SPRING VALLEY — George Plym knows from personal experience what it means to need a support group when living with a brain tumor. The former Spring Valley man has had 13 brain tumors in the past 45 years and is still dealing with his latest ones.
Plym, now of Asheville, N.C., has started a brain tumor support group that has grown from his South Carolina county, to a multi-county outreach, to 48 states and nine countries.
Plym founded the Asheville Brain Tumor Support Group in 2001 because “there wasn’t one when I needed one,” he said. As the group expanded, Plym changed its name to “Western North Carolina Brain Tumor Support” to acknowledge all the people who were coming from other counties. Since those early years, he’s also added an online support group for people who live too far away from major cities or who are unable to drive.
“It’s amazing how people freely open their hearts and burdens to me,” Plym said. “Our local group has had more than 100 members, and on the average, we have 25 active members at the present time. This is really impressive when you realize that there is only one tumor per 100,000 people, and Asheville only has 78,000 people.”
Plym was first diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1967 at the age of 11. At that time, doctors didn’t believe he would live more than a couple more years. But 45 years later, Plym is still surviving and thriving.
The years haven’t all been easy though for Plym. Since 1967, he’s undergone numerous series of radiation and chemotherapy. He’s had seven open surgeries and four gamma knife surgeries to remove tumors. In related health issues, he has had hearing problems, vision loss, loss of feeling in his extremities, and short-term memory problems. He uses a voice-recognition program on his computer when he writes to the members of his support group.
Nearly four years ago, doctors found another tumor on Plym’s brain with a second tumor discovered during a recent MRI test. The most recent tumors are believed to be caused by the mega doses of radiation from years ago. Fortunately, the recent tumors are the very, very slow growing-kind, Plym said.
“I can’t have any more radiation or surgery, so really the only option we have right now is to play the wait-and-see game,” Plym said.
In spite of all his health issues and hurdles, Plym said he has a very good quality of life.
In recent years, Plym has developed a new hobby, landscape photography, which he says brings a sense of relaxation and peace to his life. On a recent trip to Bureau County to see his parents, he took numerous landscape photographs of Bureau County’s countryside and small towns.
“I can see the beauty through the lens of my camera and really enjoy capturing those images that people take for granted,” Plym said. “The stoic old barns and the Illinois River seems to beckon for attention as it did 30 years ago, but no one paid any attention back then. I feel blessed that I am able to appreciate its beauty now.”
In telling his story, Plym said he wants to let people back home, in Bureau County, know that he is alive, doing well, and continuing his journey as a brain cancer survivor. And through his support group and website, he wants to encourage others on their own journeys.
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