I Made Brain Cancer Greeting Cards.

Posted on
Jun 28, 2015

Zombie finger puppets that I sent Chad, because I have a warped sense of humor.

Exactly three years ago, I had brain surgery for the first and only time.

Last week, my friend Chad had his fourth brain surgery.

We started writing to one another during that strange, pivotal summer three years ago. I was still groggy from the procedure and ravenous from the steroids I was on. Chad had had the first surgery in his quartet just a few months prior. He was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a type of brain cancer that, in his words, you shouldn’t Google because “all you’re going to find is depressing survival rates of 3 to 4 minutes.”

Oh, yeah. Chad’s funnier than me. I should have mentioned that.

We wrote to one another about being headachey and hungry. He discussed his brain cancer. I discussed cupcakes.

Along with my own birth and meeting Rand, my brain surgery remains one of the most significant moments of my life. In the years since, it’s been absurdly humbling to watch Chad go through a far more serious variant of my experience four times, with a radically different diagnosis, while undergoing a handful of medical trials. All while maintaining an incredible blog, writing a screenplay based on his experiences, and starting a charitable foundation.

Even the manuscript for my own memoir – broken and floating in limbo such as it is – exists in part because of Chad. I sent him a chapter of it every month, and if ever I was late, he’d pester me with the most annoyingly encouraging emails.

It’s not a contest. But if it were, he would win. The jerk.

His surgery last week was to remove the regrowth of a tumor, and to inject a genetically modified cold virus into his head as a means of treating his brain cancer (it’s part of a clinical trial, and he’s the first person to receive this treatment. Ever).

In the days preceding his surgery, we exchanged a few emails, in which he made sure to mock me for only having had one brain surgery (which is something that you get to do when you’ve had four). I decided to send Chad something commemorating his most recent stint in the hospital. Unfortunately, I found Hallmark woefully lacking in the “Happy Fourth Brain Surgery” cards department.

They didn’t have any “Holy Shit, You Have Brain Cancer” cards, either. Or even cards about cancer in general. They literally have Father’s Day cards written from the point of view of the family dog, but they don’t have a single card that talks about chemotherapy or cancer. Which is weird because I know lots of people with cancer but I don’t know a SINGLE HUMAN BEING WHO HAS SIRED A DOG.

A few months’ back, I’d read about a designer who made the cards that she wishes she’d received during her cancer treatment. So I figured I’d take a page from her, and make a few cards for Chad myself.

Since I’m woefully bad at anything remotely related to graphic design, I just cut and pasted things on existing cards. They look terrible, and they’re borderline offensive. So I’m pretty sure Chad will find them hilarious.


This one was originally for a Bar Mitzvah.


I was hoping that the inside said something like “Congratulations on becoming a man,” which would have been perfect. But instead it was this:


I made it better:


The card was obviously intended to hold money or a gift card, but I just put a half sheet of Elvis stickers in there because I’m kind of an asshole.

Also, Elvis is awesome.


I liked the idea of combining a cute little doggy with gratuitous use of the f-word, so I did:



I think this card was intended for women who are going through menopause, which Chad is not.

But I figured it would apply to someone who was taking crazy amounts of steroids (they’re used in cancer treatments, and also post-brain surgery to stop your brain from swelling), so I just left it alone.


This card didn’t really make sense to begin with. It was something about how platypuses are unique and special or something.

Anyway, I modified it.

I didn’t spill anything on the front. Those stains were there. #thatswhatshesaid


I also sent Chad a bunch of zombie-themed presents, which, granted, is totally cliché. He always gives me a hard time because I apparently make jokes that he’s heard a thousand times before, so I just figured I would own it.

I got him some glow-in-the-dark zombie finger puppets, but then I decided they were really scary, so I included a smiley finger puppet, too. He’s going to get eaten.

Plus, I found a store that sold the exact same brain ice-cube molds that my friend Karen (who has also had numerous brain surgeries, because I am friends with awesome people) gave me after my surgery, so I couldn’t NOT send them to him.


Chad’s last surgery went well, but it’s left him with an unprecedented headache – which hasn’t happened before. And since he’s the first person to have ever had the procedure done, it’s kind of uncharted territory. His response to all of that is, as usual, funny and upbeat. Even though he’s feeling like crap.

If you are interested in supporting him or his endeavors, then please check out his charitable organization. They’re raising money to make a movie that will, in Chad’s words, cure cancer (because if you can bring some levity and joy to the life of someone who is ill, you can cure them – at least for a little while). You should also check out his blog, and see what he has to say about cancer, and life, and brain surgery. It’ll make you laugh. And if you can relate to any of it, it’ll make you feel less alone. It did that for me three years ago. And it still does that now.


P.S. – I’m sure some folks are going to send me scathing emails about how they don’t think any of my gifts were funny. That’s cool. They are entitled to that opinion, and may shout it from rooftops. We all choose different paths. Mine is lined with crude jokes and zombies.

