On June 27, 2009, I suddenly turned blue and collapsed. Being a survivor and eventually out growing petit mal seizure disorder as a child, we initially had thought they were back. It was scary, for 2 weeks prior to that I had graduated high school and was preparing to go to college at Saint Leo University to major in education.
On July 28th, 2009, after several different tests including an MRI, blood work, and CT Scan, it was determined that I had a “foreign mass” on my brain, with no official diagnosis. They were not sure it was cancer, or if it was a tumor. After fighting with my doctors and parents, we settled on a compromise: I would attend one semester of college, fly home monthly for screening and monitoring, and at the end of the semester, I would be having my surgery. On November 24, 2009, I had brain surgery to what would be later be diagnosed as a Pleomorphic Xanthoastrocytoma (PXA) brain tumor. There are only 60 known cases of PXA, and only 7 living survivors of it (as of 2009). Being diagnosed with a PXA Brain Tumor is the statistical equivalent of being struck by lightning.
When I had my surgery, that is when the challenge and new life style changes had to begin, whether I wanted them to or not. I was told that I was not going to be able to walk, talk, or read again, and there was a high probability that I was not going to be able to go back to college. I chose not to believe the doctor and went back to college the following semester. But to have a Traumatic Brain Injury, my grades slipped terribly, and from the fall to spring of my freshman year, my overall GPA went from a 3.3 to a 1.75. To make things worse, I was kicked out of the education program that year due to my poor grades.
When I was 20 years old, I was forced to change my major against my will, and declared a new major- the only major I could pursue with a 1.75 going into my sophomore year was Liberal Arts & Studies. I had to re-teach myself how to read from a 7th grade level and recover my grades over the course of the next 2 academic years. But because I did not maintain the 3.0 that I needed to get back into the education program, I graduated from Saint Leo University in 2012 with my Bachelor’s Degree in Liberal Arts. I hated and resented it, and miraculously, I graduated with an overall GPA of 2.93, and I even made Dean’s List twice by the time I graduated!
It didn’t stop there. I chose to go to Northeastern University, and get my Masters of Education. I was on a roll, and I had completed a two-year program in just over a year. In 2013, I was conferred my degree, and within 2 weeks of graduating, I was offered my first teaching job. It was like a dream come true for me, I could do what I wanted to do and started working to my alternate certification. After teaching for 3 years, I made the leap to apply for doctorate school, and was accepted at St. Thomas University in Miami Gardens, Florida, where I am finishing my final year and completing my Doctorate of Education.
The lessons I have learned over the course of the past 8 years have proven to me that this path was anything but easy, and to keep setting the bar a bit higher and serving as a role model for my students is something that I strive for every day. If there is a piece of advice that I can pass on to someone who is going through TBI, or is a care giver, it’s this: Don’t give up on them or yourself. They need you whether they realize it or not, and the survivor needs someone to look up and know is a constant in their life despite the drastic changes that they are facing. As time goes on, it is important to pass your knowledge along to others, as there is no one right way to cope with TBI.
Dr. Cory Los Schumacher, Ed.D., ABD, M.Ed., B.A.