Two Tumors

It’s 2:00 in the afternoon and I’m sitting in a wide hallway that connects a building of classrooms to the new library at UVU – Utah Valley University. If I had been here a week ago I’m sure hundreds of students would have been pouring through this space, but today the only person here is a man with an Ipod pushing some sort of carpet cleaning machine back and forth – leaving overlapping patterns of slightly damp carpet in his wake.

I’ve set up the video camera, have the mikes levels adjusted. My phone rings. Brian is on the first floor, I tell him I’m on the second. He’s on his way.

I’m not sure what I’ll find here. I work with his mom, really just barely got to know her a few weeks ago. I know that when Brian was an early teen he had a pretty scary diagnosis from a group of doctors…

One of the first things Brian tells me when he gets comfortable is he’s not scared. He thinks maybe he should be nervous since we’re video taping, but he’s not. He has an easy air about him, he’s obviously a people person. He has an easy smile, a calm demeanor. We seem to be hitting it off, and I imagine we are both breathing a sigh of relief on some level.

I get a mike on him, check levels one more time, turn the video camera on and we start talking.


It started when he was seven – first as kind of an ache and then quickly growing into a tremendous pain in his lower back. His mom took him to doctors, they ran their tests. Nothing. Brian told me it was suggested more than once that it might be in his head.

Then a new pain a couple of years later, between his shoulder blades in his back. When this new pain was really rocking, he told me it was like a knife sticking through his lungs and out of his chest. It hurt to breathe. Still, the doctors found nothing.

Finally, seven years later, Brian and his mom are living in Utah. A doctor orders an MRI. Brian was told it would take half an hour, he spent almost five hours in the tube. He was only 14, but he could tell from the tone of the technicians voices, and the fact they had to keep scanning, that something wasn’t right.

His primary care giver looked at the scans and told them they had to get to a specialist quick. Two tumors where growing very slowly in Brian’s back, and it was beyond what he could do. There was hope that the tumors might be benign…

Fast forward to the first surgery. They took samples of both tumors and sent them for testing. Three days later they called and said that both tumors where malignant – some further testing proved that they had not spread to his brain, but within a week Brian was laying on an operating table for 13 hours while they removed the lower tumor. A couple of days later another 7 hour surgery to remove the upper tumor. Then the radiation started…

We take a break from filming, Brian reaches down and opens his bottle of blue Gatorade and takes a swallow. Then he said the most amazing thing. He told me he was glad it was him. Glad it was him that had the tumor. He felt that way the day of the diagnosis, he feels that way now. He was young, and he was strong, and he knew that he had what it took in him to beat this – so it was better he have this than someone else.

He’s convinced that attitude helped him beat it, was key to it only taking two and a half years until he was pronounced ready to join life again. You know what? I believe him. I think his attitude was everything…

Well he did beat it. After four years or so he was given a clean bill of health, sorta… He tried to go back to school – he was just too far behind. He had tutors try to help him, but it’s hard to really be motivated when you’re on chemo-therapy, and I guess as a tutor it’s hard to push a kid that feels that poorly…

So he was was 18, out of school, and working at a Taco Bell. Welcome to life.

But recurring thought kept coming to him as he went about going to work and earning a check. He thought about completing his GED, going to college, getting a degree. But he just didn’t feel like they would want him, that he could fit into that acedemic lifestyle.

He told me the turning point came when he was listening to a speech by President Obama. The President said that by going to school you are serving your country – something that Brian had always wanted to do – and President Obama backed it up by making money available.

Brian told me everything worked out so perfecty… He was living a few blocks away from UVU, he had just lost his job, and the money came through allowing him to start school.

So there we are, sitting in the institution of higher education that he attends, and he lists off the ways that the universe has moved to bring him to this place, at this time. He looks at me and says “it’s like I’m supposed to be here. This is truly where I’m supposed to be… and that’s a cool feeling”.

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