Leave a Comment

  • Renee Sturgill

    My kid’s (she’s 19 now, can I still call her a kid??) first symptom of a tumor was when her face went paralyzed – well half of it anyway. So, what do you do when that happens? You buy your kid a pirate eye patch and start saying things like ARGH a lot! A lot of people wanted us to be all sad and teary eyed but nope, we went with humor because it really is the best way to deal with shitty stuff that happens to us. So, I love these cards!

  • Jane Klein

    Thinking of you on your brain surgery anniversary, and wishing a good recovery to Chad. Also, I love that you happened to have a sheet of Elvis stickers.

    • A half a sheet, because, you know, the other half got used! It’s absolutely true that laughter trumps tears every time. I have no doubt that Chad appreciates you more than you know.
      Condolences on the little yellow non-zombie. Hope you and he weren’t close.

  • Josephine Robertson

    Damn, if I’m ever horribly sick I want you sending me the gifts and cards!

  • Angel Durinick Cummings

    I go In for removal of my very first and hopefully only brain tumor in less than 2 weeks. Ive stumbled upon both yours and Chads blogs which are awesome. I feel like if we knew each other we’d be friends..because we have similar humor and I feel like we’d get in to trouble together..most likely from innaproprate comments and witty use of sarcasm. Both your blogs are literally the biggest thing keeping me sane and my brain from exploding from stress…pun intended. You sent me a response email a few weeks ago with Chad’s blog in it and as soon as I read his story I was like …crap…now I have to be brave! He’s pretty much making everyone look bad at how strong he’s been. I think he’ll love your cards and gifts. Life is too short to not laugh. The more you laugh…the less you cry…and somewhere I think I read..maybe it was the book Little Women….the more you cry the less you pee. I don’t know why that’s relevent. It just seems right. Lol! Thank you for your uplifting posts.

  • paisleypenguin

    Wow, thanks for sharing. My dad passed three years ago from brain cancer and if there is a way to help find a cure I am in!

  • Andi Plummer

    Started reading Chad’s blog a few years ago when you first mentioned it and been loyal follower since. I’ve never had tumor/cancer or known anyone with brain cancer but I can still relate to a lot of the things he writes about and I love that. I also get genuinely worried when I haven’t seen a post from him for a few months- all the best to Chad!!

  • Caterina

    I had chemo today (I have Hodgkin’s Lymphoma), so apologies if this comment is not going to make much sense, but I have legit chemo brain right now.

    I am sure Chad found all your cards and the zombies amazing and uplifting, as other commenters said when something as rubbish as cancer happens it’s better to laugh rather than cry all the time (well, it’s fine to cry, but if you do it all the time is not going to make things easier and then your eyes get all swollen and make up is a nightmare).
    And if people get offended by this…well let’s ignore them.

    This year I was hit by a massive “tsunami di sfiga”; a friend of mine told me, as you can guess I’m Italian, it means “bad luck” for people who don’t speak this language. He made me laugh because it’s true but hey, what can you do? Tsunamis happen even if you don’t live by the sea. You just have to rebuild your life and keep on going, for you and your loved ones.

    Sorry this is just rambling, but as I said I’m on (chemo) drugs. I will be thinking about Chad in a non-creepy way and I hope he’ll keep on kicking a…

    Keep up with the good work, I love your blog and I hope to read a post soon in which you tell us about your book (no pressure, here! ahah)

  • ruthburr

    I just read this and was like “OMG these brain cancer jokes are SO GERALDINE” so a.) I get you and b.) you make a lot of brain cancer jokes.

    • Everywhereist

      I love that you get me.

  • James Seigel

    You rock my friend. Love this. I am in the ‘only-one-brain-surgery’ club as well and Your 70 Things….. post was the highlight of my stay in the hospital. I had already named my tumour so it made me laugh. A LOT. Much love. Where did you get the ice cube tray. Want to order some. I have DI as a result of surgery/tumour. Craving for ice comes with the territory.

  • Courtney Cormier

    I don’t know why anyone would send you emails saying those were awful gifts and cards – they are perfect! I wish I had received something like those (but vampire themed – I feel like it’s fitting for blood cancer… right?). Absolute perfection! (side note – I just found your blog and think you are hysterical and love your tone and how you write and you are awesome. Just wanted to let you know)

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  • I first met Chad around the time I had brain surgery. He'd just gone through the same experience with a very different diagnosis. He went on to have SIX more brain surgeries and was part of a litany of clinical trials for his brain cancer. Through it all he was funny and brash and so painfully honest about his experience. He was also instrumental in helping me finish my book - I sent Chad a chapter every month while working on my manuscript. He joked that I'd enlisted a dying man to help me meet my deadline. I hadn't emailed him in months, and just found out today that he passed away right before Christmas. It was a long time coming, but I am still blindsided by the loss.
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