Nate Causey of Tupelo, Miss., was treated for TMJ and tension headaches before doctors found the real cause. At age 34, he was diagnosed with a central neurocytoma on May 7, 2010. Unexpected and rare complications left him with several disabilities, but with hard work and determination, Nate is beating the odds every day.
His wife, Genie Alice, wants to share her experiences as a caregiver to encourage others no matter where they are in the process of fighting cancer.
Many dream of a "normal" life -- a happy marriage, a couple of kids, a yard and a picket fence.
I met Nate shortly after I graduated from college and fell hard. I had never met anyone so kind, smart and good-looking! He eventually proposed, and we had a perfect wedding. We were on the road to a fabulous, "normal" life together.
A few months into the marriage, while I was busy redecorating his "man cave," he started having neck pain. Our family doctor treated him for tension headaches. Then vision problems started, and he had an MRI.
The tech, who looked like she had seen a ghost, sent us back to the ophthalmologist. He broke the devastating news that Nate had a large brain tumor. Nate had surgery at our local hospital. After a short recovery, he went to MD Anderson for a second opinion. We met Dr. Jeffrey Weinberg, who told us that while Nate's tumor was benign, it was way too big -- he needed another surgery soon.
We came home to talk and pray about it, but knew Dr. Weinberg was right. The vision problems and neck pain had already returned.
In the wee hours of the next morning, Dr. Weinberg told us the surgery went well and that Nate was in ICU waking up. Our family came in, kissed him good night and returned to their hotel.
While the nurses were trying to gently coax him awake, he suddenly stiffened and gripped my hand so tightly that I thought it was going to break. I had to pry it off so I could get out of the way of the nurses and doctors who were in overdrive trying to save his life. Unexpected complications had caused his brain to bleed.
The next days were a blur. He was in and out of the OR with his life hanging in the balance. Eventually, Dr. Weinberg put Nate in a medical coma to protect his brain from further damage. When Nate finally woke up he couldn't move or speak.
The only things that got me through those days were Dr. Weinberg, who we trusted with his life, our faith in God and our family.
Weeks later when Nate started moving, we saw that his right side was paralyzed, and he was diagnosed with severe speech and language disorders.
After seven brain surgeries, a stint at a rehab hospital and finally outpatient rehab at home, Nate has come so far. He's walking, learning to use his right side, working on his memory and learning to communicate.
Those days at MD Anderson were hard. But sometimes being home is even harder. In the hospital, there's the comfort of having your "dream team" to help you through. At home, it's up to you. In the hospital, everyone is fighting their own battle and there's comfort in making friends in the waiting room. At home, friends and family are living "normal" lives and yours is forever changed.
I imagine the realization that life may not ever be normal again is common among survivors and caregivers. Early on, as much as I hate to admit it, I sometimes felt like "my" Nate had been taken away. Even though he was still right in front of me, my "rock" was now entirely dependent on me.
I was reminded of Jeremiah 29:11: "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope."
A new purpose
Our life may not look like everyone else's, but it is still so beautiful. Admittedly, I feel a twinge of jealousy when my friends have babies. Nate and I had planned to start a family soon. But that's their purpose right now, not mine. My purpose, for now, is to be the best caregiver and wife I can be.
Our relationship is different than in my dreams, but we are more in love than ever. Nate is still kind, compassionate, funny, hard working and good-looking!
I want to encourage others. Your life is undoubtedly different now, but it can still be perfect, even if it's not "normal." You may just have to tweak your definition.