In summer 2012, I participated in a volleyball game at church camp. At times, I felt slightly lightheaded.
This sensation had been occurring for several weeks, but I had discounted since it had always resolved quickly and never caused me any pain or discomfort. However, the sensations became more frequent at camp.
I called my parents. My father thought it was likely a blood pressure issue and insisted that I see a cardiologist.
The cardiologist agreed, saying the sensation was the result of my body adjusting to the activities.
I mentioned that I also experienced a flushing sensation in the back of my head, behind my right ear. The cardiologist, wanting to rule out a possible aneurysm, ordered an MRI.
The result: I had an acoustic neuroma, a slow-growing tumor on the nerve that connects the brain to the ear. It affects hearing and balance and, as it enlarges, pushes on the brain and causes neurological issues.
My acoustic neuroma was non-cancerous. But I'm a musician, and I could have single-side deafness.
Saving my hearing meant turning to MD Anderson
A hearing specialist confirmed my diagnosis and performed a hearing exam, which showed perfect hearing.
The tumor had not impacted my hearing. Yet.
The specialist gave me two options: wait and watch, or surgery.
If I chose surgery, the specialist recommended the translabyrinthine approach, which meant I'd lose hearing in my right ear and my right balancing nerves and possibly have partial face paralysis.
Untreated, the acoustic neuroma would eventually take my right side hearing, but I would have more time to enjoy it.
Neither seemed like a good option. I realized that I didn't have a hearing problem, but a tumor problem. So, I did some research and found the best facility to treat my acoustic neuroma: MD Anderson.
Paul Gidley, M.D., in the Department of Head and Neck Surgery, and Franco DeMonte, M.D., in the Department of Neurosurgery, agreed that the best treatment to save my hearing was surgery -- the middle fossa approach.
Producing my first single before surgery
One of my concerns with single-side deafness was that I wouldn't be able to hear and play music as I had before. And, as my surgery date approached, the reality of other possible surgical complications, like facial paralysis, began to set in.
So, I was eager to write and record music with my band, The Driftwood, before surgery. We wrote and recorded our first single.
On August 14, 2012, I underwent surgery.
The surgery was a success. I had a great chance to retain overall good hearing in my right ear, and any facial paralysis should be very minimal. However, I developed a hematoma, a collection of blood compressing my brain tissue, which required a second surgery.
Trust, music and faith pull me through
I didn't truly see death as a possibility until my second surgery. My parents said that I appeared to take the situation calmly.
I was never overly worried. I had trust in the Lord, my parents and my MD Anderson care team. In particular, I trusted that Dr. Gidley and Dr. DeMonte knew what they were doing.
There were times I listened to music because I knew I might not be able to experience it the same way again. I was also drawn closer to God because I saw -- through the people that showed their support and love and lent their prayers -- how much he was in control of the situation.
It's been almost six months since my surgery. My hearing is very good with only minimal loss in very high frequencies. I have no permanent facial paralysis, and my body has adjusted well to the loss of my right balancing nerve.
Life is an opportunity
When reflecting on my experiences, I am amazed by the power, communication, and togetherness of the team at
MD Anderson. At this point in my life, everything has returned to normal. I am carrying a full semester at Oklahoma Baptist University while working three part-time jobs. I feel no different than any other individual.
I view life in much the same way as I did before the surgery, but with a deeper understanding. Life is short, and undesired trials will present themself. However, these trials should never hinder anyone from enjoying life, but rather be a tool to change what we see unfit in the world. I also believe that individuals will mostly be remembered by their character, which many times is defined by how they react to trials.
Though I have come to realize much about myself in the last six months, one simple line can sum it all up: life is an opportunity. It would be an insult to waste this amazing gift of life. I encourage people to live life to the fullest. Do not waste your lifetime moping over the trials you face, but rather rejoice in the trials for they will enable you to become the person you were meant to be.