During the fall of 1995, I had just turned 40 and was at the top of my legal
profession. But I suddenly found myself getting totally exhausted each weekend.
I was of no use to my wife, Ellie, or my kids.
One morning while using the treadmill, I saw stars. I drove myself to the
emergency room; the doctors there thought I was having a heart attack. But tests showed
no heart problems, so I went back to work -- I had to because I own my
business. My internist sent me to a cardiologist and other specialists to see
if I had an upper respiratory illness or an inner ear problem. No one found
Jean Smart is used to changing roles. The blond beauty first made audiences laugh as Charlene Stillfield on CBS's Designing Women sitcom, won two Emmy Awards as Lana Gardner on NBC's Frasier, and took home a third for her role on ABC's comedic hit Samantha Who? in 2007. She also made a splash as the emotionally unstable but smart wife of the president in the fifth season of Fox's TV thriller 24 in 2006.
Now, in one of her most important roles yet, the Seattle native has joined forces with the Chris...
Then I saw a neurologist, who ordered an MRI. The next day, his office
called and asked me to come in immediately. I told the nurse that I was in a
meeting and that I'd "come in as soon as I'm done." My doctor got on the phone.
"Gary, you need to come in right now."
I called Ellie and said, "I don't know what's going on, but I don't think
it's good." It wasn't -- I had a malignant tumor located deep in my brain. The
first surgeon I saw wanted to operate the next business day, thought I had
three years to live, and couldn't guarantee any quality of life. We said
good-bye to him, started doing our research, and found physicians we were
comfortable with. It turns out that the tumor was in the lower left lobe, at
the site that controls my speech and right hand. Do you know any lawyers who
During the surgery, I was wide awake and speaking throughout my operation,
and when I started to lose my speech, the neurosurgeon stopped. After
recovering, I came home but I couldn't communicate. I would mean to say "yes"
and it would come out "no." It was difficult for my 10- and 13-year-old to
understand what had happened to their dad. After more than two years of
extensive speech therapy, I did regain my speech. I'm one of the lucky ones. I
can talk again.
I found that little things that never bothered me before were driving me
crazy. My emotions were a wreck. I could not control my temper as easily as I
could before my tumor. After attending support groups and therapy with a
psychiatrist, I found out this was normal for someone with a brain condition.
Sad to say, like everybody else with or without brain injuries, I still lose it
sometimes. Oh, well.
I am no longer able to practice law, but I've found a new calling helping
newly diagnosed patients. I'm an active participant in brain tumor and cancer advocacy groups, including the North American
Brain Tumor Coalition and the Cancer Leadership Council. Through Palm Beach
Legal Aid, I helped create a program called the Health Emergency Legal Project
(HELP) to help cancer patients and others who have a life-threatening illness
navigate legal issues.
Today, after nine months of radiation and chemotherapy and 11 years later, I
am 51 years old and am living proof that there is life after being diagnosed
with a malignant brain tumor.