First-person story by Bruce Stahlman, CEO of ARC Thrift Stores

My name is Bruce Stahlman and my philosophy is:

We don’t get to choose what happens to us but we do get to choose how we respond.  Adversity < opportunity and cancer does not know who it’s messing with.  Let me tell you why.

My wife Kelly and I were married in 1985.  Our oldest son Jay was born in 1989 and he was everything we’d hoped for.  The twins, Mark & Eric were born in 1992. As it so happens, they were born at 28 weeks, so very premature.

Mark weighed 2 lb. 15 oz. and Eric weighed 1 lb. 14 oz.  Mark was in the NICU for two months, Eric for three months.  Ultimately the twins were both diagnosed w/ cerebral palsy and medical fragility.

Mark was non-verbal and non-mobile but learned to communicate w/ a speech computer like Stephen Hawking.

Eric was verbal but non-mobile and ultimately was on a track vent for assisted breathing.

Both used power wheel chairs.  We lost track of how many surgeries each boy had but it was easily one per year…not wimpy stuff like tonsillectomies but spinal fusion, bone / muscle lengthening, stomach nissens, etc.

Our house essentially looked like a hospital ICU w/ medical equipment and alarms, nursing care 24X7, an in-ceiling lift system to move the kids around when they got too big to move manually, etc.

I saw a terrific bumper sticker the other day:  “Experience wildlife, raise twins”.  They have no idea.

Mark passed in 2014 from a blood clot…he was 21.  Eric passed in 2015 of complications arising from sepsis or blood poising.  He was 23.  Over 600 people attended each memorial service which is remarkable for kids who weren’t mobile or particularly verbal.

As you can imagine, getting past that with two of your children was neither easy nor fast.

But life moves on.  Two grandsons being born certainly helped.  The second arrived in Sept. 2018, the significance of which will become apparent momentarily.

In late August of 2018, I hadn’t been feeling well for a month and was having some minor balance issues.  I figured it was a virus or something and paid it no mind.  Kelly contacted a neurologist we knew from work with the twins to get a recommendation for an office visit.  He advocated for an ER MRI.

On 28 August, Kell said “You’re going for an MRI.”  I said, “No, I’ve got to go to work.”  She said, “You’re going for an MRI, deal with it,” whereupon the superhero known as She Who Must Be Obeyed entered the room.  We drove to the Littleton ER in separate vehicles since I’d anticipated going on to work when they found nothing.

An hour after the MRI, the attending physician came in and said, “You have a large mass in your head and we’re admitting you to the ICU.”  Naturally I said, “What exactly do you mean by a large mass?”  On 31 August they wheeled me down to surgery and 6 hours later, I was missing a racquetball sized cancerous tumor and part of my brain, but I got a cool scar and they left most of my personality intact which some feel was a missed opportunity.

The diagnosis isn’t pretty.  It’s a GBM, statistically I may have 18 months and this type of cancer is fairly resistant to drugs because of the blood brain barrier. 

I’ve had a number of people tell me it’s a rough ticket getting brain cancer after having Mark & Eric.  I say they’ve got it all wrong.  Mark & Eric were a blessing as we met so many great people in the disabilities community through them.  I wouldn’t have worked for Arc Thrift Stores for 13 years absent their arrival.  And my wife forcing me to get an MRI was a blessing because I’m probably not here speaking to you without it…as a dude, I was unlikely to volunteer for it of my own accord.

Another blessing is LifeSpark!  I’d never had a Reiki session and to say it was something I conceptually resonated with would be an epic overstatement.  But having experienced it, Kelly and I would both say the peace and healing we received was tangible and made us feel better physically and emotionally.  And it was absolutely perfect for us at the time given a significant new diagnosis so soon after having lost the twins.  It helped us catch our breath and level set in the “now” notwithstanding a flood of new emotions and information.  LifeSpark for us was a critical element of self-care as health care.

Cancer research shows that the mind and emotions have a profound effect on the body. Speaking with some degree of unanticipated expertise, I agree whole heartedly that a positive mental attitude and emotional state are, in fact, integral to giving the body what it needs to promote it’s innate healing capabilities.  LifeSpark therapies are complementary and integrative with traditional medical care and all types of treatments.  LifeSpark was so important in helping me promote a positive mental attitude and a grateful emotional state that maximized my ability to support my body’s healing and recovery.  I’m five for five in clean MRI’s since the surgery and when people ask how I am doing, my reply is always:  “Achieving excellence.”

Let me close with a quote that I’ve found to be inspirational and comforting.  The 20th Century American philosopher Dr. Wayne Dyer said, “Above all else, never aim low or think small.  You are a divine manifestation of God, and in that regard you are connected to that which causes and creates miracles.”

I wish you all the best and I hope you believe me when I say adversity leads to opportunity. And please give generously to LifeSpark because they truly make a positive difference for cancer patients when they need it most…just as your world has turned completely upside down in a New York minute.


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