I’m just a short Filipino-American guy from Michigan. I was a nerd in High School. “A’s” filled my report cards and I still was into cartoons and science fiction. The only thing that kept me from getting picked on was the fact that I was good at sports. In high school, I was a First team, All-League defensive back in football, a 1991 Michigan State champion in wrestling, and a 4 year state qualifier in track. I was also an active member of the Student council and the National Honor Society.
In undergrad at the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor, I discovered beer, but somehow I was able to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in Biology. Along the way, I helped to establish the first Asian-American interest fraternity in the Midwest, was an officer in both the Filipino American Student Association and the Asian American Association, and joined an a capella group, 58 Greene, with no musical experience (it helped that one of my good friends was the director and that a lot of my friends were already in the group). After undergrad, I worked for 2 years as a Physical Therapy Aide on the rehab unit at the University of Michigan Medical Center, Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. I saw some pretty amazing stuff there. I really enjoyed helping people get better. After working there, I knew I was going to be a physical therapist.
I then moved to LA to go to school full time and improve my GPA before applying to grad schools. After a year in California, I moved back to Michigan to start physical therapy school at U of M-Flint. Before I left for LA, I applied to the U of M-Flint Physical Therapy Program since I still had my Michigan residency. I graduated from Physical Therapy school with a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree in December 2003. In 2003, I also earned the Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA). I woke up one morning and decided I should move to San Diego to start my career. So I did. I’ve done the Michigan-California drive five times, three times with a companion and twice by myself. I knew 2 people in San Diego when I moved. I made some good friends in San Diego, but in the back of my mind I still missed everything and everyone I left behind in Michigan.
Things were going great in San Diego! I loved my job and all the outdoor activities San Diego had to offer. Then in the summer of 2005, I started getting intermittent episodes of dizziness, headaches, and nausea. I had an excuse for each symptom and would push through the symptoms to function everyday. I have always been the kind of guy who likes to push his physical limits. I learned how to swim just so I could go surfing and do triathlons. I completed 2 sprint triathlons and a half marathon in 2005. Like many other single men, I moved to the West coast from the Midwest in the hopes of finding a sweet job, an active lifestyle, and a nice girl.
Nothing could have prepared me for the news I was about to receive. Brain cancer/tumors are pretty rare when compared to other types of cancer. On September 10th 2005, I found out I had a huge brain tumor, a meningioma the size of a golf ball, on the tentorial membrane at the base of my brain between my brain stem and my cerebellum. The brainstem controls basic/unconscious body functions like heart rate, breathing, and facial/tongue movements. The cerebellum controls coordination and fine motor skills. Pretty important stuff at risk! I have a lot of friends here in San Diego, but I wanted to be with my family. The first people I called when I found out were my “Mommy” and “Papa”! I finally realized how much I loved my family. I had to talk to my brother separately once I figured out what was going on! The rest of my family and friends were informed once I “digested” the news! In the following months: I had brain surgery to have the tumor removed; radiation therapy to get rid of the remains; Speech, occupational,and physical therapy for all the physical and mental impairments I was left with after the surgery. I was receiving rehab at the hospital where I used to work. In a strange twist, the people I used to work side by side with were now working with me as a patient!
As a patient I really wanted to be prepared for what lay ahead. My medical background helped immensely, but there were still a few things I wasn’t ready for. I’ve been exposed to a number of patients with different diagnoses, but I couldn’t find a book or other resource by a young single guy in the same boat as me. I was lying in my hospital bed and decided that when I got out of this, I would write a book… a “real” account of life as a patient for therapy students and younger patients with common situations and written in a style in which they could relate. published my first book 2 years after my brain tumor diagnosis: Reversal, When a Therapist Becomes A Patient, and 2 year later self published my second book: Awakening, Becoming a Brain Tumor Thriver;
Since my diagnosis I have found new path in Cancer/ Brain Tumor Survivor Advocacy through education.
- When I was first diagnosed, I led a team that raised over $11,000 for the National Brain Tumor Foundation; created a support network for young survivors named TUMORS SUCK!;
- Led the development of a unique website called mAssKickers.org designed to empower cancer/brain tumor patients with knowledge;
- Organized national book tours with stops in Evanston IL, Flint MI, Oakland CA, Boston MA, Ann Arbor MI, Miami FL, Tampa FL Chicago IL, Austin TX, Houston TX, New York NY, Loma Linda CA, San Diego CA and recently started doing online lectures;
- Became active in the young adult survivor community, brain tumor survivor community, and Oncology Physical Rehab movement; and
- Recently I have been traveling internationally with cancer survivors to do presentations about a proactive life (thrivership) after a cancer diagnosis at: Ateneo University – Manila, Philippines (2013), Yongsan US Army Garrison – Seoul, South Korea (2014), National University – Singapore (2014), Hospital Paul Devaux at the Institute Gilles Bordeaux – Brussels, Belgium (2015), and most recently we met with the patient support organizations in Cape Town South Africa: CHOC South Africa and PLWC (2016). There are plans to do more international “thrivership educational missions”
I have accomplished a lot in the past few years, but I’ve always felt out of place. Where did I belong in the survivorship community? I didn’t technically have “cancer”, but that “benign” tumor hit me pretty hard. (Actually “non-malignant” brain tumor is the correct term. There is no such thing as a “benign” brain tumor. Look up the definition of “benign.”) It didn’t knock me out, so it’s my turn to retaliate and go on “the offensive“! That word has a loaded meaning… hee hee hee… mAss Kickers Foundation is a community of ALL people affected by tumors or cancer (survivors and our loved ones) that want to fight back against these horrible diseases! Sharing our Knowledge, Promoting Unity, and Supporting Research is how we will Empower ourselves in this epic battle! (Use the K.U.R.E.)
The rest of my story isn’t written. I’m still improving and re-creating myself. I’ve learned a lot about myself already. All I know is that I’m going to fully enjoy living the rest of my story. I have a few more things I need to do! Stay tuned!