Sickboy: Brain Cancer

Hi everyone! Jeremie here. Super excited about this. Each week, when we drop a new episode we will have our guest for the week submit their own blog post! Our guest this week is Matthew Amyotte! He had Brain Cancer! Check out his blog post below and check out his episode here! 

“Haha, you’ve probably got a brain tumour!”

"October 8th, 2013, the day after surgery. My already enormous head was even more enormous than usual."

It’s the kind of line you teased your friends with in junior high when they complained about having a headache. Well, okay, maybe you were one of those “nice” people who would “never say something like that” but I distinctly remember saying a line to that effect to my friend up the street when I was twelve.

Flash forward almost twenty years and I’m sitting in a clinic in Halifax being diagnosed by my optometrist with something called Papilledema, an intracranial swelling of my optic disc, which is a very fancy word that explained why I was seeing two of everything. I was just on the other side of a five month contract in the Yukon where I spent a good chunk of my time fending off pounding headaches and constant double vision. As soon as the optometrist left the room I pulled out my smartphone and started doing some armchair research. Listed on the always reliable Wikipedia page under “causes” I saw the two words that I’d so juvenilely used as ammunition years beforehand: brain tumour. 

“Nah, it can’t be that, it’s something else,” I silently assured myself.

So, what do you do when three days later you find out that that’s exactly what it is? What are you supposed to say when a neurosurgeon looks at you and tells you that if the tumour doesn’t come out immediately it’s going to kill you? How do you react to the phone call from the hospital when you find out that your tumour was the kind you really don’t want to have? What do you do when you find out you have cancer? What does that word even mean? What becomes your state of normality when suddenly nothing is “normal”?

It’s exactly as frightening as you think it would be.

Then, in time, it gets easier. And that’s when it gets empowering.

Some of the worst experiences of my life have come from my brain tumour and its ensuing treatment. Sleepless nights, ringing headaches, countless brain scans, hours spent in hospital for radiation treatments, chemotherapy every day — having cancer became a full-time job. That said, my illness is also the catalyst for some of the most positive, life-affirming energy I’ve ever been a part of.

"June, 2014. Duncan's Cove, Nova Scotia. I may look deep in thought, but that's just me trying to look cool."

When you’re reminded so starkly of your own mortality, a lot of things snap into focus. How much time I wasted being angry at shit that doesn’t actually matter was staggering. How much I have to live for (as cliché as that may sound) started to actually mean something to me. Plus, you really do start to find the humour in your own situation, like the time my entire body was effectively made of poison or how they shot lasers at my head while I was inside a giant pod from Star Trek (chemotherapy and radiation, in case you were wondering).

The Sickboys were rad enough to let me be a guest on the second episode of their podcast, so if you want to hear more about my story, have a listen. If you want to learn more about my particular tumour (http://www.braintumour.ca/4872/anaplastic-astrocytoma), or brain tumours in general, I recommend checking out the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada website (http://www.braintumour.ca/). 

So, next time you want to tease someone for having a headache (and why wouldn’t you), try this line instead:

“Haha, you have increased intracranial pressure as a result from an anaplastic astrocytoma and should probably go to the hospital as I am very concerned for your safety and happiness.”

Trust me. I have cancer. I would know.

- Matthew Amyotte