Fishstrong Supporters!! The following story was written by Jeffrey himself. He titled it "The Live Challenge." Once you read it, you will become aware of how Fishstrong came to be. It is truly inspirational and we encourage you all to read it and share.
“My beautiful soul, it is not your time to die. You have much to share with this world before you go. There are many people that you will help before your time on earth is complete. You have a long journey in front of you.” These were the words of an alternative healer in Asheville that I visited, made ever more profound by the odds that strongly disproved this. I am fighting stage-3 brain cancer. An Anaplastic Astrocytoma which is considered to be a deadly form of brain cancer. My life has been an incredible journey thus far- one of triumphs and failures, pleasures and pain, happiness and sadness, sickness and health. A wild ride filled with a wide range of emotions, experiences, and people. My reason for sharing my journey is simple; I think that stories of my experiences can positively motivate or help others going through similar situations.
October 17, 2010, I told my mother that I needed to go to the hospital. My field of vision was blurry, to the point that that I was unable to see at all. I felt as if I was in a thick fog. My skull felt close to bursting open; l pictured the ground littered with pieces of my scattered gray matter. Despite the acknowledgement that something was wrong, my family and I assumed I was suffering from migraines, and that all I needed was a consultation and a prescription. It turns out that my journey would take me in a much different direction. That direction steered me head into unimaginable challenges, personal and community strength, and certain death.
I went to the hospital that I was born in that is located in Jacksonville, North Carolina. It is the hospital where I fought several challenging childhood illnesses in. After speaking with the same doctor that took care of me during those illnesses, he thought that it would be best for me to receive a CAT scan of my brain. Several doctors walked into my room fifteen minutes after my scan in order to discuss what they saw. “I am sorry, Mr. Fisher, you have the largest brain tumor that I have ever seen. We are going to transfer you to a larger you to a hospital that can better handle such a rare case.” My mother immediately grabbed my hand and screamed as I sat in stunned disbelief. I never thought I would wish for migraines.
The tumor was encapsulated in my left thalamus; a spot that was less than 50 millimeters from my brain stem. Even more disheartening, the tumor covered an area that was almost a quarter of my brain’s entire mass. Within twenty minutes, I was loaded into the back of a transfer ambulance in order to take the two-hour journey to Durham, North Carolina. Durham is the hometown of my least favorite college basketball team. I asked my mother to grab my favorite college basketball team’s shirt from my home before she came so that I could represent my team in enemy territory.
After things settled down in the ambulance, I began to process my diagnosis for the first time. The siren wailing, bright lights flashing, mom crying, but it’s as if I’m alone in the dark corners of my mind. White lab coats, glasses, clipboards. “Sorry son, but you have three months left to live if you’re lucky.” How is that lucky? Two days ago I was complaining about my school work and my legs hurting from work; after riding 15 miles a night with 400 pounds of drunken passengers weighing down will do that to you. Now here I am, in the back of an ambulance being rushed to a hospital in Durham, the ambulance ride being deemed necessary due to my rapidly deteriorating situation.
In the beginning, I broke down emotionally. I could not believe or understand how this could happen to me, a young and healthy individual. After I had cried my eyes dry, I eventually began to calm down and visited the dark corners of my mind. I started thinking about not receiving any treatments because the doctors told me that there was not a chance of my survival. I had enjoyed an extremely interesting life full of challenges and triumphs, pleasures and pains. I accepted my diagnosis and had no fear. I did not have time for fear. Instead of continuing my negative thoughts, I began to think about traveling the world until I did not wake up one day. My doctors had told me that I would begin to sleep more and more until the point that I would not wake up, ever again. I had some money and was hopeful that my parents would support me through the rest of the costs. The rest of my trip to Durham was filled with thoughts of adventure. I wanted to be taken to the top of Mount Everest. I wanted to see the Great Wall. I wanted to visit Amsterdam…again. Plans of these adventures began to circulate in my mind.
Shortly after I was able to settle down in my hospital room, two of my best friends, Eric and Jake entered, their faces flushed with emotion. After we discussed my diagnosis and what was to come, they began their discussion. They told me I was the most stubborn and strong-willed person that they had ever met. They told me that this has a reason. This experience happened in order to make me a better, well-rounded person as well as to give me stories that would inspire and better the lives of others. After listening to their stories and their threats (relating to the pain that they would inflict on me if I did not fight this disease with the strong and stubborn outlook that has always been at my side), I decided that it would be in my best interest to fight. If I do not have much life left to life, I am going to fight as fearlessly as I can for as long as I can.
Eventually, my friends left and I sat in my bed for the rest of the night, mentally preparing myself for the upcoming battle. The next day, I was woken up early and was immediately taken to a surgery room. Doctors were going to cut up my skull in order to take a biopsy of my tumor. Because my tumor was in close proximity to my brain stem, less than fifty millimeters, they chose to do a biopsy in order to determine what type of tumor they were dealing with. The tumor was within one of my ventricles in my left thalamus and close proximity to my brain stem-only 50mm away. The tumor gathered by my doctors was claimed to be a stage 3 brain cancer. The type of tumor cells were that of an Anaplastic Astrocytoma. After the surgery, my doctors informed me that treatments would result in unnecessary suffering that would not change the outcome of my life. After my discussions with my friends, I took this news lightly. I actually smiled when they told me this. I then informed my doctors that that was not going to be the plan. I wanted them to put me on the most effective and devastating treatment that they could legally put me on without killing me. I told them to bring it on! The doctors smiled and calmly said, “If you are here to fight we shall prepare for war.” They were curious why I had decided to put myself through excessive suffering that would result in the same outcome. I confidently informed them that it was not my time to die, because for the first time I am truly able to live in a way that I have always wanted to live.
