In the weeks leading up to the Pink Arrow game on September 22, 2023, we will be sharing stories from Pink Arrow Pride. Today’s story is from Eric Schwacha.
I’m writing this with the help from family, as my memory has been affected by the battle that I’m fighting.
I was diagnosed in August 2020 by pure happenstance. While the pandemic was in full swing, I started having issues with my left wrist.
In early August 2020, I couldn’t raise my left hand after getting up one morning. It was as if my wrist stopped working. My hand flopped like a dead fish. I was very confused by what was going on with my wrist. My doctor eventually referred me to an MRI, which showed nothing regarding my wrist. However, it DID show a golf ball-sized tumor was growing in my right frontal lobe. This area controls attention, speech, memory, personality, emotions, motor skills, etc. This was devastating news for me. It did start to explain my ongoing issues with sleep deprivation, memory issues, and headaches that I had been experiencing for a few years. My wrist issue was temporary and finally went away on its own.
My parents and I went to a neurosurgeon at Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids. He explained a surgical procedure for removing my tumor, upon which it would be sent to pathology to determine the type. We didn’t feel very comfortable with this and decided to have things looked at elsewhere. My parents researched and located a neurosurgeon at U of M in Ann Arbor. After learning about him, we determined he was the man for the job. I had a Zoom meeting with him a few times, and he wanted his own MRI, so my dad took me to Ann Arbor. I had another MRI, which determined I had a possible Oligodendroglioma. The neurosurgeon said that we needed to get it out of my brain.
At this point, I’m living day-to-day, wondering what kind of life I will have after surgery. I have a daughter, Adilyn, who was seven at the time. I was told that my personality could change, among other things. I was scared to death that my little girl wouldn’t have her daddy. Or that her daddy would be a totally different person. I love my daughter so much; she keeps me going.
Surgery was scheduled for February 2021, and due to the pandemic, only one person could be there with me. My dad, Kim Schwacha, took me to Ann Arbor and stayed for a week. My mom, Cathy Huizinga, was caring for my daughter, doing the virtual school thing because LAS classes were shut down due to COVID-19.
The surgery went well, and my surgeon said he was able to get as much of it out as possible (around 95-97%). I had a new scar about a foot in length and curved around the top of my head. With many headaches, pain, and further memory problems, I went home to my dad’s. After a few weeks, pathology determined that the tumor was a Diffuse Astrocytoma.
I tried to regain my life and muster up the energy to work. However, my memory issues and pain wouldn’t allow it. I returned to have another MRI in early 2022, and the invasive growth was returning. I was told another surgery was not possible. So, I was put on a radiation schedule during the summer of 2022, having to go almost every day for six weeks. The top of my head felt like it was on fire, and the headaches and memory issues continued to escalate. I had about a month off before chemo started. That was last October. I started to take chemo treatment pills for five days out of every 28 days. I have continued this medication treatment and will go through the final month of chemo in September. Anyone knows who has had cancer; the chemo and radiation take their toll.
I’ve always had trouble sleeping, and the treatment has increased my lack of sleep ten-fold. Laying awake, unable to sleep, my mind goes to ‘Is this my life? Will I see my daughter grow up? Will I see her enter high school? Will I see her graduate from LHS? (She is a fourth grader at Cherry Creek)’, This happens night after night, on and on. I tend to keep my thoughts to myself and try not to worry my parents. It’s been a struggle for me. They’ve done the best that they can to help me with things. I’m very appreciative of them and of the Pink Arrow Pride, helping me monetarily. My pain and short-term memory issues, which include not being able to come up with the right words for things, prevent me from working.
I have one more round of chemo treatment and hope that the symptoms from it will subside. I know it can take a few years for that to happen, and I continue to have anxiety over how it will all play out. I will have to have MRIs every three months to check for any new growth for the rest of my life.