Amy Hodge made a brave and motivating speech at our Kick-Off Gala. Her inspiring story will remind us all to give what we can and help wherever it’s possible:
May first of 2013, I found out, was the First Day of Brain Tumor Awareness Month that year. In typical overachieving fashion, I had a two-week head start, no pun intended. April 12th, 2013, after a profound and sudden vision change, I headed in to the Emergency Room, and physicians found a deep brain tumor. My friends stood by, horrified, as the news hit in shockwaves. As I told the diagnosis, I felt like I was spraying the people I love with napalm.
My name is Amy Hodge. I’m Father Paul’s wife, mother of Elias and Faith, a personal trainer and group exercise instructor, and I, like many, am in business for myself. That means I have a tough boss, no time off, and long hours. I am also a lifetime member of Team Brain.
I am holding the line, in a grudge match, a two-time opponent of mid-brain tumors, not necessarily fast-moving masses, but killers. My oncologist explained that my tumor’s location – the brainstem, the central nervous system — is considered malignant. That is, there is no worse place in the body to develop interloping cells. Four different, respectable neurosurgeons called me inoperable, from the U of M to the Mayo Clinic. Inoperable.
The brainstem controls everything in the body. It is like a fiber-optic cable, the control center. Tumors don’t help the body, in any way. Brainstem tumors don’t always grow fast, but they grow. People with inoperable brainstem tumors can expect their abilities, their vital functions, to peel away, one at a time. We watch ourselves amass deficits, we watch ourselves diminish, watch our lives change, and there is nothing we can do.
My son asked me that chaotic April if I’d like a 21-shotgun salute at my funeral, and (if so) what gauge? He didn’t ask it because he thought I was imminently going to die, he said. He just wanted things to be perfect. I told him 12-gauge.
By God’s mercy, an innovative and cutting-edge surgeon received my scans from a retired colleague in May. This neurosurgeon is known as the best neurosurgeon in the world, and he said he could help me. So I made a choice.
Just over one year ago, June 20th, 2013, I underwent my first of two craniotomies for deep brain tumors, on my one-and-only brainstem. I recovered well, and then had a vision change nine weeks later, and another brainstem tumor was discovered. As you know, the second – surprise– surgery was only last fall, just last September 24th, again to my deep brain. It was a second deployment, a second tumor, never seen before, the most horrendous development, and completely unexpected. This was not a recurrence of the initial brain tumor. This was a new one, in a new place. Thirteen weeks after the first surgery, another was indicated. It hit all of us really hard.
Life as I knew it fell apart, and then it fell apart again. Now that we are past the initial crisis, life is not back to normal, has not reconstituted in the same way. I have life, work, health, and gratitude, but I have a new normal – I am a new person since my deployment on the front lines of Team Brain.
Believe it or not, I have been told I have an expiration date. It comes in only ten years — nine now, since the clock started a year ago.
Let’s break this down.
When I was told I had brain cancer, my world fell apart, in front of everybody. Many of my fitness jobs fell away as instructors are a dime a dozen. I sent my private training clients to other trainers, knowing I had a big fight ahead of me, and the only certainty was UNCERTAINTY.
This is where you come in.
The only other certainty, was love. It flowed freely from the heart of God, through family and even strangers. People here tonight, people in this very room came forward. They — YOU — came through for me when my strength fell short. I am grateful, and so, so thankful. If I live ten thousand years, I can never thank God enough.
Since undergoing brain surgery, my brain tumors are gone. This whole chapter does not end for me, as brain cancer patients never hear the word REMISSION. I keep scanning, at this point every 16 weeks. They keep my seat warm in NeuroOncology, and I keep living my life as well as I can, as long as I can.
If you read Business Week, you may recall that in 2007 we knew that 62% of all personal bankruptcies were preceded by medical crisis. The need is great, but we can make a difference.
If you are a part of this organization, then you are a part of the cure. Everybody has a favorite cause, and when we pull together, things happen.
Seeds of honor bring a harvest of trust. Cultivate goodness, and you will gather friends. Humility begets greatness, and diligence is followed by success. Success is measured by generosity.
How successful can we be?
I urge you, from my heart, to stay actively connected, and not just merely associated with this successful organization. Give your time, talents, and treasure — with both hands to this, our Lyn Olson Medical Crisis Program, and let your heart be light.
I feel on my skin, the power of what happens when we face the same direction and march. I live my life as I wish to be remembered. You do the same. How do you want to be remembered?
I am not a brain tumor, I am its dread foe. I am not Father Paul’s poor wife who folded in on herself, I am his happy bride. I am not the screaming lady in sweatpants to my kids, Elias and Faith, I am their champion and my arms are their refuge. I am not the formerly active Amy Hodge whose short life was sad. I will not be remembered like that. I am living my new life, in battle gear, with a little help from my friends.
While none of us gets out of here alive, people like me who have been diagnosed feel like we are a few step ahead of the rest of you all. I live with my expiration date, and also with the sense that even the next breath is not an entitlement but a gift. I was always a believer. Since my brain cancer diagnosis, I have become more absolutely certainty that there is a God, and that I am not Him.
Medical crisis has a wide and lasting impact, beyond recovery. Make your impact. Do not give up, for the sake of those of us who cannot give up.
As far as having those ten years to live, I told that young physician that I would see his ten and raise him twenty. Those of you who know me, and YOU ALL KNOW ME NOW, perhaps believe that it can be.
Thank you for being a part of this wonderful gathering, and for continuing to do your part.
Keep shining a light into this world, giving first from what you have, then, from what you are.