Hi, my name is Sam McCreary and I am a brain tumor survivor!!! My journey on this roller coaster called life started off like most families, I had two loving parents and later I was blessed with two little sisters as well as many other family and friends whom I loved like family. I grew up, as many would assume, going to school, very involved in my church, playing sports since I was legally old enough, spending time with family and friends every chance I got. Little did I know what my “roller coaster” would involve later on? The initial big turn in the roller coaster occurred during my junior year of high school when I was injured while playing football for BHS. This injury resulted in having a MRI done of my neck and upper back where they discovered I had spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spinal column. This was something I was probably born with but was not discovered until then. Once that diagnosis was made, my days of contact sports came to an end. The risk of becoming paralyzed if I received a hit the wrong way was too great. This was a huge shock to me because I loved football. It had been a part of who I was since before I could walk. When I was little, I would sleep with my football, and it eventually gained the name of “the baby”. God knew I still needed to be a part of the team, just not in the same role I was used to. Through Marc Osbourne, the Athletic Trainer for BHS, God opened the door for me to be the student athletic trainer my senior year. This gave me the opportunity to stay on the field with my teammates. I did not realize how important this would become to me. At this point, I was starting the summer before my senior year, working for the City of Brandon Parks and Recreation department and gearing up for my senior year. But one of the highlights of my summer was planning for a mission trip to Haiti. When I first had the football injury, then the spinal stenosis I begged my mom not to let them take this trip away from me. I wanted to go and serve the Haitian people, even if it was just for a week. Towards the end of the school year I started noticing that I was having some vision trouble and got my mom to make an appointment to get my eyes checked. As it usually goes, the eye doctor could not see me until the end of July, actually the week before I was suppose to go to Haiti. Thursday morning, I woke up having a lot of pain in my neck. For me to wake up in a lot of pain had pretty much become normal for me. Some days it would hurt so badly, I would get sick and throw up. Little did I know, it was not the pain that would cause me to throw up once first thing in the morning then start feeling better, but that was a classic symptom for someone with a brain tumor. That day I felt so bad I called into work and then let my mom know I was not able to drive myself to the eye doctor that afternoon. On the ride to the eye Dr. I told my mom I was scared to go to Haiti because I was feeling so bad. Knowing how important the trip was to me my mom quickly tried to reassure me that I would probably feel better tomorrow and no decision needed to be made right then, since we still had two days before I would leave for the trip. My mom shared with the eye doctor all that I had been through that year and that I was not having a good day but was supposed to leave in two days for mission trip to Haiti. What was supposed to be a routine eye exam turned into a visit that probably saved my life. After dilating my pupils as part of the routine exam, the doctor noticed something very alarming. My optic nerves were very swollen in both eyes, not something you expect to see on a routine eye exam. Even though my mom is a nurse, she really did not understand exactly what that meant, but she knew it was not good when the eye doctor told her that I was not to leave the Rankin county much less the country until an MRI was done to find out exactly what was causing this swelling. The next day my dad and I went in for the MRI not thinking much about it, assuming it was related to the spinal stenosis. We were on our way out of the MRI when my mom called my dad and had just received a call from my pediatrician, Dennis Rowlen that we needed to come to the clinic now. Dr. Rowlan had been my pediatrician my entire life. He was almost like family to me. We all met up at the clinic and were sent to the exam room. A place I had been many times, but this time when Dr. Rowlen walked in, I knew something was not right. As compassionately as he knew how he explained to me that the reason I had been feeling so bad was actually due to a tumor in my brain. He took us in his office to show it to us on the MRI. To me it looked like someone placed a golf ball inside of my brain. As I walked from his office back to the exam room, I was pretty numb. All I remember was thinking God has a plan and regardless of what happens I have to trust that plan. At that point, instead of heading to Haiti for the mission trip I was suppose to go on, I was sent to UMMC to be directly admitted to the Neuro-Intensive care unit (NSICU). There I met Dr. Luzardo, the Dr. that would be responsible for helping us figure out where to go from here. After meeting with him, he explained to me and my parents just how sick I was and that there was a lot of pressure on my brain because of the size of the tumor. For the majority of the next two weeks the NSICU was my home. It was then that I discovered just how important my family, football teammates, and my friends would be to me. Within 24 hours I went from a being a “normal 16 year old” doing “normal 16 year old” things to now being a 16 year old with a brain tumor stuck in NSICU and a very uncertain future. My faith in God and my many visits from family and friends gave me the strength and encouragement I needed to begin to fight this battle with cancer. Over the course of those two weeks I had two surgeries, one to attempt to biopsy the tumor and to insert a drain to help relieve some of