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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.
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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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.

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.

Reviewed on February 02, 2007

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