How Precious Life Can Be

Andy Conk


Hello - my name is Andy Conk. Below is a story about the brain tumor that I suffered from as a child.

It was 1980 - I was seven-years-old and in second grade. Christmas vacation was only a bus ride away and I could not wait for it to start, unbeknown that it would be one that I would never forget. After Christmas was over, I felt very ill. I was having massive headaches and vomiting a lot. My parents took me to the hospital.

My dad was in the military and we went to Fort Belvoir Hospital on Monday, January 2, 1981. I was examined, but no one could seem to figure out the problem and we were sent home. Neither my parents nor I knew what was going on. Later in the evening the doctor called. He wanted me to go to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC. It was chosen because it was capable of handling my situation. On Tuesday, January 3, after getting lost and having to stop and ask for directions, we finally found the hospital.

On the first day that I was there, two big things happened. The first was that I had to get my head shaved, which didn't exactly thrill me. All through this process, I was in tears. After it was over, my mom took me to the bathroom and on the way there, we met an elderly gentleman who was bald. He reassured me that it was OK to have no hair, which helped me a little. The second was that I had to get a CAT scan done of my head. It was about 11:00 PM when I had that done and it was a big machine which scared me half to death. After the scan, a nurse was returning me to my room and we ran into a couple of her friends. One of them was wearing a button. It was green and had a snowman wearing a red scarf. She gave it to me.

I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and two things were happening to me at the same time. The tumor had little space to grow, which meant that death could be really close, and spinal fluid was building up in my head. Mine was a benign tumor, which is confined to one part of the body, as opposed to a malignant tumor, which attacks one part of the body and then spreads to other parts. My condition was still very serious and the next day I had to have emergency surgery.

On Wednesday, I went in for surgery, accompanied by Boo-Boo and Curious George, my stuffed animals. During this surgery, shunts were placed on both the left and right sides of my head, to relieve the build up of spinal fluid in the brain. When I woke up, my stuffed animals were still with me. Apparently the nurse had wrapped them up in bandages and they looked just like me. I was given two weeks to recover before I had the second operation. During the second operation, they were trying to figure out what type of tumor I had. They removed part of it to study, and yes, Boo-Boo and Curious George were with me again. We were relieved when it was determined that my tumor was in fact, benign. A radiation therapy program was then set up for me; I spent the next three to four weeks in that.

After a total of five weeks in the hospital, I was sent home on Dilantin, a medicine to help prevent the cause of seizures. Seizures are common side effects of brain tumors and luckily I did not have any after leaving the hospital. I was also required to make routine visits back to the hospital. After one year, something was discovered. We were scared to death that the tumor had returned. It turned out to be a subdural hematoma, a build-up of blood under the skull, and on top of the brain. This required another operation. At first I was not thrilled, but then realized, hey, it's another week off from school! After all of the surgeries I have had, I have been left with an utter fear of IVs and needles.

Today I still have my shunts and have no ill effects of the tumor. A lot of the time (I really) forget that the shunts are in my head and that I ever had the tumor. To say that it all didn't affect me would be a lie. Right after my treatments, I started to fall behind in school. To help me out, I was put in to the special resource program. I was also held back in the fourth grade. This was all due to a learning disability that I was found to have, which slowed down the rate at which I learn. I try not to think of myself as handicapped, but as being on a different level. Recently I have come to terms with it. I am now more able to openly discuss what has happened to me. I am able to tell people about me and my limitations.

One of the things that I will always remember about this experience is, I was one of the lucky ones. I know that there are a lot of kids who are affected by brain tumors each year. I extend to each and every family and child who have to go through this experience the best of luck and may God bless you.

Mr. Conk is 22 years old. He works for the federal government and is a part-time college student.

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