“We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”- Marianne Williamson
That’s what happens when you face your fear and have the courage to share your story…because everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
The Sunday Series (95): Reach The Light
It was like any other Friday night for Larry Seidman, stopping at the Pizza Hut on his way home to pick up a pie for the family. But on this night Larry had reason to pause when he pulled into the Pizza Hut parking lot – because he forgot how to get out of the car.
For nearly 40 seconds he thought about it, trying to remember just how to gain exit from his vehicle. Finally he gathered himself, got out, got the family their pizza and headed home.
Larry said nothing about the incident during dinner. It wasn’t until later that he confided to his wife Jill about what had transpired earlier that evening in front of the restaurant. Jill told him he was just over-tired. Larry was a hard-charging corporate lawyer, exercise enthusiast, runner, healthy-eater and father to two children, ages six and three. Who wouldn’t be tired at the end of a long week? Larry agreed with Jill and the two went to bed early that night to rest up.
The next day, after a good night’s sleep, Larry decided to head into the office. Not unusual on a Saturday for Larry, after all he loved the law and his job and was willing to put in the time to serve others with his talents. But while at his office he had a phone conversation with his mother and decided to call Jill and tell her he was going to get checked out.
Larry told Jill his mother recommended he call the doctor because his mother feared he may have had a stroke the previous night. Larry told Jill he would ride out to the medical center, but he was sure it was an inner ear infection. He’d grab some antibiotics and call her when he got back to the office.
He didn’t go back that day.
“I was sitting on the side of the bed when the phone rang,” says Jill. “I wasn’t really anxious. Larry was always the strong one, larger than life. The fact that anything could happen to him was inconceivable to me. But when Larry called he said ‘I need you to call my parents and get them to stay with the kids and you need to come here immediately because I have a brain tumor.’ I put the phone down and had a horrible sense that life would never be the same again.”
Jill’s feelings were spot on. Larry was diagnosed with a brain tumor, a gioblastoma multiforme, the fastest-growing and deadliest tumor there is, stage 4. At the time Larry was only 39.
“We really didn’t know what all this meant”, said Jill. “The doctor said it would be life-shortening. I had no idea. He told me that Larry had 6-to-8 months to live. It was like being hit by a train. All of these feelings came rushing at me. Oh my gosh I thought, he’s the strong one. How will I live without him? How will my kids grow up without a dad? I was so sick I didn’t eat for three or four days. But Larry seemed to accept it, he said, ‘I guess I won the GBM lottery instead of the real lottery.’ But I knew he was scared.”
“What happened next was an odyssey of treatments and surgeries”, says Jill. “And every time you thought it couldn’t get worse, it got worse.” The first surgery took place only about 4-6 weeks after diagnosis. Less than 24 hours later the doctor was back in for a second surgery, worried he didn’t remove enough of the tumor the first time around. After the second surgery Jill and Larry were told they would have about six weeks to decide the next course of action.
Faced with a challenge, most people rise to the occasion to rally around the ones they love. Jill says she used her own connections to put together a “treatment dream team”, determined to give her husband his best shot at survival. Doctors from Duke, Johns Hopkins, and the National Institute of Health were all contacted. But it was an MRI at Duke that turned the tables on the couple’s search for answers.
The test done at Duke showed the tumor had already grown back, even larger than before. The Duke team told Larry he needed to have surgery within weeks. A trip to NIH confirmed the findings and a third surgery was completed; another attempt to remove the tumor. The doctors at NIH recommended radiation twice a day for four weeks and chemotherapy to fight back against the tumor returning. The team at Johns Hopkins wasn’t so sure and believed a treatment regimen so intense would rob Larry of his ability to walk.
Larry proved them wrong.
He completed his treatment and still kept up his exercise routine, running four miles a day. He eliminated all forms of sugar from his diet, since the couple had learned that sugar could contribute to the disease. He took tons of different supplements and he still went to work and did the best he could. But Larry soon realized the career he loved was slowly taking a back seat to simply trying to survive.
