, family, and children to call my own. Or so I thought. Then out of nowhere cancer struck me like lightening.
I was on vacation with my family when I noticed my vision was getting worse. I thought I needed a new prescription. But over the next few months my vision went from blurry to seeing double. Then one evening I threw up and I knew something was seriously wrong. The next day I checked myself into the Mt. Sinai hospital to get some answers. Little did I know my life would completely change.
I went in on a Friday evening and they told me to stay the night. The MRI results would be available in the morning. When I woke up I saw a team of doctors at my bedside. The lead doctor stepped forward and said, “There’s no easy way to say this Brandon. You have a tumour in your brain. The first thought I had was, “This can’t be me. I’m healthy, young, and I’m just starting life. “But then it sunk in…and in an instant my life smashed into a thousand pieces. Suddenly everything I thought I knew, where I was headed, was gone...I was in the fight for my life.
Over the next four months I received radiation therapy and was on a host of drugs to combat the cancer. During that time I started connecting with myself. I began to build a strength that came from within. I started meditating, visualizing me beating cancer, and trying to do my best to live each day. I began telling my family and friends how much they meant to me. I didn’t want to have any regrets. So I lived each day as if it were my last.
I remember being in the waiting room. Eagerly anticipating the news from my oncologist – is the cancer gone? Is it still here? My heart was racing and I felt like I was going to explode. Then I heard the good news: “The cancer is gone.” I screamed in victory but it was short lived. I asked my oncologist, “What now?" He encouraged me to go and “live my life.” As far as he was concerned, his job was done. The cancer was gone. But for me this was when my journey actually began.
When I left those hospital doors I was broken emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. I had spent those past four months seeing doctors, being blasted with radiation, and riding an emotional rollercoaster. Here I was back in society and I was told to just “live life.” How could I? I was dealing with side effects from treatment – brain fog, lack of energy, and depression. But everyone saw me and said, “You look great” and expected things to go back to normal. I had what I termed the “look good syndrome.”
I spent a year in Toronto trying to live my old life. I kept hearing a voice telling me to take time off, to make sense of what I had gone through. But I had ignored it. I was afraid to integrate everything that had happened. I was so caught up in my old self that I couldn’t see the truth staring in my face. The more I resisted, the more it became clear that something had to change.
I quit my job and went back home to Ottawa. I began the process of grieving the loss of my old self. I started to realize that cancer no longer defined me. It was part of the journey that got me where I am now. And despite the fact that I may not be able to do all the things I use to, there was a part of me that I connected with that was eternal; something that would always be there. This part of me showed me the importance of life: to treat others how I wanted to be treated; to be grateful for what I have. I was finding my new normal.
It’s been five years since I’ve survived brain cancer. I am now living a happy and fulfilling life. The moment where it all changed was when I decided to heal myself. I hope that my story may empower you to make the choices to live a meaningful life.
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