Stories of Hope
Kelly’s Story
“I look forward to fundraising and giving back to people who need hope and support. Nobody should go through this alone!”

My name is Kelly Everoski and I am a brain tumor survivor. Nine years ago, at the age of 26, I noticed a persistent ringing in my left ear. I was diagnosed with a large acoustic neuroma, also called a vestibular schwannoma, which is a rare benign tumor of the balance and hearing nerves. My tumor was engulfing all surrounding nerves and leaning on my brainstem. Surgery was the only option.

My diagnosis came as a shock and completely flipped my young life upside down. It was traumatizing to say the least. I was fortunate to have the support of my family and friends.

After a very lengthy and intricate (13 hour) surgery by one of the best surgeons around, I began my recovery. In order to preserve my facial nerve, my surgeon felt it best to leave a small piece of residual tumor. This tumor will be monitored every couple of years for the rest of my life. The surgery took my hearing, leaving me deaf in my left ear, unable to produce tears in my left eye and with an enormous amount of anxiety and stress. I was very fortunate that the outcome was not worse based on the reality of the situation.

I eventually healed and got right back to teaching and life. A few years later, I was blessed with my two beautiful children. The one thing I did not have was peace of mind that the small bit of tumor left behind would not grow. Each time I would prepare for an MRI, I would struggle with much anxiety and stress. I was eventually diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). This disorder was taking over my life! I was anxious all the time, especially when it came to my children and their health. I was a mess!

Finally, after years of living like this, I came across an article on how running reduces anxiety and helps manage stress naturally. I was never a runner! Running was never something I thought about or wanted to try. I figured it was worth a shot. I started slowly, increasing my mileage. It did not take long before I began feeling better! It was an amazing life change for me. I decided to enter 5k races, which became 10k races, half marathons and a full marathon just last year!

Today, I feel better than I have ever felt in my life. I’m happy, strong, and a survivor! My last MRI was stable and my surgeon thinks I may be out of the woods! I am proud to be running on the Brain Tumor Foundation Team for the NYC marathon 2016! I look forward to fundraising and giving back to people who need hope and support. Nobody should go through this alone!

-Kelly Everoski

Stories of Hope
Zazel’s Story
“Turning setbacks into comebacks.”

I’d been fatigued for years. That was my norm. As a dancer, actress, and model, I’d always been busy, wearing myself out until I drop from exhaustion.

But thirteen years ago, I felt tired beyond what seemed to be normal. Doctors told me that it was due to stress, but when I began having what I thought were hot flashes, we suspected something hormonal.

Because I was approaching 40, I thought it might be peri-menapause, so I went to my gynecologist. I told her my recurring symptoms – dizziness, hot flashes and fatigue – and she prescribed birth control pills to regulate my hormone levels. I now believe that seeing her saved my life, because shortly after starting the prescription, what I’d thought were hot flashes were actually seizures. The seizures were weird numbing sensations on the right side of my body that affected my handwriting. Sometimes, the sensation felt like an electrical “volt” was racing through my head. The “volt” was so severe it would leave me speechless.

One day, I visited my sister and she took me to St. Barnabus Hospital emergency room in West Orange, New Jersey. They gave me an MRI and that’s when I found out I had a benign meningioma, a brain tumor 3 ½ centimeters large. The next week I had surgery and the aftermath left me partially paralyzed. I endured intense physical, speech and occupational therapy at Kessler Rehab and Rusk Institute. Being partially paralyzed, everyone thought dancing would be over for me but I was determined I would dance again. Thirteen years later, I have regained a sense of movement, which was imperative. Dance is my life!

Although, I still have limited mobility, I’m a new person now. I’m a social worker, teaching artist, motivational speaker and Artistic Director of ZCO/DANCEPROJECT.

As a teaching artist and social worker I will offer artistry and guidance to those who’ve suffered from a traumatic illness. Since I understand what these people have been through, I truly believe that I can help them. Please visit zcodanceproject.com.

-Zazel Chavah-O’Garra

Stories of Hope
Matt’s Story
“A brain tumor is a worthy adversary.”