“During this time he was slower”, says Jill. “He realized he was not going to be able to perform at the level he once had and he made the excruciating decision to quit the practice of law. I will never forget the day we went to move his office to our home. He was losing everything he had built over all these years.”
Jill continues, “It was also the point I realized for the first time in our marriage our roads were diverging, that I would not be able to tell Larry my innermost thoughts and feelings because I had to support him and he deserved that support. I had to be positive and hopeful and all these scary feelings I couldn’t share because I had to be strong.”
Larry had been diagnosed on January 31st, 2004, exactly twelve years ago to this day. He was given only six-to-eight months to live, but Jill was holding her husband in her arms when his heart stopped beating on July 7th, 2009. Larry had beat the odds, battled and survived for more than five years.
There has been no drug created, no surgical procedure designed which can substitute for the power of love. Jill fought for and with her husband to the very end. Their children, Jordyn and Eric, finding a way to embrace every moment with their father. Perhaps it was that pure power of devotion, caring and the fulfillment from his loving family that kept Larry alive long after the medical books said his story should have ended.
Jill says life got tougher after her husband passed on. Her kids had very acute reactions to the death of their father, but as Jill describes, fortunate for her, at two different times. There was little time for Jill to grieve because she had to go into survival mode for her children. She says when she came home the morning after Larry died to tell her kids, Jordyn was matter-of-fact. But Eric was devastated. “He wouldn’t eat or drink” says Jill. “We finally got the pediatrician to convince him he had to eat just to survive. He finally started eating again and we did our best to move forward that summer, but when Eric started 4th grade he suffered severe separation anxiety.”
Just a few months after losing her husband, Jill had to check her son into a daytime hospital program just to try to get his life back on track.
The day Jill left Eric at the hospital it took three people to separate him from his mother, but the program and Jill’s support helped him return to a more normal life. And Eric appreciates all his mother did. Jill says: “Eric is almost 16 now and he has said to me, ‘I hated that you left me at the hospital, but you probably saved my life.'”
Jordyn’s grief took a longer road. Larry died just four months shy of his daughter’s Bat Mitzvah, but she decided to go on with the celebration in her fathers’ honor. Jill says it wasn’t until about a year later as Jordyn was attending her other friends parties, and watching other fathers speak about their daughters, that Jill would get the phone calls from Jordyn, crying in the bathroom, urging her mother to come pick her up. “She became angry and distanced herself from her friends”, says Jill. “We went into deep emotional turmoil with her. She is still dealing with it, but now at age 19, she’s doing great.”
Jill says she and the kids now stay positive and keep Larry’s memory alive: “We talk about him and all the funny things he did and he’s still very much alive in our memory and in our hearts.” Jill says she fought and is determined not to let the tragedy of losing her husband define her life, or the rest of life for her children. And that is why she is writing a book.
“My book is about how the power of hope is so important because you have to believe that there is something inside you that is stronger and can rise above your current circumstances. No matter what anyone says you can fight and survive. You never fully recover from this, but when bad things happen life is still worth living. I told my kids their father loved life and worked hard and we are not going to let this tragedy define us, we had to move forward and embrace life again.”
Right now the working title for Jill’s book: When Lightning Strikes.
“I really want to help because we came out of this on the other side. What I want with the book is to give somebody a road map for handling a tragedy like this. I know that life is worthwhile, it’s always worthwhile. In so many ways I feel that to live my life and to live my life well, is the best way to honor Larry and the children too. It is possible to recover and be happy again. You can come out of the ashes. If you are in a dark place, just keep moving your feet, keep inching forward and feeling your way and hopefully you will reach the light.”
Until next time, thanks for taking the time.
(Have an idea for a Sunday Series story? E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Speaker, Speech Writer, Emmy Winner, USHEALTH Advisors
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