Each year, teams participate in our annual Head for the Cure 5K – NC Triangle. Team CzmeiltheDeal rallies behind Corey Czmeil, a son-to-be father, husband, son and friend diagnosed with an astrocytoma tumor about three weeks ago. By participating in this event, you are helping to support brain tumor research and programs at UNC Brain Tumor Program. Keep up with Corey’s fight on his blog!
It has been about three weeks since I was diagnosed with brain cancer and underwent surgery to retrieve a biopsy, removing a tiny portion of the malignant tumor from my from the right side of my brain. Although I don’t consistently love the attention that my recent experience brings, I feel a sense of necessity to share my story in hopes that it may help someone else in their battle, whether it be health related or not.
2018 was the best year of my life – I was promoted to what is, and continues to be, my dream job in March, got married to my soul mate, and the best person I have ever met in April, had the most incredible, international honeymoon in May, and moved into our perfect home in December. When I coincidentally reflected with my wife, Kim, in early 2019 on the banner 2018 we were fortunate to experience, she was able to one-up again, and expressed that we are expecting our first child in September, continuing the streak of happiness.
Seven months into the pregnancy, after a routine day of work at the office, with a couple games of volleyball in the evening, I went home, finished up email and ate dinner with my Kim, retiring to bed, to wake up in the back of an ambulance, to two of the sweetest ladies, calmly explaining to me where I was and where I was going with no idea what happened. The calming force was that “your pregnant wife is right behind us and is okay”. This was the moment that I was informed that Kim woke up to me having a seizure and immediately jumped into action without hesitation.
We arrived at the closest emergency room, immediately went in for checks and CT scans in attempt to pinpoint why the seizure may have occurred as I have no history of seizures. The doctor came back and said the radiologist believed they saw something abnormal on the CT scan and wanted to dig into it more via MRI. After being transported to a larger hospital with more advanced equipment, I was taken back for MRI. What seemed like eternity later but was actually less than an hour, the ER doctor entered my room, closed the door behind him, sat on my bed, and somberly looked Kim and I in the eye stating “we found something – a brain tumor”. I certainly appreciated his candor and sense of dignity, but the first thought was around my unborn child and my dear wife, who was speechless, but strong. As a technologist advocate, I immediately started researching and found an article that gives an outlook of two months to live, coinciding with my child’s birth, which was the hardest short time I’d ever faced in my life. I asked Kim to not research it unless we want to find questions to ask, otherwise, I’d rather focus on staying positive and trusting that we have the right doctors with the correct focus; I wouldn’t expect a doctor to come into my office at Verizon and not trust me to be their advocate for great service. I always trust well regarded professionals to do their jobs, unless there is some reason to question. Kim was supportive of letting the process flow and staying positive. This is a woman who has proactively donated a kidney, has an undeniable work ethic, is respected by anyone in which she comes in contact with, not to mention deals with me on a daily basis.
My parents arrived at the hospital to be by our side moments after we received the devastating news. They stayed by my side and continued to support throughout my 5-day stint at the hospital and beyond.
In addition, my senior leader, Shelly Ashwill, happened to be in Cary on Tuesday. I can remember going to sleep on Monday, so excited to see her on Tuesday, as I always am. We had a full day planned of meetings, including my mid-year review, which I always enjoy collaborating with her. Her views of my work, giving direct and meaningful feedback, while always seeming to remember and know exactly where I spend my time and how I make a difference, while holding me accountable, is consistently, and not surprisingly, a fun activity. Shelly had full days of meetings and a collaborative dinner planned on Tuesday evening, which she ditched without hesitation, when Kim connected with her and told her of the situation. She arrived with flowers and a stuffed bear, which we named ‘Astro’, in honor of being diagnosed with an Astrocytoma tumor. The bear is currently in the baby’s crib and will remain a sentimental part of my family. Shelly came with a positive dynamic, and in true “Shelly fashion” came with my priorities in order – health, baby, stay positive, we’ll figure out the rest. She also championed continual updates and ensured my Verizon family was aware of my situation and she set the organization in motion for success, ensuring that I had nothing additional to stress about. Having a phenomenal leader is one of those perks that I will never take for granted. I also received countless messages, cards, gifts, texts, emails, calls, and unwavering support. The global SVP of Operations, Mike Bickel, has kept in constant contact, asked to come visit me in the hospital, and the Verizon Business Group CEO, Tami Erwin, wrote me an extremely thoughtful message, sharing well wishes, something I’ll never forget. To reflect on the responsibility that these three leaders have, I am flattered at the effort they input to let me know how much they care for me, when it matters most. That reach has also carried into my peers, my organization, and overall Verizon family. The output has been overwhelming and I feel somewhat guilty at the amount of effort and energy that family has output. I hope one day I can repay the favor to each and every person, potentially in a different, creative way.
