- Mar 29, 2017
The then-26-year-old bent down to line up his putt. A strange sensation passed through his body, and suddenly he couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move.
The next thing Harrison remembered was lying on the golf course green. His friends told him he had a seizure.
Doctors would later diagnose the Papillion man with a malignant brain tumor. Despite being handed a life expectancy of less than 15 years, Harrison used his experience as inspiration to start a nonprofit promoting brain cancer awareness.
On that September day in 2012, Harrison was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center, where hours before, he had worked the night shift in the neurology intensive care unit.
“As a nurse, I knew something happened. I was never thinking cancer or brain tumor,” he said.
A scan showed a tumor on his brain. It was the first time Harrison saw his father, a physician, cry.
The next month, Harrison had surgery to partially resect the tumor and identify it. He then completed three rounds of chemotherapy and five weeks of radiation. The cancer is gone now, and the tumor has decreased in size.
The chance of a person developing a malignant tumor in the brain or spinal cord is less than 1 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
Out of more than 120 types of brain tumors, Harrison’s is one with a more favorable prognosis, said Dr. Ken Zhen, a radiation oncologist. Zhen treated Harrison at the Nebraska Medical Center.
Life expectancy varies depending on several factors, including location and grade of tumor. Doctors said with Harrison’s type of tumor, an oligodendroglioma, the median survival rate is 12 to 14 years.
“He has a very, very positive, optimistic attitude,” Zhen said. “Even during tough treatments, he didn’t show signs of giving up.”
It’s been more than four years since Harrison’s diagnosis.
“That was a totally life-changing event,” said Harrison, now 31. “They gave me an expected time frame of life, which you don’t want to hear at 26.”
Because of the seizure, Harrison couldn’t drive. For more than a year, he had to move back in with his parents. He was no longer able to work.
“I had no freedom anymore,” he said.
He decided to devote his time to starting a nonprofit, Save the Brain Campaign. In three years of operation, the organization has raised about $16,000, mostly through golf outings. The money has gone toward research at the Omaha hospital and University of Nebraska Medical Center campus. It will continue to go to research and patient care at the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center when that facility opens in June.
The nonprofit will also have a table set up at an April 7 conference on the UNMC campus for brain cancer patients and their caregivers.
Since being declared cancer-free, Harrison undergoes tests every six months to monitor the tumor. If it doesn’t grow, Harrison should lead a normal life.
Now, Harrison is back to work full-time at the hospital. He and his wife, Adele, are expecting their first child this year.
Harrison gives advice to newly-diagnosed friends and patients: Change your attitude. After his diagnosis, Harrison wasn’t happy with his life. But eventually he changed his thinking and moved forward.
“You can be a Debbie Downer about it,” he said. “You can always say, ‘My life is over.’ But until you start thinking you’re going to get through it, you’re always going to feel like crap.”
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