My story begins on November 15, 1990 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, where I was born to Krista Jeanne Russo (formerly Palazola) and Paul Cosmo Russo. Right then and there I became the first grandchild on the Palazola-side, and the first grandson on the Russo-side. I went to preschool, kindergarten, and elementary school at St. Ann’s School, where I met some of my first friends and, to this day, a few of those individuals remain my best friends. I then went on to O’Maley Innovation Middle School, followed by graduating from Gloucester High School with the Class of 2009.
For those of you who are unaware of the remarkable location that is the City of Gloucester, it is a tremendously tight-knit community where “everybody knows everybody” and once a piece of gossip leaves the front door, it ends up becoming viral throughout the city within hours. I am truly blessed to have grown up in this community with so many friends and family around every corner. There is an idea that exists within this city – that the majority of natives avoid ever “going over the bridge” which refers to the bridge that separates the island of Gloucester from the mainland because Gloucester is all we know and all we need in this life (if you believe in a such a concept). This notion presents itself almost as an innate characteristic that is immediately present from the moment we take our first breath in this world.
Growing up, I was admittedly fortunate to be both a good student and good athlete, but neither of these things came naturally. I had to study intensely in order to understand concepts in school, and exams never came easy to me. As for athletics, I grew up sort of a chubby child, and I can confidently say that the majority of my success in ice hockey stemmed from days in the gym, training after hours, and studying the game more than most. After high school, I went on to receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration with a Concentration in Accounting and a Minor in Applied Statistics from Bryant University, followed by a Master’s Degree in Accounting from the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Upon receiving these degrees, I started working at one of the biggest accounting firms in the world, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
Up until this point, you may be thinking “why the hell is this kid starting a blog when it is evident that he grew up in such a very privileged manner?” Well, here is a detailed description as to why this blog now exists…
On the morning of October 31st, 2014, at the age of 23 years old and exactly two weeks shy of my 24th birthday, I had two major seizures. After the first seizure, the EMTs came to my house to check on my health. I do not remember this portion of the story, but it needs to be mentioned in order to lighten the mood before it becomes unpleasant: the very first question the EMT asked my parents, as I was on the floor in epileptic shock, was if I had been to Africa recently (this was the time of the Ebola crisis). Really?! What do you think my parents thought of that question as my life was in danger right in front of their eyes?! Anyway, the EMT calmed me down and I suppose it seemed acceptable to simply put me back to bed. Not long after, I had a second major seizure, and the EMTs had to return and bring me to the hospital. However, before they put me on the stretcher, do you know the first thing that I did? I texted my boss at around 4:30am in order to tell her that I was not going to be able to come into work that day. That is one of the most important aspects of this entire story. Texting my boss to let her know I needed the day off? That was what was on my mind? This encompasses the first part of the Bible Verse John 9:25 that will be sprinkled throughout this website – “For I Was Blind…”
I spent a week in the hospital, and honestly, I probably remember about ten percent of that entire week. As for the recollections that I do possess, I will get into more detail on those in the blog, since each of those memories represents meaningful life lessons that I have learned. However, for purposes of being thorough within this “My Story (Thus Far)” portion of The Mindful Sight, I will mention the highlights of this week.
I first arrived at the local hospital, where the doctors were mostly confident, and hoping, that what I had experienced was some minor form of epilepsy, and nothing more. However, to be safe, one of the initial procedures was a CT Scan on my brain, where they were able to find a small, clouded mass located on the upper left hand side of my brain, which they suspected to simply be a small patch of water within my brain. This doctor even went as far as telling my family that it probably was not the “c-word”, in other words, cancer. That took a HUGE weight off my parents’ shoulders. Remember, I am still in La La Land at this point, and I have no idea what is going on. I then was transferred to Lahey Burlington for further testing. To be safe, the doctors thought it necessary to perform minor brain surgery, if there even exists such a “minor” procedure when it comes to drilling into one’s brain, literally taking a piece of said brain out which left a hole, and then stitching me back up. After this biopsy, the results came back, and this is where I begin to remember a bit more. I was sitting in a little office with both of my parents, and my younger brother, Michael Cameron Russo. The doctor told me that, unfortunately, I had a Grade 2 Astrocytoma Glioma. In layman’s terms, I had (and still have to this day), an inoperable, malignant, brain tumor.
As I write this part of the story, my eyes begin to slightly tear up because of the very first thought that came to my mind. This is something that I have not shared with most people, and now, I share it to the world: my very first thought after I was told that I had a cancerous brain tumor was: “Ok Paul, you do not know when you are going to die, but you do know how you are going to die.” Now, I want each and every one of you to reread that last sentence. Done? Ok good. That is what was going through the mind of a 23 year old who had such a bright future. Business degree, Master’s degree, working at a top-level accounting firm… and now all of that seemed like such a waste of time because the ticking of my internal clock just became significantly louder.
Other first thoughts that I had? I am glad you asked:
- “I am never going to be able to propose to my girlfriend.”
- “I am never going to be a father and have a family of my own.”
- “I am never going to be able to watch my friends get married and start families of their own.”
- ‘“I am not going to outlive my parents.”
That last one was difficult to type. What 23 year old withholds a true realization of the possibility of not being able to outlive his/her parents? My life had been completely altered. Up was down, down was up, left was right, and so on. Never in that current mindset had I thought that someday, this present day, I would think that cancer was one of the best things to ever happen to me, and that is where The Mindful Sight is born.
I completed 12 rounds of chemotherapy with MRI scans every three months. To this day, I still need to have MRI scans performed every four months in order to solidify the fact that the brain tumor is no longer growing and that it is, at this moment, in a stabilized condition.
I am positive that one of my first blog posts will be on the topic of how my friends and family started a fundraiser for me, and the event that took place because of them. However, I will mention in this page that, without them, I know for a fact that I would be dead right now. Maybe you may think to yourself “No Paul, you could have done it without them – you’re a strong person.” And I would know that would be an undeniably incorrect statement. If there is one certainty that my friends and family can possess in their life, it is that they, quite literally, saved my life.
I could probably go on and on about all of this, but that is why this site is necessary. It is to bring the reader weekly blog posts about my story, to portray to the reader what I have learned throughout all of this, and how living a Mindful life and practicing Mindfulness is a direct factor as to why my heart is still beating.
Thank you for listening, and thank you for visiting The Mindful Sight. I hope I am able to positively impact your life in one way or another. My blogs will range from anything from family, friends, relationships, and most certainly, Mindfulness.
Stay Mindful – you must trust me. For I Was Blind, But Now I See.
Paul Thomas Russo, Cancer Survivor