Cupids — His MRI over, Leroy Curtis goes out to where his wife, Christine, is patiently waiting.
“So what did they say?” she asks.
“It’s a tumour,” he said.
A brain tumour.
The unexpected diagnosis hit Christine hard.
“I almost passed out on the floor,” she said recently.
That was four years ago. Today, the couple from Cupids says they are indebted to family, friends and their church for the support they continue to receive.
The nightmare began in 2007. Leroy, a long-haul truck driver, was en route to Montreal. Suddenly, he started seeing small spots in his right eye.
“It was almost like a flash,” he recalls. He could see cars, boats and trucks — “in all different, vivid colours” — but nothing was there. When it passed, he continued eastward aboard his so-called Newfie Bullet. In Nova Scotia, his boss’s doctor tentatively diagnosed “flash migraines,” a frequent trucker ailment.
In June 2008, on his way home, Leroy pulled over for a pit-stop and opened the passenger door.
“The next thing I knew,” he says, “the ambulance was there.”
He had fallen 13 feet down an embankment, “his face beat to pieces,” Christine adds.
Leroy’s tongue was swollen and he could remember nothing, which made his doctor wonder if it had been a seizure.
In August, Leroy had a CT scan. He took a few days off, then went on a run in his rig. Meanwhile, Christine got a call from the doctor saying something had shown up. Leroy was scheduled for an MRI at the Health Sciences Centre in St. John’s, in mid-September.
That was when he learned he had a brain tumour.
“My reaction right then was pretty much nothing,” he says.
Two weeks later, Christine says, her husband “had the side of his head cut open.”
He was operated on for astrocytoma, a type of neoplasm of the brain. His speech, hearing and sight were affected, and there was a lot of swelling.
“Instead of a little spot, it was webbed,” Leroy says.
The cancer had reached stage IV. The doctor took out pieces, fearing that removing the whole thing would result in the loss of sight, speech or hearing.
Leroy then began a regimen of chemotherapy and radiation for a six months, ending on Dec. 27, followed by a further year of chemo.
“I believe I never suffered half of what other people suffered with the disease I had,” he says. “My body helped me along the way.”
Actually, he worked six months that year, even if he was “between two trucks throwing up (from) three o’clock until five o’clock in the morning,” he says.
As expected, he lost much of his hair.
“It wasn’t good,” Christine says. Their daughter, Cassondra, 16, was quiet, while their son, Joey, 14, had questions.
Christine had her own questions: “Why him? Why is thing happening to us?”
She chokes up as she adds, “All I was afraid of was that … I was going to lose him and be left with two young children.”
Leroy had only one question for his doctor: “Will my kids get this cancer?” The negative response “cleared my mind,” he says.
Still, he went through three weeks of depression. He eventually told himself, “I don’t care how long I got (left). I’m going to live my life.”
Leroy and Christine realize the astrocytoma can return. Leroy, 45, gets tested every three months.
“I’m not the person I was before the surgery,” he says.
“My actions sometimes get me in trouble because I don’t hold back now.”
Leroy’s doctors are really pleased with him, Christine says.
Six months after his surgery, Leroy was back in his rig, but on Feb. 14, 2010, he put on the brakes.
“I realized I couldn’t do it,” he says. “It was too stressful.”
How have they coped? Leroy’s answer is succinct: “My kids and my wife, we’re only a young family. I don’t want anybody else raising my children. I want to do that myself.”
Leroy has gone back to his second love professionally: excavation. He is training at a school in Bay Roberts to become a heavy equipment operator.
He has a message for other cancer patients: “Cancer can be beaten. All it takes is a good doctor, a family to support you, and the will to live.”
Leroy and Christine consider themselves blessed beyond measure with the strong support they’ve received — and continue to receive — from family, friends and the Port de Grave Pentecostal Tabernacle.
The Curtises are faithful supporters of the Canadian Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. Last September, Leroy walked 16 kilometres.
“That was a very emotional moment,” Christine says.
Leroy is an upbeat sort of guy.
“Come hell or high water, I’m going to make it,” he declares. “I want to be around for grandchildren.”
To which Christine says in a stage whisper, “Not yet, though!”