How the perils of mountain biking helped me cope with my brain tumour diagnosis
The Guardian: It wasn’t the news my doctor expected from the scan. I could tell by the look on his face. Most partial hearing loss episodes are caused by infections. I was that rare, one-in-whatever-thousand case in which they’d discovered a squatter – which I now call “the thing” – was hanging out in my head.
“It’s a brain tumour,” he said. “Delivering this news to people doesn’t get any easier, does it?” I responded, rhetorically, just before the tsunami hit.
Then my heart raced. I gasped for air. I felt as though I’d been yanked under water with debris hurtling towards me from every angle. I stayed wedged in this vomit-level state of fear for weeks through a rollercoaster of treatment “options” explored with a string of various-ologists. “We think it’s small and slow-growing,” said specialist No 1. “Unfortunately, yours is in a very bad place,” said specialist No 2 as he took the brain out of his model skull and pointed to the cranial nerves at the base. Specialist No 3: “It’s inoperable, I’m afraid.”
Fortunately, a final stop at specialist No 4 offered radiotherapy treatment that had a more than 80% success rate at stopping tumours like mine in their unthinkable, nerve-destroying tracks. But the fact that the thing moved slowly meant I’d face years of comparison scans and cliff-hanging monitoring before the bad-movie experience could end.
For six uncertain years, getting my ruminating mind to “shut it” has been the hardest challenge. A blaring, nonstop tinnitus soundtrack like a 1950s transistor tuning in was an unwelcome gift from the thing. But alongside the cacophony of hissing and whistling, a general medical mantra also rang in my ears: “Try to do what’s normal.”
My normal is mountain biking. At first glance, people would be forgiven for thinking mountain biking isn’t perhaps the best pastime for dealing with turmoil, or tumours. Especially not tougher features like the sandstone shelves that form the trails around my Sydney locale.