2019: Year of Positivity … and brain cancer

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On New Year’s Day 2019, Scott Hendricks resolved to be more positive. That was before the kidney stone, the stroke and the grand mal seizures. Before doctors found the brain tumor. Before the brain surgery he was kept awake for. Before the chemo. Before the radiation.

That was before two weeks ago, when the MRI showed no change. Before the chemo started up again.

Even so, as Scott described his 2019, sitting on the sofa at Cozy Coffee a week out from Thanksgiving, he was overflowing with gratitude. He was cracking jokes and testifying to miracles. He was raving about the breakfast wrap.

He was, in a word: positive.

• • •

Scott entered 2019 dissatisfied with several aspects of his life — his weight, his perspective at work, the impact negativity was having on his wife and two daughters.

So he resolved to be more positive, and the results were profound. With the help of Weight Watchers, he was down 60 pounds by July. Along the way, friends, family and coworkers remarked about his infectious, positive perspective.

He looked for the humor on May 9, when he drove himself to the hospital with terrible pain in his side. As a nurse wheeled him back for his CT scan, she remarked on the likelihood of a kidney stone.

“It’s either that or a 67-pound tumor, and if you take it out I’ll make my goal weight,” he jested.

The kidney stone was too big to pass and had to be removed surgically. He didn’t realize it at the time, but a far more serious surgery loomed.

• • •

In hindsight, the signs were there. Waking up at 2 a.m. in April from a sleep in which he bit a chunk out of his tongue. A mild seizure at work in May. Scott sees it as providence, God preparing him and his wife, Tori, for the camping trip in June when she woke up to him having a grand mal seizure.

By the time Scott woke up, the paramedics had arrived. A CT scan at a hospital in Newport showed a mass on his brain.

With all the tests to run and information to process, doctors spent nearly a month weighing the best course of action with Scott and his family. In the end, they decided on an awake craniotomy to remove the grade 2 astrocytoma tumor. The doctor explained the surgery: He would remove as much of the tumor as possible, and then he would wake Scott up so the medical team could monitor his movements, test his speech, and use his responses in order to most safely remove even more cancer.

With a theme of positivity and surrounded by the strength of Tori, their two daughters and his extended family, Scott went in for surgery July 17. While the majority of the tumor was removed, surgeons were unable to remove parts too closely enmeshed with optic nerves and vital brain functions. What’s more, Scott suffered a stroke during the surgery, and the doctor seemed amazed Scott was able to be up and talking, retaining his movement and faculties. All told, he spent only three days in the hospital.

• • •

Scott’s resolution to remain positive was consistently tested. As he recovered from surgery and faced the uncertainty of starting chemo and radiation, he also developed shoulder pain. Not for the first time, he struggled to sleep.

A Seattle visit with renowned natural health doctor and traumatic brain injury specialist Antoine Chevalier helped him to better understand the impact of negative thoughts and anger on his healing. Before he left town, his shoulder pain was gone.

The lessons helped him remain upbeat during his radiation at Cancer Care Northwest. With treatments five days a week for six weeks, he built relationships with the staff and fellow patients.

“The techs were so awesome,” Scott said, recalling great lengths they went to in order to make the experience as comfortable as possible. In typical fashion, he kept them on their toes, noting he was losing his hair in the areas where the radiation was focused. “And I was like, ‘My wife was wondering if you could target more around my nose.’”

The treatments typically moved like clockwork, but on one occasion he arrived to find a tense waiting room with appointments running 90 minutes behind schedule. Tapping into the power of positivity, he made it his mission to keep his mood up, and “that progressed into one of the most fun days, and that whole room was laughing.” Scott said while he may have got the ball rolling, soon multiple patients were laughing and joking with one another. One woman spit out her coffee. The hysteria attracted the attention of curious office workers.

“I had workers coming up to me weeks later saying, ‘We just want to thank you for that day that you helped that room make such a turn,’” he said.

• • •

Maybe the hardest part of being positive is simultaneously also being real. While he is focused on being upbeat, Scott isn’t interested in masking the facts about the cancer he is facing. In his mind, he pictures two railcars moving simultaneously down the tracks of his life. In one, Scott said he places thoughts true to his reality but that do him no good to dwell on: He could have a stroke; he could lose mobility; he could die.

“But I didn’t want to focus on (those things), and so I needed to separate it somehow,” he said.

Enter the other railcar, where he places the thoughts he can be positive about: That the tumor was finally discovered through his seizure; the faith he has in his doctors; the amazing support of his family, friends and coworkers at Collins Aerospace, where he has worked for 17 years.

“It’s clear and bright (on the positive side), so that’s what I choose to look at,” he said. “God’s with me and protecting me, and whether it’s His time to take me, it’s His plan.”

It’s clear and bright (on the positive side), so that’s what I choose to look at.

Scott Hendricks

When there was no change to his tumor after his recent MRI, Scott knew it would be a letdown to his family and friends who want to be able to use the word, “cured.”

“But my doctor told me, ‘for you, we can never say cancer free, because the best we can say is no evidence; you will be cured when you die,’” Scott said.

A lot of uncertainty remains. The tumor could become more aggressive — or the 42-year-old could make another lifetime’s worth of memories. For now, the tumor is still evident. Scott has started a new round of chemotherapy that will be followed by another MRI. The results of that test will determine the next steps.

“It doesn’t matter what (the MRI) shows, what matters is how I live today, that I’m alive today,” Scott said. “In that sense, the MRI isn’t really relevant to me. It’s something I want to pay attention to because I want to take care of myself, but the MRI is going to show what it’s going to show. I was walking around with a tumor for years, and I didn’t know it. But it was June when I was going to find out about it, and God started preparing me in January.”

Of that, he is absolutely positive.


Coffee Notes

Scott and I met for this conversation at Cozy Coffee, 514 N. Barker Road, Spokane Valley. Scott recommends the breakfast wrap (the burrito is also good, but go for the wrap because it includes fresh veggies). One of many reasons I like Cozy Coffee is the afternoon/evening hours (open until 7 p.m.), when it can be more difficult to find a coffee meeting location.


While you’re here, would you do me a favor?

If you enjoy articles like this one, join the CoffeeJosh mailing list. It’s hurry-free, spam-free and also free … free. As a thanks, I’ll send you a PDF — you guessed it, free — that has 10 of the best coffee shop orders in the Spokane area. (All 10 are drinks and treats local coffee shop owners make for themselves. In this case, expect to pay for your order and feel like it was totally worth it.)

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