A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words
In the infamous words of the Notorious B.I.G., “I got a story to tell.” Everyone should. Life’s all about the story. If you can’t sit around the kitchen table or campfire and rattle off at least one story that makes peoples jaws drop or beer spray out of their nose, you need to start living more. I’ve got stories for days. This one is about the time I stared death in the eye, literally.
I am the healthiest guy I know. Always have been. I love to workout, so much so that I opened a CrossFit gym. I don’t eat shitty food. Nothing but high quality octane in this body. I’ve never smoked a single cigarette, nor have I ever tried any drugs. I know what you are thinking, “Then how is it possible this guy has any good stories?”. I’ll tell you why. Because I’ve survived all that life has thrown at me.
Now, I don’t want you thinking I’m some kind of super hero. I can’t deadlift 500lbs. I can’t squat 400lbs. Nor can I bench 300lbs. But, I am stronger than everything that has ever tried to kill me.
Keep Your Eye On The Prize
Five months ago I received a message from my Aunt. She told me that my eyelid looked weird in some pictures and I should have it examined. Nah, I’m good. I told her that my eyelid was damaged when I got hit in the eye playing squash sans eye protection. Again, always fit, maybe not always that smart.
My eye had looked weird in pictures for years, so much so that I called it my wonk eye. I just always attributed it to trying to return that volley with my iris. It wasn’t until I saw a Snapchat video of myself that I realized maybe she was right. So, I did what any male would do. I waited another two weeks and scheduled an appointment.
Back To The Future
Let’s all hop in the DeLorean and fast forward three or so doctor appointments, a CT scan and an MRI later. I now sat in a neurosurgeon’s office with my wife, who was 8 months pregnant by the way. With each successive appointment the news kept getting worse. Why would this one be any different?
It’s true what they say, all you hear is ringing when you catch a glimpse of what is growing inside of you. Everything else is numb. You can’t speak. You can’t cry. You can’t move.
The doctor had to explain to me twice what the risks of the surgery would be. I’m guessing that with his experience, he knew I didn’t hear a single iota of what he first told me. He was right. It was’t until I turned and looked at my growing child that the fight or flight kicked in and I came to.
The tumor was so large it had pushed my entire left frontal lobe back. I don’t know if you know much about anatomy, but there isn’t much prime real estate available in your dome. When it couldn’t go any further, it began to grow into my left orbit. And what did the doctor tell me before walking out of the room? “Good luck.”
Oh, I Am Fortune’s Fool
All your life people will tell you “Good luck”. On your first day of school. Before the big game. When you leave for college. First job interview. Wedding day. And most certainly before a major surgery. For some reason, people insist that life is about luck. Life has nothing to do with luck, the lottery does.
Surviving life is about two things, preparation and the will to survive. They are not always 50/50. Sometimes life is 99% preparation and 1% will to survive. Sometimes its vice versa. The key is, you absolutely must have both.
I don’t know how I knew I had a tumor, but I did. A year or so prior to the discovery of the brain tumor, I had gone to see a new physician because I thought I had testicular cancer. Pretty awkward thing to say “Hi, I’m your new patient, will you feel my balls?”. As it turns out, I wasn’t that far off, just the wrong type of ball (eyeball, try and keep up).
I have always had weird feelings about things that end up being true. It’s how I knew my father died of a heart attack the night it happened, before anyone told me. But, his sudden passing is what ultimately led me to preparing to fight for my life.
“X” Marks The Spot
A Neurosurgeon, a Neuro-Opthamologist and a Plastic Surgeon all cut into my head. Sounds like a awful joke, but I promise you, it was real. After an autograph on my forehead from the doc, it took a full craniotomy and 12 hours of surgery to remove the tumor from my frontal lobe and left orbit.
The worst part about it, I had to wait four months for that surgery to take place. Four months of knowing what was in my head every time I looked in the mirror. It was like when you got in trouble as a kid. Mom would make you wait until Dad got home to hand out the beating, only for four agonizing months instead of hours.
I’m sure any Psychologist would’ve told me I was going to go through the seven stages of grief or something along those lines. But there was nothing. My hand was steady.
How Much Ya Bench
People tend to workout for all the wrong reasons. To some it’s for fun or sports. To others it’s vanity or an obsession. Early in my life, you could’ve put me in any one of these categories. But, after my father’s death, I realized that getting fit was about my survival. It wasn’t a game, it was THE game. If you win, you live to fight another day.
