My life is a Reader’s Digest article. You know, one of those stories that you read and think “There is surely some embellishment in the details” and “The ending can’t be true”. Well I assure you my story is true. None of the drama was fabricated; sometimes, life delivers all the drama you need and It doesn’t deliver a guarantee of fame, fortune and glory. But if you can appreciate the miracles in your life, it will lead you to your happy ending. This blog is dedicated to our move back to Southern California after a long journey, and in the words of T.S. Eliot; “arrive where we began and know the place for the first time.” This blog will also highlight the opportunities available in the Inland Empire. I want you to have an introduction to WHO I AM because I have very specific goals in life. I want to work hard and succeed in my career but after everything we’ve gone through, I don’t just want to LIVE life passively floating through time waiting for whatever drifts my way. We all get to LIVE. All we have is time; how we choose to spend it is up to us. Those decisions define who we are and determine who we become. I am eternally grateful just to be alive. Now, I want to LIVE every moment of that life to its fullest and help others to do the same.
I was born and raised in San Diego, California in a not so wealthy home with loving parents and 4 brothers and sisters. My parents attended some college and most of my life my Dad ran his own truck driving business, while my Mom worked small jobs but mostly stayed home with the kids. It was a joke in our family that PhD meant Piled Higher and Deeper. Don’t get me wrong. Education was important in our home and my Mom did everything she could to help us but there was not an expectation on higher education.
It was quite a surprise to my parents when I came home from my LDS Mission and announced that I wanted to be a doctor. My parents being who they are supported me through my journey even though they had no idea why this would appeal to me. I spent my youth in true Southern California fashion; probably more focused on skateboarding and surfing with my friends than on high school.
Me skating on a friends half pipe.
On my mission, I figured out who I really was and found my place in serving and helping others. However, I soon found that I couldn’t help others if I couldn’t help myself, nor would I have the time to help others If I was always strapped to a job that isolated me. I didn’t want to work to merely provide the means to help others, rather, I started to think of careers that would allow me to help other people through my work and becoming a doctor was at the top of my list.
I followed my future wife to the University of Arizona where I decided to finish my undergraduate work. The summer before my last year of college, while I was at an internship for The Arizona Heart Institute in Pheonix, I found a lump on my testicle. It was first thought to be a cyst, but eventually I was diagnosed with TESTICULAR CANCER. I remember leaving the hospital, walking back to my research lab thinking “Am I ready to die?”. The next few months were relatively calm. I had my testicle removed and a few rounds of chemo after a metastasis was found on my lung. A year after my diagnosis came a different reality.
Me during chemotherapy.
I was skateboarding at a local skate park when I had trouble seeing other people around me. I ran into another skater and crashed pretty bad because he simply came out of nowhere. I let my oncologist know my symptoms and he scheduled on MRI. Then the headache started. It intensified over the days to the point that I could not stand up. Even though I had an MRI scheduled the very next morning, the pain was so bad in the middle of the night I had to go the emergency room. That night is where we found out I had my first brain tumor.
Me and my brother John after my first brain surgery in the ICU of University Medical Center in Tucson Arizona. Of course, we had to compete to see whose breath could show the highest rating on the spirometer.
I had 3 fast growing brain tumors in all. At one point, I had an infection raging so bad that both the Radiation Oncologist and the Neurosurgeon told me I could likely die from the infection or the tumor because both were growing so rapidly. I had to choose. Stop radiation and treat the infection and die from cancer or continue radiation which favored the growth of bacteria over the growth of cells that kill bacteria, and die from infection. Miraculously I recovered. I recovered again and again at the surprise to all my doctors. My interview with the medical school faculty was the same day as my first stem cell collection for my bone marrow transplant. I got up from my interview with the faculty, walked down the hall, and met the nurses to start the collection process. It finally took an autologous bone marrow transplant to cure me from cancer. I recovered again. Miracle.
Now cancer free I was accepted to the 1 medical school I was able to apply to, The University of Arizona College of Medicine. The summer before medical school began I had what I thought was my final reconstruction surgery of my skull and scalp. I was wrong. The wound on my scalp would not close leading to multiple infections. I missed a lot of my first year of medical school because I was an in the hospital undergoing many surgeries and just as things seemed tied back together, another infection would emerge. In all, it took about a dozen surgeries to get me back together again and I had to take a break from medical school. However, doing as much work as body would allow paramount and it was during this time I was able to publish a paper in the American Journal of Surgery, of all things, on the positive psychologic effect work has on individuals recovering from surgery!
It took months to find a plastic surgeon who could reconstruct both skin and bone. Even though I was being treated at one of the finest cancer centers, I had to travel to MD Anderson and UCLA to try and find a surgeon who could finally repair my wound. I had 2 skin expanders under my scalp that required weekly inflations to stretch my scalp in preparation for the final surgery. I will never the pain associated with those weekly visits. However, it was entertaining watching grown adults run their shopping carts into displays because they were staring at my deformed head. I wasn’t me anymore. I was an oddity where people felt free to stare. Then another miracle.
My two skin expanders being filled to capacity. The skin stretching process was so painful, that at times I would ask the surgeon to remove some fluid because I could not take the pain.
The surgeons at UCLA were able to complete my reconstruction in one surgery. This last surgery took place in June 2008 and by August 2009 my wife was pregnant with twins. (I told you it sounds like a Reader’s Digest article.)
My Dad and brothers giving me a priesthood blessing after my final reconstructive surgery. My wife and my family always helped me feel better.
I was able to finish medical school and residency and become board certified in Family Medicine. The most recent miracle in our lives is the opportunity to affordably LIVE near family in Southern California. After being away for 15 years, I get to call California my home again. I am in my first-year post residency and life is great. I’m meeting wonderful people and get to help many of them through my practice. My life has turned out much different than I expected and I have learned to be grateful for that. My body is not as perfect as it was in my youth but, I can still LIVE that Southern Californian dream whether it’s in the clinic, hospital, on top of a wave or my skateboard.
Skate and LIVE!