07/29/2013 03:58 pm ET | Updated Sep 28, 2013

What Having a Brain Tumor Has Taught Me

Having a brain tumor is scary to say the least. Actually, it can be terrifying at times. And while I'll be the first to admit it, I also think it can teach me (and you) some important lessons about life. That's the idea behind this article anyway.

It's been 16 years since I first learned that I had a brain tumor. Actually, I had four of them. I have a condition called Von Hippel-Lindau (VHL) syndrome and brain tumors are just one of the manifestations that can result. Up until that point, however, I had not had to deal with the brain tumor aspect of the disease.

I was a gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps at the time, and was sent to Bethesda Naval Hospital for the operation. After a 12-hour surgery, they could only get three of the tumors, so they closed me up and let the final one stay in place. And it didn't cause many problems for quite a long time.

On November 11, 2011, I swam across the Mississippi River, while handcuffed, shackled, and blindfolded. This swim was just the latest in a long line of adventure events that I do as fundraisers for various charitable organizations. I am a highly-trained professional, and I do NOT recommend that anyone else try such a thing themselves.

I first started getting headaches about three weeks before my swim. Still, as I was doing the event to raise money for wounded combat veterans, I wasn't going to let anything like a headache stop me. So, I continued to prepare. The day of the swim my head hurt a lot and I felt weak, dizzy and nauseated.

Still, somehow, despite all of that, the magnitude of the event and the grace of God allowed me to successfully make the swim. As soon as I made it to the other side though, I told my wife that I needed to get to a doctor as soon as possible. I knew something was seriously wrong.

I had an MRI of the brain, and it was determined that the tumor had grown significantly and needed to be removed. Within a month, I had the surgery and began the long road to recovery. And while I hope you will never face such a thing yourself, you will inevitably face adversity. So, I want to give you some recommendations that can hopefully help with that.

1) Bad things sometime happen to good people. Sure, you might be a positive person. You might help others. You might do a lot of wonderful things. But, none of that will keep you from having to face adversity. It's just part of life. Remember that and deal with it.

2) That which does not kill you makes you stronger. Maybe not physically, but certainly mentally, emotionally and spiritually. You must be open to the lessons that adversity is trying to teach you though. If you do learn them, you'll be stronger as a result.

3) It could always be worse. As bad as things may seem at the time, they could always be worse. In my case for instance, if I had gotten a VHL diagnosis fifty years ago, things would have been much different. Or, if I had not been blessed to be born in the United States. Or... well, you get the idea.

4) Your attitude makes a huge difference. While it certainly takes a lot more than just a positive attitude for many things in life, your attitude really does make a big difference when it comes down to your overcoming the difficulties of life or not.

5) Prepare now. Since you don't know when adversity will strike, it's important to be preparing yourself now. If not, it would be like getting ready for a hurricane when it is bearing down on you. It's too late then. Maybe you can't predict, but you can prepare.

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