The next day I had a shunt placed in my brain. A shunt is a tube that runs into the middle of my brain that drains the cerebrospinal fluid from my brain. This fluid build-up causes so much pressure in my brain that I had not been able to see clearly in days. While I was clearly put to sleep for this surgery, the pain that I went through days after this surgery could not be properly put into words. Doctors kept me in the hospital for several days in order to observe me in order to make sure that no infections were beginning in my brain. After they felt comfortable with my tolerance of the surgery, my doctors decided to put me on two chemotherapy drugs that I would receive once a week intravenously. Once a month I would also take chemotherapy pills for five days straight every 28 days.
My first chemotherapy gave me few, if any side-effects, which shocked my doctors due to the amount of toxic drugs that they were giving me. I was immediately sent home in order to avoid contracting any infections that were floating around the hospital. I spent my ride home slowly responding to the text messages and phone calls that I had ignored for the last week. When I first got back to my parents house, I was met at the door by my best friend, my yellow lab, Mason. I spent the rest of the night in my bed room crying with my dog sitting in my lap. I spent the next few days doing research on proper nutrition, exercise, and other practices that would benefit me in my battle. I knew going into chemo that, in order for me to maximize the effects of the chemo but minimize the side effects, I had to be physically and mentally prepared. There is a lot of research, literature, and information on everything from recipes for chemo patients to homeopathic remedies. I have compiled what I used, what worked for me, and what has the potential to be beneficial for most others going through chemo.
In the beginning of my war versus stage-three brain cancer, I was hit with a strong sense of fear. My doctors suggested that I not go through treatments, as my brain was being overtaken by this imposturous growth much too quickly to mount a counter assault. Instead of suffering through punitive but futile chemotherapy, they suggested that I go on a trip or spend time with those that I considered close to me. Make myself as comfortable as possible. All those things they tell a dying man.
After running through an emotional gauntlet, I weighed my options, which were limited at best. I could listen to the doctors, abdicate control to the professionals and let the cancer run its course, un-thwarted or I could go against their advice to give up and fight back against this cell-multiplying-mutant that’s taken my brain hostage. Instead of cowering in fear, I chose to face my cancer and to fight for my life.
I used my natural stubbornness as a coping mechanism for dealing with the constant fear that I was experiencing. Instead of rolling over and letting this cancer kill me within months of my diagnosis, I chose to refuse my doctors predictions of death in order to cope with my devastating situation. I would constantly remind myself that I am stronger than any emotion that I can produce and I can overcome anything I fear. At this early stage of my illness, I was finally equipped for battle. By developing this fearless mind and strengthened body, fear was no longer my enemy. It was now time for my disease to fear me. With the absence of fear, I was quickly able to develop a sense of positivity.
In the 2 years since my diagnosis, I have had forty radiation treatments, over 150 chemotherapy treatments, a stroke and a hemorrhage, double lung embolisms, blood clots in both legs, a shunt placement and removal…. catch your breath and continue reading because we are not done yet… the placement and removal an IVC filter, and two craniotomy’s (when the skin on your skull is cut open and spread, the reachable tumor is removed and your skull is placed back into its original position). My first craniotomy took 8 hours and my second craniotomy took over 18 hours due to the tumors close proximity to my brain stem.
One day I made a status update on my social networking website that said, “FISHSTRONG- The absence of fear in the face of insurmountable odds.” A former football coach of mine then printed this saying on t-shirts and distributed throughout my community. In the beginning of my journey, I was afraid and had no hope. Eventually, I develop a state of fearlessness and named it fishstrong, the absence of fear in the face of insurmountable odds. My state of FISHSTRONG was my driving force, thereafter. This state has helped me through times in which anyone else would have given up due to the constant and excruciating pain that I was experiencing. This state has shown the solidarity of my entire community.
I used my fearlessness to further strengthen my already well toned emotions. Well toned emotions are a necessary state for everyone, but especially those that are being challenged. As Atharva Veda once stated, “Fearlessness leads to immortality,” (Universal Society of Hinduism, 2013). This does not mean a state of physical immortality, but instead the permanent presence of your character. This state of fearlessness allowed me to approach every situation and every emotion with the thought of indestructibility. I knew that I could die physically, but the remaining influence of my spirit would live beyond my physical state. The absence of fear even when there is no hope is the reason that I am alive and able to write these words.
My cancer experience has been torturous, but I am grateful to have the unfortunate experiences that I have had. My experiences have turned me into a person that I am proud of being. If I was to die today, with my last thought I would know that this journey is one that I am proud to have experienced. If I am able to live another day, I will use my experiences to better the lives of not only the ones that I love, but also the lives of all people. My life thus far has been a unique experience that I am proud to have lived. What a journey my life has been. I cannot wait to see where my journey will take me next.
Almost three years ago, I was told I would die within months of my diagnosis. I have proved those statistics wrong and have since graduated college and am now doing work for Onslow County Health department. I am still battling cancer, but refuse to remain idle until my likely death. Instead, I will try to help others for as long as I can. As Jim Valvano understood, “cancer can take away all my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul. And those three things are going to carry on forever” (JimmyV.org).