It’s Just Benign: Connecting Benign Brain Tumor Survivors Everywhere

Survivor Spotlight

   It’s Just Benign has selected Paul Gerrard for being a remarkable survivor. His story is one in which strength and a positive attitude have aided in his road to recovery and beyond. Paul, from Port Jefferson Station, NY, is the owner of St. Gerard Printing.  He not only leads his fifty year old family owned business but also volunteers with his local fire department.  His wife works at the firm, along with his mother and father — who by the way will be celebrating his 91st birthday in May.  

      In October of 2009, Paul was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. However, getting the proper diagnosis was quite difficult since the first symptom was a painful headache. Apparently, at a local fire department event, Paul had a couple of beers; when he arrived home, he developed an extremely painful headache. The terrible headaches continued for three weeks, and at a visit to his family doctor, Paul was diagnosed with an ear infection. However, even after taking the antibiotics which were prescribed for the ear infection and five aspirins daily, Paul’s headaches continued. 

      Eventually, his father convinced him to go to the nearby hospital after Paul suffered an immensely painful headache in the early morning that made him nearly immobile. Paul begrudgingly went to the hospital and had a complete evaluation. The attending physician read Paul’s CAT scan and told him that he had a brain aneurysm; that he had only about eighteen hours to live, and that there was mass the size of a tangerine in his brain.

      Paul was transported quickly to the nearby Stony Brook Medical Center on Long Island. At Stony Brook, he was given additional CAT scans by neurosurgeon, Rafael Davis, MD.  Dr. Davis found that Paul did not have an aneurysm, but a large mass in his brain. Dr. Davis mentioned to Paul there was a 5% chance of the mass being cancerous, but malignant or not, it needed to be removed immediately. The mass was causing bleeding in Paul’s brain.

     Paul’s surgery lasted nine hours. Afterward, Dr. Davis told Paul he had never seen a tumor like Paul’s in his thirty years of medical practice. The unclassified calcified mass was in removed from the left ventricle of his brain.

     Paul’s operation took place on a Wednesday, and by Sunday he was home, with his wife and children, recuperating. Dr. Davis recommended that Paul take a complete leave of absence from work and abstain from physical activity until he was fully recovered. However, the demands of running his own business found Paul back at work after 3 weeks, sooner than the 6-8 weeks his doctor had suggested.

     In January of 2010, a few months after Paul’s surgery, he went for a doctor’s visit and was diagnosed with a hematoma, most likely brought on by not completely following his doctor’s orders to rest. He was prescribed Dilantin and took some time off to attempt to recuperate completely.

     Fortunately after that last scare, Paul has experienced little to no change in his health and resumed normal routine or activities. However, for about a year or two after the surgery, he experienced feelings of displacement, almost like an “out of body experience.” At times he felt as if he were the only person who had ever experienced having a benign brain tumor; there just weren’t many people he knew who had had such a diagnosis, or at least he thought so until he discovered It’s Just Benign (IJB).                                    

     Paul says that IJB was like opening up a “…Pandora’s box” to all survivors who suffered with short term and long term effects such as blurred vision, hearing loss, and loss of fine motor skills. He recommends the forum to those recently diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. He says by reading some of the posts and engaging with IJB members you get a better understanding of benign brain tumors as a whole.                 

     Since Paul’s diagnosis, he finds that running a small business in this economy is extremely demanding because, as he explains it, “The government stinks. There are a lot of rules and regulations that make it hard to keep your business going to ensure everything is current and properly regulated. There is a lot of hard work and many sleepless nights.” However, even with the constant demands and stress, Paul remains optimistic about his business and life in general.

     To all benign brain tumor survivors Paul says “Live with it and learn how to deal with it.” He also recommends doing exactly as the doctor says including taking off the time which is needed to completely recuperate. Shortchanging your recovery time could lead down a path where other health issues may not be so easily detected and treated as in Paul’s case. “Time can be your best friend. There is an avenue for people who have brain tumors and surgery; some are terminal, others are treated with radiation and medication. When someone pokes around your head with various “garden tools”, it definitely changes everything. Just keep busy, keep living, and keep going. Do not allow the tumor to be a ball and chain around your ankle. It will get you down. You have got to get up and keep going…you just can’t stop. Find activities that you enjoy.”

      Paul is a volunteer firefighter, has served three times as the president of his local Rotary Club, and works at the county fire academy. Paul says keeping busy gives you purpose and helps you lead a more fulfilling life.  And as he reminds us, don’t forget; it’s ok to lean on your family for support.

It’s Just Benign is proud to put Paul Gerrard in the Survivor Spotlight. Connect with Paul on IJB. His member name is Paul Gerrard. Paul also prints all of IJB’s brochures and other literature. We at It’s Just Benign greatly appreciate Paul’s contribution.             . 


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