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Life After a Brain Tumor: One Man's Story

WebMD Community Member Gary Kornfeld recovered from a brain tumor and found a new calling in life.
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By Gary Kornfeld
WebMD Magazine - Feature

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 anything wrong.

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Central nervous system atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the brain. Central nervous system (CNS) atypical teratoid/rhabdoid tumor (AT/RT) is a very rare, fast-growing tumor of the brain and spinal cord. It usually occurs in children younger than three years of age, although it can occur in older children and adults. About half of these tumors form in the cerebellum or brain stem. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that controls...

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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 can't speak?

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.

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