Motorcycle Vets — Speeding Into The Danger Zone

Scott Hamilton US AID

Many of us recognize Scott Hamilton as the Olympic figure skater who took home the gold medal at Sarajevo in 1984. But fewer know that when he was about two, he contracted a serious illness that made him stop growing for several years. Later, that condition was corrected, but he went on to face testicular cancer. More recently, he managed to contend successfully with a brain tumor, and his courage has inspired his fans all the more. Our own medical managing editor, Thomas Chappell, MD, asked the champion to talk about his diagnosis and treatment for a brain tumor. Here’s Scott’s story:
It had been seven and a half years since I completed treatment for testicular cancer, and I had stepped away from skating and made some life changes, including getting married, starting a family and moving into a new house. Though I had an infant son at home, I was feeling passionless, without energy. I just didn’t feel like myself. With all of these new life stressors, I couldn’t put my finger on what was troubling me, whether it was physical, emotional, mental or all of the above.

I decided that I wanted to rule out the physical, so I called my doctor in Cleveland. He said, “Go get some blood tests done.” A few days later I get a call. They found only minuscule amounts of testosterone (male hormone) in my blood. Because of that, they felt that with my history of testicular cancer, my remaining “soldier” (testicle) had probably kicked the bucket due to my chemo treatment. My doctor recommended a topical gel (rubbed on the skin) to replace the testosterone, but something about that didn’t really make sense to me. There was still something that wasn’t quite right.

So I set up an appointment with my urologist, who had done the surgery for my previous testicular cancer. I said, “Look, I want to sit down and talk to you, and just rule out everything.” I’d always been very vigilant about caring for my health, and have preached that in every speech I’ve given over the last seven and a half years.

I told my urologist that my vision had changed.

He goes, “How old are you?”


“Well, that’s it. You’re getting older, and you’re eyes are going to change.

I said, “Well, then, why is it purely peripheral?”

He said, “What?”

“If I hold my hand over my eyes this way,” I told him, “everything’s blurry on the outside, and everything’s focused on the inside.”

He goes, “Okay, that’s something different. Let’s get you in for a head scan.”

So I went in for an MRI, and my doctor was waiting for me after the test. He said, “You have a brain tumor.” I just couldn’t believe it. I thought that because I had had testicular cancer, major surgery, and three months of chemotherapy, that I’d paid my dues. (laughs) I thought that I was going to be bulletproof for a bit.

I had this young family, including a son who was just a year and two months old, and I’m thinking, “How am I going to do this?” I knew that how I handled it would be an example for my family.

Anyway, we all knew that I had had hormone problems, and the scan showed a tumor right behind my nose at the base of my brain. It was clinging to the optic nerve and causing the vision problems. And it was around the pituitary gland (the “master” gland in our bodies). In order to give me the right treatment, they had to find out exactly what kind of tumor it was, which required getting a piece of the tumor to study under a microscope.

What I didn’t realize at first was the considerable risk of this brain biopsy. And of course they have to tell you the worst-case scenarios. All the while, I’m trying to look for the goofy, bright side of this thing. “We seem to have found a safe corridor?” OK, I know I don’t use most of my brain, but “safe corridor,” what does that mean?

They told me that “it means we could touch something, hit something. There could complications, like loss of strength on one side of your body, speech disturbances, changes in the way you think and feel, damage to your vision and so on.”

Later that day, my family arrived at a hotel near where I was doing a benefit. I went up to the room and Aidan, my son, was playing on the floor, and my wife, Tracie, says, “Okay, what’s going on?” I said, “Well, I just came from Dr. Klein’s office and I have a brain tumor.” It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say to anybody in my life. She just paused for a second, grabbed both my hands, put her head down and started praying. That was an extraordinarily powerful moment. It gave me incredible strength, focus and resolve. I knew that ultimately we were going to be just fine.

The only thing I could do was go ahead and get the biopsy. Neither Tracie nor I slept much the night before, because I was so scared about the procedure. I thought, maybe this would be the last time that I would be able to communicate with her. Or if things went wrong, I might lose some strength and become a burden to her. So we prayed through the night.

I went in for the biopsy at 6:30 a.m. I remember waking up in the Recovery Room. I looked up at the clock and it said 10:20. I knew what time it was. I knew where I was. I knew who I was. And I knew why I was there, which made me feel so relieved. It was one of the most powerful moments of my life, knowing that what could go wrong, didn’t go wrong..... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Scott Hamilton issue include Senator Harkin — Updating the ADA; Headlines — Best Buddies, Diamonds in the Raw; Humor — Unfortunately, It’s All About Diet & Exercise; Best Practices — Microsoft; Managing Pain — Latest Techniques; DRLC — Good News For Vets; National Institutes of Health — Cool Research; Neil Romano — Assistant Secretary of Labor (Part 2); ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Scott Hamilton issue:

Scott Hamilton — Can’t Keep A Good Man Down

Logan — The Woman, The Magazine

Motorcycle Vets — Speeding Into The Danger Zone

Childhood Obesity — The Skinny on a Big, Fat Problem

Brain Tumors — From A to Z

Senator Harkin — Updating the ADA

Humor — Unfortunately, Itís All About Diet & Exercise

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