After further testing to ensure that I was indeed healthy enough to undergo surgery and receiving extremely positive news that there were no additional masses in my body, I was approved to move forward with a craniotomy and biopsy; brain surgery to confirm the exact diagnosis and set the treatment plan in motion. There were concerns around the surgery, however I love my neurosurgeon’s demeanor, personality, and ability to articulate his message in such a way that I couldn’t have been more confident. The biggest concern was around a complication that may cause a brain bleed or pull healthy brain tissue versus the tumor, since the visual brain aesthetics of the tumor vs. health tissue are no different. Hopefully, you’ve seen the Verizon commercial with augmented reality, using facial recognition to supersede the exact coordinates of the location of the tumor, with precise accuracy to ensure they pull the tumor and don’t somehow affect any other parts of my brain. With Kim feeling the same way, I joked when Dr. Lars asked how I was feeling by saying “I plan on sleeping and putting all the pressure on you, Doc”. Surgery lasted for hours, I woke up with 31 staples in my head, a new haircut, and surrounded by family, friends, and their unwavering support.
The recovery from the surgery has been fantastic. I’ve spent time with loved ones, crossed off the things on my to-do list that I’ve been postponing for no real reason and focusing on my mental strength, which I feel is stronger than ever. This experience has been my first real focus on my morality and I have found it to be such a great reminder of the fragility of life. I will not waste the blessing that I’ve been offered to reground, reprioritize, and refocus my principles and views on life. I’ll find the joy in simple things, make the days count, stay positive, take my multivitamins, drink more water, exercise regularly, watch less television, read more, give back, waste less, learn something new each day, make time for spirituality, raise my child as best I can, be the most loving husband, son, brother, and friend. I also have spent time reflecting on how lucky I am to have the opportunity to spend meaningful minutes with each person in my life, something I can’t believe I’ve taken for granted for so long.
The outpouring of support is a truly humbling experience. I have received cards, balloons, flowers, edible arrangements, meals, gift cards, handwritten notes, text messages, phone calls, visits, advice, arm bands, prayers, and positivity to the point that I feel guilty that so many people have done so much. I value the relationships that I have made in life and wouldn’t change them for the world. One of my the favorite times of my life will be how I spent them in the hospital with so many loved ones, walking the hospital floor, negotiating with nurses to allow me to walk a little bit further, and having the great conversations and support from everyone around. My family, friends, and wife have been a rock and have been through the ringer with me. Certainly, the hardest part of any conversation during my hospital stay was explaining to my dear mother that she was not allowed to switch places with me although she insisted and prayed that she would be able to– sorry mom, not approved, although I know you would gladly do anything for me.
As an open thank you to everyone involved, I couldn’t be more appreciative to my wife, parents, family, friends, coworkers, and the power you all were, and are, able to give to me. You all are with me every step of the way and I am blessed with the support to know I am not alone. There is no doubt that I will ever be able to repay the feeling of gratitude and I openly accept that, but will tell you that I will do my best to repay you by being a better person and hopefully influencing your life in a positive way.
The next steps are to be determined, but I remain hopeful, optimistic, and focused on mental strength. I feel great today and am looking forward to my treatment plan, which I’ll receive on July 30th from my Oncologist. I’ll share more once I hear more. In the interim, please spend time appreciating those that you hold close, life is a blessing, and everything happens for a reason. Love hard, laugh loud, and spend your time on the things in which you find most important and don’t sweat the small stuff.
I’m not yet fully sure how the treatment and progress will evolve, but I am so happy to have such a good and trusted medical staff, who advocate for my health and wellbeing, havemy interests at heart, with great technological advancements that have helped, and will continue to help my evolution and road to recovery. My hope is that the outlook remains bright and I, Corey Czmiel, am able to make a meaningful and lasting impression on the world.
As part of my appreciation for medical advances and the great work of the UNC health system, I’m launching a team for a 5K charity run/walk called “Head for the Cure”. Please don’t feel obligated to participate, but if you feel so inclined, I’d love for you to join our team on September 7th. The success I’ve faced thus far is all precipitated by the technological advancements that have happened over the last number of years. The opportunity is only afforded by the great investment that’s been made and I likely wouldn’t have as positive an outlook, if the investment was not made. As such, please sign up if you’re available and willing! Use discount code JOINMYTEAM.