Keeping a Positive Attitude While Battling Stage 4 Cancer
- Brian Morris, 53, will realize his dream of playing in a PGA Tour event this week despite an ongoing battle with stage 4 brain cancer.
- Almost two years ago, he had a malignant tumor removed from his brain after suffering vertigo-like symptoms. Two days later, doctors told him his brain cancer was terminal and had metastasized to his stomach and esophagus. Then, at a more recent check-up, they found inoperable tumors in his neck.
- Experts tell SurvivorNet that emotional health is associated with with better cancer-related outcomes.
Since his diagnosis, treatment has included chemotherapy every three weeks for almost the last two years. His first course of chemo didn’t work, and the immunotherapy he later had also turned out to be ineffective, but there’s still hope. He’s currently receiving an experimental drug that he calls his “last shot.” He’ll find out in December if this treatment is working.
Needless to say, Morris has had a lot of health struggles in recent years. But despite all that, his attitude is relentlessly optimistic.
“I believe that a positive attitude and a positive outlook is probably better than any miracle drug,” Morris told PGA Tour.
He’s also feeling more confident than ever and ready to experience the PGA Tour event “like nobody else.”
“I used to be terrible with nerves,” Morris said. “But since I got diagnosed with cancer, it’s like hitting a tee shot… like I embrace it now because I’m able to do it and I probably shouldn’t be because according to the doctors and how my cancer was growing and stuff.
“I’ve been past my expiration date, you know?”
Facing a battle for his life has had a positive impact on his golfing, but golfing has also proven to help his energy and wellbeing.
“When I go to the airport, I have a hard time standing up for a half an hour,” he explained. “But I could play golf for four hours and I swear it’s because of where I am when I’m playing. I’m just thinking of how you make this shot and that shot… So, I don’t realize I’m tired until I play 18. And then I’m like pooped and I come home and take a nap.”
And although this tournament means a lot to Morris, he also recognizes that it could mean a lot to other people with serious health issues.
“I’m wondering like maybe I have this to help others,” Morris said. “Maybe that’s the plan, you know?… Maybe I got it to show other people that, hey, you can fight this, man. You could battle it because I could’ve laid down. I could’ve settled my affairs and just accepted that, hey, I’m going to die in six months. I believe my doctors 100 percent, but I don’t believe that.
“And here I am,” he continued. “Every day I get up, I’m so thankful. I get my breath and I just don’t plan long-term. I plan my life in like three-month increments.”
Understanding Brain Cancer
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), brain tumors account for 85 to 90 percent of all primary central nervous system (CNS) tumors. The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord and acts as the main “processing center” for the entirety of the nervous system, according to the American Cancer Society. Normal function of the brain and spinal cord can become difficult if there’s a tumor present that puts pressure on or spreads into nearby normal tissue.
Brian Morris has not specified his exact type of brain cancer, but there are many different types. And some types of brain and spinal cord tumors are more likely to spread into nearby parts of the brain or spinal cord than others. Slow-growing tumors may be considered benign, but even these tumors can cause serious problems.
Brain Tumor Symptoms
Symptoms of brain tumors are often caused by increased pressure in the skull. This pressure can be caused by tumor growth, swelling in the brain or blockage of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), according to the American Cancer Society.
It is important to note that brain tumor symptoms are not exclusive to brain tumors, but you should still contact your doctor if anything seems off. General symptoms may include the following:
- Blurred vision
- Balance problems
- Personality or behavior changes
- Drowsiness or even coma
Continuing to Do What You Love with Cancer
Cancer can be both a mental and physical battle. But for Brian Morris, continuing to do the sport he loved has made all the difference amid his stage 4 cancer battle.
“When they tell you that you’re dying, you think about dying every day,” Morris told PGA Tour. “Not the bad things really, it’s just the thought of like leaving your family, leaving the people at your job and leaving your kids. So yeah, you think about it, but when I play golf, I don’t have time to, because I don’t want to miss a six-footer.”
Just because you’re undergoing cancer treatment, does not mean you should stop doing what you love. In fact, experts recommend quite the opposite. Studies have shown that patients who are able to stay upbeat and positive often have better treatment outcomes. It doesn’t really matter what you do, but experts like Dr. Dana Chase, a gynecologic oncologist at Arizona Oncology, recommend doing whatever makes you happy. And if that means continuing to write novels and travel the world like Jackie Collins, then that’s exactly what you should do.
“We know from good studies that emotional health is associated with survival, meaning better quality of life is associated with better outcomes,” Chase told SurvivorNet in a previous interview. “So working on your emotional health, your physical well-being, your social environment [and] your emotional well-being are important and can impact your survival. If that’s related to what activities you do that bring you joy, then you should try to do more of those activities.”
Living with Cancer
Life doesn’t slow down for a cancer diagnosis, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Like Brian Morris explains, cancer does not mean “all doom and gloom.”
“We have a lot to be thankful for outside of the bad things,” Morris told PGA Tour. “There’s so much to life without dwelling on the bad stuff, you know?”
It’s important to remember that a cancer diagnosis – even stage four – does not mean the end of your life. Undergoing treatment will perhaps be one of the biggest obstacles you’ll face, but below are some golden rules to follow that are helpful in getting through it.
Dr. Geoffrey Oxnard, a thoracic oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, shared three things he tells his lung cancer patients about living with the disease:
- Don’t act sick – “You can’t mope around,” he said. “Do things, and in doing things, you will stay active.”
- Don’t lose weight – “Eat what you need to do to not lose weight,” he said. “I like my patients pleasantly plump.”
- Don’t be a tough guy – “When you’ve got lung cancer, you need work with your doctor to keep your medical conditions under control.”