Brandon Mathis’s first job after graduation last year from Weaver High School was frying chicken at Jack’s in Coldwater. He enjoyed the job and poured the same amount of love into the task that one of his favorite characters, SpongeBob SquarePants, pours into the making of the cartoon show’s “krabby patties.”
“I started cooking as a kid,” Brandon said while sitting at a picnic table at Anniston’s Hamilton Park on a cool, breezy morning, “I have always loved being in a kitchen.”
One day in March, Brandon was at work after a few days of medical tests for a bout of unusual symptoms. Suddenly, the employees told him his grandmother, Pat O’Leary, was there to pick him up.
“At first, I didn’t know what was going on when they said she was asking for me,” he said. “I went to a different counter, and she was there saying we had to drop by Advanced Imaging in Anniston, pick up some X-rays and drive to a hospital in Birmingham. The news was very emotional.”
Once they arrived at the hospital, a neurosurgeon spent that day and the next conducting tests, and then he performed a craniotomy to remove a large mass. The pathologists could not identify it and sent Brandon home a few days later until the surgeon could learn more about what to do.
Then came the news. Brandon was diagnosed with a cancer called anaplastic meningioma, grade three. The grade is so rare that only one to three percent of patients who have meningioma have it. The percentage is much lower when considering all cancers of the brain.
Brandon’s symptoms of meningioma included headaches, nausea and vomiting, vision changes, concentration, fatigue and stomach disorders. Another common occurrence is that some patients suffer from seizures.
“You’ll need a miracle,” the surgeon told the two, which stunned them and left them wondering what would come next.
By May, Brandon started the first of 33 proton treatments, a type of focused radiation. In July, during his checkup, and after Brandon had more headaches, a CT scan revealed another mass that required a second surgery called a burr hole, which required a hole being drilled through his skull. A drain relieved the pressure from what was diagnosed as a cyst. At this time, Brandon’s X-rays show something else, but the doctors are not sure what it is. In October, he will have another MRI.
“I won’t have surgery again,” Brandon said, “and I won’t have more proton treatments.”
Recovering from the surgery was painful, and the proton treatments, which caused no pain, drained his energy and left him feeling odd, as if the area of treatment was burning.
Brandon’s childhood was tumultuous until he was four-and-a-half years old, and O’Leary received custody of his care. She had raised four children and gladly took over the care of her grandson, hard as it was at times. Looking back, both think some behavioral issues Brandon had might have originated from a brain tumor. No one knows for sure when it began growing.
The present is the new focus for Brandon and his family.
“Before now,” he said, “I had never been close with God, but this situation is changing me, mentally, physically and spiritually. I think of the serenity prayer and ask God to give me the strength to accept things I cannot change.”
O’Leary, a retiree from the Anniston city finance department and a devout Christian, is proud that Brandon wants to share his story with others to help someone. They suggest getting checked early when having physical symptoms and showing appreciation to those who offer love and support. Brandon realizes his grandmother’s care prevented him from being in foster care, and he loves her now more than ever.
“Also,” Brandon said, “find people you are comfortable with to help you — doctors, family and friends.”
Brandon said asking “why me” is normal but unproductive.
“I was told that God will not give you more than you can handle,” he added. “That is one thing that has stuck with me that I cannot get out of my mind. I believe it wholeheartedly.”
Brandon appreciates his girlfriend, Hayley Jones. She is a senior at Oxford High School, and her friendship has made a big impact on his life. They have been dating since June of last year.
“There is something special about him,” Hayley said. “He has been through so much, and he is still persevering.”
Brandon, with O’Leary and Hayley by his side, shared his story that morning with a hint of autumn in the air, a miracle itself, considering the area has had recent days of Hurricane Ida’s rainstorms and the typical late-summer heat.
Brandon and his loved ones seem to be living in the moment, and when all things are considered, the moment is all anyone has.
Those wishing to follow Brandon, may join, upon request, the private Facebook page “Brandon’s Journey of Hope.”