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How a Tumor Is Changing My Life

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By Robert D. Novak
Saturday, September 6, 2008

Many people have asked me how I first realized I was suffering from a brain tumor and what I have done about it.

The first sign that I was in trouble came July 23, when my 2004 black Corvette struck a pedestrian on 18th Street while I was on my way to my office downtown.

I did not realize I had hit anyone until a young man on a bicycle, who I thought was a bicycle messenger, jumped in front of my car to block the way. In fact, he was David A. Bono, a partner in the high-end law firm Harkins Cunningham. He shouted at me that I could not just hit people and drive away. Bono called the police, and an officer soon arrived.

While Bono and other bystanders were taking on aspects of a mob, shouting "hit-and-run," the investigating officer listened to me about what had happened and issued a right-of-way infraction against me, instead of a hit-and-run violation, which would have been a felony. Following his instructions, I promptly paid the $50 fine at 3rd District police headquarters.

The person I hit, identified by police as Don, with no fixed address, was taken to George Washington University Hospital. A D.C. fire department spokesman said there were "no visible injuries."

The next day, there were more clues that something was seriously wrong. I lost my way to my dentist's office in Montgomery County and never found it. I also had trouble finding my way back to my office. After returning from a speaking engagement in North Carolina that week, I found it difficult to locate my office in the 13-story building where I have been a tenant since 1964.

My wife, Geraldine, and I went to spend the weekend with our daughter, Zelda, and her husband, Christopher Caldwell, and their children in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. When Geraldine noticed that I was having trouble following her in the Boston airport, she suggested I go to a hospital emergency room. The CT scan at Salem Hospital showed a brain mass. I left the hospital and went into seizure the next day.

I suffered another seizure in the ambulance, the second of three that day. I was admitted to the high-quality Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, where a biopsy showed a large, grade-IV tumor. In answer to my question, the oncologist estimated that I had six months to a year to live.

Being read your death sentence is like being a character in one of the old Bette Davis movies.

I believe I was able to withstand this shock because of my Catholic faith, to which I converted in 1998.

I called Donald Morton of the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif., who removed a cancer from my lung in 1994 and has been a friend and close medical adviser. He told me that different people react to serious cancers in different ways and reminded me that I was a three-time cancer survivor.

Morton recommended that I consult Allan H. Friedman, chief of neurosurgery at the Duke University Medical Center.

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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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