As a coach, it is a primary function to teach student-athletes that challenges are opportunities.  In the baseball program at Case Western Reserve University, we teach our players that great opponents are necessary for our success, that it is impossible to accomplish anything meaningful without a worthy adversary and that our adversaries should not be hated, but respected in order for us to defeat them.  Respect means never underestimating your opponent, staying disciplined on what we can control, having a plan for success and being willing to fight through times that are difficult.

A brain tumor is a worthy adversary.

After experiencing multiple partial seizures, successful surgery to remove an oligodendroglioma was performed on September 28, 2011.  The surgeon removed all of the visible tumor and left me ready for a fight, one which I was determined to define, not to be defined by.  In an attempt to defeat my disease in the long term I have radically changed my life, changing everything from how I eat every meal of every day to how I exercise, to how I think about life.

I have learned that life is measured in many different ways, and that if we are unwilling to experience life, then longevity is not a goal to cherish.  I realized early on in my recovery that if I was to be motivated to survive for as long as I could, I would need goals and ends to survive for.  My family is the first and most powerful of these catalysts.  Less than a week after surgery my wife, Heather, and I were pregnant with our first child.  Our son, Quinton, was born on June 20, 2012, exactly 32 years to the day after I entered the world.  And most recently, a week earlier than expected, we were blessed with our second son, Miles Douglas, on August 16. Life can be very, very good.

Survival is an open-ended goal, one I take very seriously. But unlike a baseball game, there really is no scoreboard to judge progress.  I am a willful if not stubborn person, but the thought of exercising simply for exercise’s sake on top of diet and lifestyle change is too much for me.  I needed something to train for, something with a beginning and an end — something with a scoreboard.

That said, I signed up for a marathon, scheduled 10 months after surgery.  There is no faking 26.2 miles, especially when it is your first race of any kind in your life.  On July 29, 2012 I laced up my sneakers and ran the San Francisco Marathon in 3:55:37.  I was hooked!

I have since completed 5 more marathons, with varying degrees of success, with the ultimate goal of running a marathon in all 50 states.  This past fall, in 2015, with my good friend and neighbor Dan, I ran the NYC Marathon as a member of the Brain Tumor Foundation team.  The support throughout the whole event from family, friends, and strangers was awe-inspiring.  Never before was something so challenging made so uplifting as the privilege to run in NYC in support of BTF.  It was an incredible experience.

Recently I have had a recurrence of the tumor and I am currently in treatment.  That said, in May, in spite of the snow, ice, rain and wind, I proudly ran the Cleveland Marathon and finished in 3:48:21 – despite the 37 degree weather!

-Matt Englander

Stories of Hope
Vanessa’s Story
“Behind every scar there is an untold story of survival”

In 2010, I trained hard for a half marathon. I finished in my dream time and qualified for the NYC Marathon the following year. Just two weeks later, I had emergency brain surgery to remove, until then, a near symptomless, tennis ball sized brain tumor. Then while the wait seemed to take an eternity, gratefully I received negative oncology results. I was even luckier my husband was able to be my caregiver. With his help, I regained the ability to walk again. And a year to the day after my brain surgery, I ran the NYC marathon. And again, the year after, and the year after that, too. Each marathon I’ve run proudly for BTF, with my husband by my side (and we’re still married :)).

Last year we decided to do a marathon of surfing instead, in Nicaragua. We were leaving California and for the first time in our lives, living (and surfing) by the ocean. We needed our surf fix! But when we got home I felt “off”. Perhaps third world bugs or heaven forbid, secondary?  My doctor did a scan and announced she’d found the problem. Life stopped momentarily. But we were to find out that improbably — but not impossibly — we were 4.5 months pregnant!

Lachlan James was born 23 February, 2015. And he’s perfect. In just a few months he was already making some enormous discoveries: hands, feet and best of all, how to smile. He’s got the right idea: attitude is everything.

This has never been a “why me” thing. Instead, this is my story. This is why me. A brain tumor changed my life, and as I put my hair in a ponytail each morning and feel the hole in my head from where they drained my excess cerebral fluid, do I think I’m a brain tumor survivor? Maybe not. For me, that has the guilt or a stigma I feel people have surrounding brain surgery.  For now, I am symptom free.  And I seem to be very good at healing — to the point of growing (a baby!). I’m not a survivor; I’m living a great life: mine.

-Vanessa Green

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