Cap News photographer’s life turned upside down

One a Monday morning in July, Capital News photographer Sean Connor got up and thought things looked a little strange.

Capital News photographer Sean Connor next to some of his photos that are still on display at the Okanagan Heritage Museum until Nov. 4

On a Monday morning in July, Capital News photographer Sean Connor got up and thought things looked a little strange.

He drove in to work, but he started seeing things in double, so after completing a photo assignment or two that morning, he called his son and had him drive him to his doctor’s office.

His doctor immediately referred him to a neurologist.

A scan showed he had a tumour in his lower skull that the specialist believed was a rare chordoma brain tumour.

Removal requires very specialized brain surgery that very few specialists are trained to perform.

One in a million people are diagnosed with chordomas, which it is believed are pre-determined at birth.

Connor says even if they are removed, they tend to come back, and unless they’re in a different spot from the first, surgery and radiation can’t be repeated.

“One minute I was working at a job I enjoyed and the next moment I was in a tailspin. My life was controlled by my medical needs and I had to rely on doctors to return my life to normal. I feel so out of control,” Connor said following two surgeries a few days apart.

As a result, he finds today that his values have changed and he’s aware of the clutter in his life as certain basics take on a new importance.

“People take life for granted,” he summarized with the awareness of how fleeting life can be when you suffer a serious health setback.

After being diagnosed with the tumor, Connor was immediately referred to a specialist in Vancouver, and three days later friends drove him and his wife Sandra to the coast for a consultation.

A week later they returned to Vancouver for surgical removal, accessing the tumor in his brain through his nose.

Because of damage the tumour had done, the surgeon had to go back in five days later to do some further repairs.

Today, his vision is still impaired and he’s unable to drive because the tumour stretched the optic nerves.

Nerves controlling the tongue were also affected so his speech is not always clear and he has difficulty swallowing.

His sense of taste was affected but is slowly returning, and his sense of smell was also lost. His short-term memory and concentration skills have also been affected.

He’s hopeful as he heals, some of those lost  faculties will improve.

The next step for Connor is a proton radiation treatment, but there are only two locations in North America that can treat chordomas—Harvard University in Boston and Loma Linda University Medical Centre in Southern California.

His treatment has been approved by Loma Linda, and when he’s healed enough he’ll fly there for a consultation, then return a few weeks later for four to six weeks of treatment.

The whole experience has led to his complete about-face on the usefulness of modern media like Facebook. In order to keep in touch with family and friends, Connor set up a group on Facebook where he posts updates on his condition, rather than he or Sandra having to relay the same information to dozens of people verbally about his progress.

Next, he plans to tackle Skype.

“I take back everything I said about it before: New media is amazing,” he says with a grin.

 

jsteeves@kelownacapnews.com

 

 

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