CrossFit saved my life, period. Before it, I didn’t give a rats ass about nutrition, mobility, inflammation, disease or anything other than chest day. It truly opened my eyes to what my body was capable of, IF treated properly. It’s the “IF” that most people have trouble with.
Super Size Me
People that don’t live well, usually don’t die well. I’d much rather do CrossFit for 5 to 6 hours a week than dialysis for 12. Sure the workouts hurt, but so does a chest spreader. You have but one shot on this rock. Do you really want to cut it short because of fast food, frappuccinos and reality tv?
Right now, there is an intergalactic battle of epic proportions going on inside of your body. Your cells are fighting like hell to keep all the shit that we put into ourselves, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, from causing inflammation, colds, the flu, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and strokes.
People tend to believe that when someone tries to talk to them about working out, it’s all about body image or body shaming. I promise you, it’s a whole different story when a doctor tells you you have a disease that is threatening your life. When you look down the barrel of that shotgun, guaranteed you think, “Crap, I should’ve taken better care of myself.”
I have never had a single morsel of processed food that was worth dying for. Basically, now, if I see a commercial for it, I don’t eat it. I am constantly telling people, “Get healthy before you get sick.”
It’s the reason there was no swelling in my brain with a tumor the size of a golfball. It’s the reason I never had a single seizure or a migraine. It’s the reason I never had any trouble with my vision. I never had a single symptom. The doctors were dumbfounded. They would call other doctors into the room to hear my story.
It was because of my health, my body was able to combat the tumor and the complications that could have been associated with it. It is a true testament to what a healthy body can achieve.
At this moment in time, what could your body achieve? In your current state of health, would you survive “X”? It’s a good question to ask, because it all happens that quick.
Come With Me If you Want To Live
I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but eating healthy and working your ass off in the gym, the preparation, that’s the easy part. The will to survive, a completely different animal.
One month after seeing the tumor, my second daughter was born. One more amazingly beautiful reason to survive. In order to survive, you cannot have any doubt. Doubt kills. It kills your mind, your body and ultimately your soul.
I never once had an ounce of doubt that I wouldn’t survive this ordeal. I believed in my body. I can’t tell you whether the will to survive is nature or nurture, but I know I have it.
What’s Up Doc?
The doctors had told me that after the surgery, they were going to keep me in the ICU in a sedated state for 4 or 5 days. It was to make sure my blood pressure did not raise my intracranial pressure. They also said that I would be in the hospital for around 10-14 days in total.
Much to their surprise, and only their surprise, I was out of the ICU in 12 hours and the hospital in 3 days. Why? Preparation and the will to survive. Every doctor left my room saying, “I gotta start doing CrossFit.”
A Picture saved my life. It amazes me to think about that. The amount of stars that had to align for that picture to happen, and get noticed, are nothing short of a miracle.
It was Mark Twain that said “The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.” This is why I was born. To wake YOU up. To make you realize how important your health is and to motivate you to get up off of your ass and do something about it.
Do Not Talk About Fight Club
People say all CrossFitters talk about is CrossFit. Well, I don’t care how you get healthy. I’m not here to convince you to start CrossFit, just to take care of yourself.
You can walk, hike, spin, swim, do yoga, pilates, or lift weights. Whatever you do, just start doing it yesterday! And don’t give me that “I don’t have the time” crap.
If you have a job that takes up too much time, quit. It isn’t worth dying for. If you have a bum knee, work around it. It isn’t worth dying for. If you have kids, find a way. They are worth living for.
Do Not Go Gentle
I think Mr. Miyagi said it best, “Live or die?”. It’s black or white, yes or no. I have lost a lot of things in my life, but never a fight.
I have been to hell and back so many times I could give directions. And through it all, my only regret in life is that I couldn’t prepare my father for his fight.
But, he did leave me with an invaluable trait. The will to survive. It is what has allowed me to share this story with you, a month after surgery, with a scar worthy of Captain James T. Hook and the eye patch to go along with it.
A wise man once told me “There will always be another villain, there will always be another fight.”. It has been true my entire life. But to me, It’s just the beginning of another story.
Stay Healthy My Friends,
Adrian Van Balen
Owner CrossFit MPL