Max Erenberg will never forget when his excruciating head pain began. It was in April 2021, the same weekend as the Masters Tournament, and the National Hockey League was amid a COVID-19-induced “bubble season.”
Working as the Manager of Research and Data Analysis for the Winnipeg Jets, Erenberg remembers that weekend being filled with three things: watching golf, working, and a killer headache.
Erenberg assumed the headache was stress related. Work was busy, and with the pandemic hitting the world, a lot of life was still uncertain. So, he decided to push through.
Over a week later, Erenberg couldn’t handle the constant pain. His family had a history of migraines, so Erenberg’s doctor thought it might just be a particularly bad migraine. After that week of constant pain, and a bout of throwing up, Erenberg was sent for a CT scan. “I was on the bathroom floor at home when they called me with the results. The doctor’s exact words were: ‘It doesn’t look like a tumour, and no one is particularly alarmed yet, but there is a growth inside your head,’” says Erenberg.
If the pain got worse, Erenberg was told to go to HSC Winnipeg’s Emergency Department, which he did. He spent two days there before being admitted to the Neurosurgery Unit for a week. Those seven days were filled with MRIs, more CT scans, angiograms, and blood tests.
“They knew it wasn’t a stroke or an aneurysm, but they didn’t know exactly what it was yet,” says Erenberg, who was told to monitor his symptoms and return for follow-up scans in June 2022.
After feeling better for a few weeks, Erenberg remembers waking up with a sense of vertigo on June 2. He got another CT scan that day, and this time the news was much more urgent—the growth had doubled in size, and it needed to be removed right away.
Erenberg was immediately admitted to surgery. He was told he would have a craniotomy (surgery that temporarily removes a piece of the skull to access the brain) with Neurosurgeon Dr. Anthony Kaufmann. The surgery was a success, and after a biopsy was completed, Erenberg was told he had a pilocytic astrocytoma (low-grade tumour) that had bled into and inflated itself, which was unusual for that type of tumour.
If it had burst, Erenberg could have died or had serious brain damage.
“It was the worst experience of my life, but the staff were amazing,” says Erenberg. “The care at HSC was phenomenal, even for my parents who couldn’t visit. They’d call hourly and were given a thorough report of how I was doing—the nurses and staff were great, especially my nurse Grace.”
This experience changed Erenberg’s life. He has since left the Jets and now works in his family’s insurance business, R&D Insurance, which serves physicians, including some who took care of Erenberg in the hospital. He also uses his experience as motivation to give back to the brain tumour community as a volunteer.
“As terrible as my situation was, it was the best possible outcome. Dr. Kaufmann said I was one of the luckiest unlucky kids he had ever seen in his life,” says Erenberg.
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