Chief Complaint: Brain Tumor is absurdly hilarious for a book about a man’s battle to save his life. John’s optimism and humor was unexpected but refreshing as so many in his situation would not have been able to sustain their humor. John wrote a very compelling narrative about his personal fight to beat his tumor, restore his sight and survive.
Prior to being diagnosed with his brain tumor, a meningioma, John epitomized good health. He participated in triathlons, rode in 100 mile (yes 100 mile) biking events and ate a healthy diet. When he started to develop vision problems in his right eye, and consulted an eye doctor, he was surprised to find that he had a brain tumor that he nicknamed “The Blob.” There were so many times that I found myself chuckling out loud during this book. I laughed when he sang a song about his meningioma to the tune of “Oklahoma!” and I laughed when he talked about the e-mails he sent to his friends and family (both before and after his first surgery) and I laughed when he talked about his struggle to recover. I felt guilty every time I laughed. There was just something that felt so wrong about laughing at a man with a brain tumor. It was exactly the reaction that John wanted though; he wanted people to stay upbeat with him, to find humor in the struggles of life, and to remain hopeful. John drew strength from the optimism and hope from others and laughter is a source of that hope.
John also shares how he tried to comfort his family even while he was struggling with his tumor. He tried to reassure his parents, his siblings, his children and his wife. His wife stayed strong for them all but I can only imagine the fear that she must have felt while watching her husband have multiple surgeries on his brain. His recovery seemed to be going so smoothly, so easy, after his first surgery but then the infection hit. Then another surgery. Then complications. It was heartbreaking even through the humor. I kept hoping for a really happy ending for John; an ending that was tumor-free and 100% healthy. I still hope for that for him. His writing style and his honesty truly made me feel as though he was a personal friend who was struggling with a tumor. He never comes across as bitter or cynical. He is just a kind and loving man who wants to survive for his friends and family, enjoy his life, and return to good health. John had a lot of setbacks, which is unfortunate, but he was always determined to return to life and embrace the “new normal.”
In the end, Chief Complaint: Brain Tumor is a tale about the emotional struggle that accompanies a serious medical crisis; but, it maintains such a light airy tone and grand sense of humor that there is always optimism and hope. It is proof that a sense of humor can be a very powerful tool in aiding recovery.