the pressure off of my brain, and another to attempt to remove the tumor. The neurosurgeon there was able to remove about 70% of the tumor, and he said that the rest was adhered to an artery that was vital for survival. While a fairly large portion of the tumor remained, doctors seemed fairly certain that radiation could zap the rest of the tumor. Once I was strong enough, I was discharged from the hospital, just in time to start the first day of my senior year with my classmates. Even though I was having problems with my vision, I was determined I would not miss the first day of school my senior year. Thanks to many friends willing to help me get around, they made it possible for me to be there the first day of school. The process of getting radiation was started with Dr. Wahl and his team. During some of my post op test it was noted that there was more tumor still there then they thought, and the doctors started having concerns about the amount of radiation it was going to take to attempt to remove the rest of it. The neurosurgeons in Jackson said from their standpoint another surgery was not an option for fear of hemorrhaging to death because of the location of the tumor on an artery so they started reaching out to other hospitals throughout the United States to get their opinion. One of the places was Saint Jude Children’s research hospital in Memphis, Tennessee where my case was taken before a tumor board. One of the neurosurgeons, Dr. Boop, said he was sure that he could remove the rest of the tumor. After some skepticism, a long conversation in Jackson with my neurologist, and lots of prayer, we decided to give him a shot, so off to Memphis we went. Upon arrival at LeBonheur Children’s hospital in Memphis, which is a partner hospital of Saint Jude, we met with the neurosurgeon who was to operate on me, and he further comforted us about his plan so surgery was scheduled for the next morning. That morning he and his team came in my room to talk to me and my family and explained it would be a very long surgery, not to be alarmed by how long it was taking. After about 45 minutes into the surgery my parents received a call that the surgeon needed to meet with them in the conference room. I can’t imagine what my parents were thinking after getting a call like that. He met with them and explained that he went in to attempt to remove the rest of the tumor and simply touched the tumor with his suction catheter and he said the tumor just fell off of the artery. Medicine would attribute this to the couple of treatments of radiation that I received while waiting to hear back from Saint Jude, but my family, the neurosurgeon and myself are all firm believers that there was only one person who could have performed such a miracle and that is God. This situation was only one of many ways in which God worked a miracle that even modern medicine could not explain. After about 24 hours in ICU I was transferred to a regular room which meant I was that much closer to getting to go home, but unfortunately it was not that easy. One of the downsides to being in Memphis was it was not as easy for me to see my friends and family like when I was in Jackson, but my youth director arranged a road trip for a bunch of my friends to come visit. The morning they were supposed to come, I woke not feeling very good, but when they got there I was rolled down to a large room to get to visit with them. Nothing like a visit from a bus load of friends to perk you up! After they left, I was taken back to my room, and that is pretty much all I remember from that day. What we did not know was fluid was building up around my brain again causing a large amount of pressure on my brain. I started having a lot of pain, similar to the type of pain I had before I was diagnosed with the brain tumor. When my night shift nurse came in and took one look at me she quickly knew something was wrong and started calling the Doctor. After a CT was done it was confirmed that I needed a drain to be put in to relieve some of the pressure off my brain. I was taken back to my room and the on call surgery team was called in. Once I made it back to my room, things really started spiraling down hill and ended with me becoming unresponsive and my heart rate dropping so low the code team was called. But once again God had his hand on me and all this happened right after the surgeon on call got to the hospital and was at my bedside. Once I was stabilized, back to surgery I went, where they inserted a drain to relieve the pressure. After a couple of days of ups and downs in ICU they made the decision to insert an internal shunt to help with the fluid around the brain. So back to surgery I go. This surgery was different than the others, when I woke up after this surgery I felt like I was back to my normal self. Well as normal as someone could be after a brain tumor, 5 surgeries and a code. After some PT and OT to help me figure out how to live with my new normal I was now discharged and headed back to Mississippi. It was only two days later that we discovered that the complications were not over, as we had thought. I had a Grand Mal seizure in the middle of the night and was rushed by ambulance back to University Medical Center in Jackson to attempt to figure out what caused the seizure. I was discharged after 24 hours of observation. Anti-seizure medication became a part of our “new normal”. Now that the tumor was gone it was time to move on to the next stage in the treatment, 6 weeks of radiation. Radiation went as smoothly as radiation can go thanks to Dr. Wahl and the team at Baptist Hederman cancer center. In the time since my brain tumor, I have successfully graduated from high school as well as community college with minimal delay. Not only have I achieved those goals, but in June, 2016 I finally was able to make my dream of going to Haiti come true. Starting in August, I will start Occupational Therapy Assistant School at Holmes Community College in Ridgeland.