When Cristy Hardy started dating her now-husband, Kyle, he had a “crazy scar” from brain tumor surgery a year earlier. The benign tumor had been removed and he didn’t think much of it, so she didn’t either. As time when on, his follow-up appointments were few and far between. He continued working as an electrician, and they got married and had two kids – a perfectly ordinary life.
Then, in 2011, seven years after his initial surgery, Kyle had a grand mal seizure while watching TV with Cristy.
“It was like a ton of bricks,” Cristy says. “Suddenly, I realized that this benign tumor that was supposed to be OK was not OK.”
Flashback to the beginning
Kyle first learned about his brain tumor in 2003, when he woke up in an unfamiliar hospital. He had just moved to Colorado to work in the oilfields with his brother.
“I pulled out my IV line and walked into the hallway asking, ‘What’s going on?'” Kyle says. He soon found out that he’d had a seizure in his sleep, caused by an oligodendroglioma in the left frontal region of his brain. He returned to Texas for treatment and underwent brain surgery at MD Anderson with neurosurgeon Amy Heimberger, M.D. The brain tumor was a low-grade glioma and considered benign.
A new understanding
Once the tumor returned, Kyle and Cristy realized that a “benign tumor” is not necessarily a harmless tumor. In fact, Kyle would have to begin chemotherapy.
“It was back and he had to start fighting it,” Cristy says. “That’s when awareness started to become important to me.” The tattoo on her forearm is part of her own effort to raise awareness. It depicts a gray ribbon for brain tumor awareness, surrounded by larkspurs, the flower of Kyle’s birth month. In the center of a ribbon is a brain, drawn from Kyle’s CT scans, showing the location of his tumor.
“It became more stressful, but we’re really happy people,” Cristy says. “Going through this has helped us gain a perspective on life and realize how important it is to be happy every day.”
In the years that followed, Kyle continued to work as he dealt with the treatments and side effects, like seizures and short-term memory loss.
Working during chemotherapy treatment “was horrible, but it was important to me to not stop,” Kyle says. “It helped me to keep my brain going.” By early 2016, the tumor had progressed again and Kyle underwent a second craniotomy, which has helped alleviate some of his symptoms for the time being.
Happiness in the face of uncertainty
Although the future contains many unknowns, Kyle and Cristy are sure of one thing: The day is not promised to you, so live in the moment.
“Happiness matters a lot now,” Cristy says. “It’s a conscious choice we make every single day not to let things get the better of us. It’s a tug of war of emotions. The reality is always there, but you can’t let it get you down.”
Despite the ongoing challenges, Kyle is known among his friends and care team as someone who always has a smile and a positive attitude.
“The brain tumor is always at the back of my mind, but there’s no point in being mad at the world,” Kyle says. “Be happy. Live your life.”