by Tim Olesiuk
Cancer. It affects us all, but rarely do we prepare.
To whomever may be reading this blog, hi my name is Tim Olesiuk. I just lost my dad to Glioblastoma, a shocking diagnosis that 14,000 patients will hear in the United States each year.
My dad was a healthy guy, working four days a week. He was a vegetarian for over 30 years, and active in everything he did. He came home from work just like any other day, but this day he told us his whole left side went numb on his way home. We took him to the hospital, not expecting to hear much besides maybe a pinched nerve or a food allergy. We all were completely shocked to hear that they found multiple brain tumors on an MRI scan. I put my job on hold to move back home and to help my mom and brother take care of my dad. It’s crazy to think about the fact that on a Wednesday my dad was at work just fine but Thursday day he was in the ER with strange symptoms and a brain scan that showed a cancerous mass. Two short weeks later, my Dad had lost his mobility and most of his memory. Five months later, he died.
By now you have heard Mike Garson's version of "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" (watch here). The adult patient in the video is my incredible father, Mike. While facing the hardest and saddest experience of my entire life, my family and I also wanted to allow documentation of our journey so that we might be able to lift some burden in others’ lives who may need to face similar challenges in their walk with cancer or disease.
We were fortunate to have Hammeras Group help us navigate our cancer journey but most people do not and this always stood out to us. In our ongoing moments of despair and uncertainty, we were always aware that there were other children and adults and families who were scared and unprepared like we were. Every day we experienced another issue we were unprepared for.
I wanted to write this blog so that I could personally pay tribute to my Dad and the man he was. By doing this, I also hope our story can help encourage some basic steps to being just little more prepared. If this helps just one person than that would be a blessing.
I learned a lifetime about what works and what doesn't in our healthcare process in such a short time. With all the great care my dad received in the hospital, once we were home my family and I became his care givers, giving him multiple shots a day followed with specific medications administered at certain times. We had no training and no background in medicine, so it was scary for all of us, because we didn’t want to make a mistake. What kept us going is our love for my dad and his strong constitution.
We were all with my Dad in the Emergency Room for simple issues that didn't seem right. We learned about his brain cancer only 6 hours after we walked through the door. Six hours of wondering why my Dad's whole left side weakness was occurring, to learning he had brain cancer.
We sat in the ER as a family together laughing and supporting my Dad, only to find this all change within 30 seconds of the doctor walking in to share the news. The emotions of that day are everything you can imagine. We were shocked beyond the ability to describe. We were scared. We were sad.
As the Doctor provided the news and left the room, the thought that kept resurfacing in each of us was "now what do we do? WHAT DO WE DO - WHERE DO WE GO - WHO DO WE SEE???"
You see, we don’t spend much time preparing for this question because we don't want to. We never think it will happen to us. I am only 30 years old and it wasn't a thought I wanted to entertain in my life for myself or for my family. It was always something that was out there and something I would hopefully not have to face someday. That someday found my family and I in just 30 seconds.
Later that night we had a conversation with our primary care doctor who was connected with Hammeras Group. This is when Candy stepped in to assure us she would help lift some of the strain of the path before us. She was able to help us organize some of the questions cycling through our minds, especially the, "what do we do?” That first question was answered pretty quickly: we were in a good community hospital but we needed a top-notch research facility to consult with. We live in Southern California so there is no shortage of exceptionally ranked teaching facilities in Los Angeles. We were quickly settled with the best Neuro-Oncology team at UCLA who began to help us guide Dad's journey. This was such an important decision in our journey, because it helped eliminate the need to put so much effort into our research to find the most qualified location and specialists to treat a complex cancer with potential for clinical trials. We have heard that many recently diagnosed families spend a lot of time Googling. By understanding the importance of the role a research hospital can play in the treatment protocol, we were able to save that time. We were able to spend that time together as a family.
Even though we didn't get the outcome for Dad that we hoped and prayed for, we don't question our decisions. We so wish things were different and that we were back in our normal lives with Dad but we feel peaceful knowing that we were in the best hands. We don't wonder; "what if?” We just wish it didn't have to be.
Candy asked me to write this blog to help others. I’m happy to continue writing to others who are experiencing the same feelings. You are not alone. In honoring my dad’s legacy, I promised him I will continue to be a catalyst in bringing awareness to others. As the first step to help others, for me, this is an easy question to answer; community hospitals are a great place to be for most of our healthcare issues. But for the more difficult cancers and diseases, a top-notch research facility will be the best chance for the right diagnoses and treatment. Be prepared to know where you would seek care if something complex occurs with your health. My family and I are so grateful that these doors were opened for my Dad.