Monday, April 22

Brain Cancer Was Supposed to Kill Me. Instead, It Gave Me a Second Life.

As I surfaced from the anesthesia, I saw my children by my bedside. It was the first time we’d all been together in years. In that moment I knew, perhaps for the first time, how deeply I was loved. If a fatal brain tumor was the price I had to pay for that, I considered it a fair bargain.

The old wounds were hardly healed, of course, and there were any number of ways this gathering could have gone south. And yet, something profound had happened. My family’s presence told me that we were in this together. I hoped we would continue to be in the hard months and years ahead.

The greatest challenge has been the work I’ve had to do on myself. The treatment — chemotherapy, radiation and steroids — brought out the worst in me at first. Keppra, an anti-seizure drug, is notorious for producing aggressive rage. Leila was the recipient of that.

Before my discharge from hospital, we sought the advice of a neuropsychologist, who helped us adapt to the emotional lability a brain tumor can produce. Together, we would overcome this, we decided, and we did. With the help of Meigs Ross, a gifted couples therapist experienced in working with brain injury, we found ways to adjust. “There are now three of you in this relationship,” she told us, “Rod, Leila and G.B.M.”

One night, Leila came out of the bedroom after hearing a crash. I had been drinking a bottle of wine and dropped it from my left hand, which had been paralyzed since my surgery. When I was a working journalist, alcohol was practically a tool of the trade. But now, it was increasingly risky. Around the anniversary of my diagnosis, I sought treatment for alcohol abuse, and with the help of a counselor, spoke for the first time about my father’s cruelty. Over the course of our year working together, I came to understand why I’d used alcohol to anesthetize myself. By its end, I realized I’d been liberated, finally, from the shame my father had bequeathed me.