Hitting That Curveball — Wes’ Journey
When life throws you a curveball, the only thing you can do is grab a bat and swing.
NTWRK’s very own CEO Wes Fischer recently had quite the curveball thrown at him in the form of a cricket ball-sized brain tumour. We sat down with him for a quick catch-up now that he’s on the road to recovery.
Let’s start at the very beginning – What happened?
It was all very sudden. I was driving home from work on Friday afternoon, finishing a call with my Dad. I was driving down the road and the next thing I knew, I woke up in the back of an ambulance super groggy and disoriented. Turns out I’d blacked out and had a seizure behind the wheel. Thankfully, no one was hurt and I didn’t have the kids with me at the time, so I’m really just grateful that everything turned out alright on that front.
They took me to the local hospital and got me in for an MRI. The diagnosis was pretty clear from there: I suffered a seizure due to a tumour pushing against my brain. It was the size of a cricket ball — that’s a circumference of 22cm.
That must’ve certainly come as a shock.
It definitely did, but I did my best to take it in stride and think about it with a positive state of mind.
Things happened pretty quickly after that. The accident happened on a Friday (11 October 2019), and I was scheduled for neurosurgery the following Monday. On the Sunday before the surgery, I had a head-shaving party with close family and friends. I got the kids involved with shaving my head down for surgery the day after.
Have to say that I rocked the egghead look pretty well.
I went into surgery on Monday morning. The surgery was meant to take anywhere from 4 to 8 hours — it took 17 hours. I went in on Monday morning and woke up Tuesday afternoon thinking it had only been a few hours. The tumour was heavily impacted around my sinuses and optic nerves and it took a team of four neurosurgeons to remove it.
What was the recovery time like for you?
I came out of the surgery looking a bit like the Frankenstein monster’s cousin. I had to have 30+ surgical staples put in to cover the incisions, but at least it gives me a bit of character. My Halloween costume was set.
Everything was muddled for a while. I was in the ICU for two days and then the neurosurgery ward for seven, and every two hours they would wake me to do observations and tests to gauge my cognition and condition. They’d ask me simple things like the day, month, and year. My name, my birthdate, where I am, etc. Some days I got the day wrong. Sometimes I’d forget the year. Recovering and bouncing back mentally was a surreal experience because everything felt like it was on the tip of your tongue.
It’s almost like you’ve got two parts of your brain working at the same time. Everyone around me [in the ward] was recovering from brain surgery as well, and some were recovering faster than others. My nurse said to me that it’s like a puzzle and the pieces of the puzzle will slowly start to drop back in. The answers will fall back into place and I’m will get there eventually. Right now, I still can’t taste or smell a lot of things, so that’s something I hoping comes back.
How has this experience changed your outlook on life?
I didn’t go out and make a bucket list or anything Hollywood like that, but you definitely take certain things into perspective. I need to be smarter around health and fitness and all that. The biggest change is a lifestyle change for sure. I’m walking 3 to 5km each day, when I can I’ll be back in the pool swimming. But what really gets me thinking is, ‘how do I make sure I’m giving myself every chance to make sure this tumour doesn’t come back?’ I looked at my kids and the impact it had on them. Eli, my youngest (6) didn’t seem quite affected by the news, but my eldest Hugo (8) was in tears most after I came home from hospital. He’d look at me and go “Dad, I was just so worried about you.” That was the first time in 2 weeks that he’s spoken to anyone about it.
It wasn’t until that time that I thought ‘okay, can’t put the kids through this [again]’. I’ve gotta make sure that I make a change to ensure my family and the people close to me [don’t experience this again]. That I’m making sure I’m doing everything I can to not put this burden on them ever again.
If it ever happened to me again and I felt like I hadn’t done everything in my power to make it easier for them, then that would be a huge negative for me.
And what about your outlook on managing a business?
From a business perspective, not much has changed in my way of thinking around running a business. What it has done though is made me realise how important it is to have good people around you. From a lot of what we do, marketing is my background and sales and accounts are Garreth’s. Garreth has really stepped up while I was gone [running the business]. Having good people in the business is a complete understatement as a business to succeed.
We haven’t changed the way we run our business. If anything, we’ve just taken stock of what we’re doing and what we need to do better. From my experience, I’ve realised how important it is to encourage a strong culture of adaptability and versatility. People stepping up and stepping in to pick up different roles when the time calls for it. Colleagues helping colleagues.
The outpouring of support from business colleagues in Australia and Malaysia was incredibly overwhelming. The support system that came around me from my family, friends, and business colleagues really made me appreciate the good people around me. There are some really amazing people out there who just want to make sure you’re okay.