After five brain surgeries due to a form of cancer that has a 100% recurrence rate, Valencia resident Greg Walsh said there’s an upside.
Walsh, 46 years old, was perhaps once considered a workaholic, spending long days that turned into nights at a finance job in downtown Los Angeles. Now, however, he said he rarely — if ever — misses either of his kids’ games.
“I think what really keeps me positive is the fact that both my kids are very heavy into sports,” he said. “And so, I’m always at their practices and stuff. These are things that I was never able to do before because I was working in downtown L.A. so late. It was such a high-stress job, that I would rarely see the family. I’d get home at 8 o’clock at night, I’d be stressed out, I’d be pissed off. Now I get to see my kids, go to their practices and do those things.”
Walsh is currently on disability. He said that after five surgeries, three rounds of chemotherapy and two cycles of immunotherapy, he had to learn to walk again. And he still can’t write.
“I can’t write with my left hand,” Walsh said. “I’m left-handed. I can’t hold a pen and do the writing. But they say I’m unique.”
When he was 15 years old, Walsh was at Topanga Beach, barefoot and walking into the surf. He’d stepped on some rocks beneath the surface of the water and experienced what would be his first seizure — a grand mal seizure, he added, which causes a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions.
“They rushed me from Topanga Beach to West Hills Hospital,” he said, “and they kind of wrote it off, thinking I got stung by a jellyfish or something. Because they couldn’t figure it out.”
Two years later, Walsh was in San Diego on spring break, walking barefoot at the beach when he experienced his second grand mal seizure. Again, he was rushed to the hospital and again doctors couldn’t figure out what was happening to him. Walsh said he wondered if they assumed that because he was a kid, perhaps he was on drugs. But that wasn’t the case.
About two years after that, when Walsh was 19 years old, he was at Six Flags Hurricane Harbor in Valencia, once again barefoot and once again in water, and he experienced what he called his third grand mal seizure.
“Water became one of these things where it was like, ‘Oh no, going to the beach, going into the water — it’s a trigger,’” he said.
Doctors would eventually discover that Walsh had a brain tumor and that it was on a part of his brain that controlled his foot.
“So, an odd sensation to my foot,” he continued, “or stepping on something was triggering it.”
By that third seizure in 1995, Walsh could tell when he was going to have another seizure. This time, he was up to his shoulders in the wave pool at Hurricane Harbor when he felt it coming on. He let himself drop into the arms of a stranger next to him so he wouldn’t drown.
“I knew that what would happen is it would start to paralyze and numb my foot,” he said, “and then it would rise up my body to the point where it would get into my head and I’d pass out. So, I knew I was going down. I had to jump to the guy next to me and say, ‘Hey, I’m about to go down.’”
Walsh would have five brain surgeries. He’d have one in 1997, one in 2015, two surgeries in 2018 and another in 2019. At one point, in 2012, he was working full-time as director of finance for TPx Communications (formerly TelePacific Communications), enrolled in the executive MBA program at USC, with a young son, Hayden, and a daughter, Brooklyn, on the way. He had goals of becoming CFO of TPx, but the problem got worse. He attributed it to the stress.
“I would say it was probably the most stressed I’ve ever been in my life,” Walsh said. “It was low-grade, it was slow-growing, and then in 2011-ish, we started to see a change. It went from low-grade to high-grade. Absolutely, I think the stress did it. And I had a recurrence later on in 2018, and at that time, I was highly stressed as well.”
At one point in 2015, Walsh said one doctor had already put a cap on his life. Most doctors at the time didn’t even want to do another surgery.
“I went to multiple world-renowned brain surgeons, and UCLA was the only one willing to do it,” he said. “The others said it was too risky. I was blown away by one of them since he was known for taking hard cases. He just said I could buy some time with this dangerous chemo. My actual doctor told me that if I had asked her, she would have said six months.”
Six months to live — that was about seven years ago.
Walsh would eventually have to leave work on disability. It was after his 2018 surgery that he’d lost the ability to write, and the immunotherapy made it difficult to hold himself up.
Not much has changed over the years as far as treatment for brain cancer goes, Walsh said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of progress. The treatment plans are basically the same.”
Walsh added that he feels brain cancer doesn’t get the awareness that other forms of cancer get, and perhaps that’s the reason for the lack of improvement in treatments.
“So many people get breast cancer,” he said, “so, obviously when money is raised, it tends to go to prostate cancer, breast cancer. Not a lot of people get brain cancer. It’s a small percentage, but it’s very deadly, and it’s definitely frustrating that here I am 25 years later, and the same treatment plans are there.”
To create more awareness, Walsh started a candle company called Haybrook Candles, which sells candles for a cause. Haybrook’s mission is to make a difference in the fight against brain tumors and brain cancer while bringing light into the lives and homes of those who purchase products on the website. Candles are about $20 each with a portion of the proceeds from the “Candles for a Cause” collection going to the UCLA Brain Tumor Center.
Walsh also continues to fight. And he continues to live, cherishing his wife, Erin — who, he said, has been so supportive through the entire process — and cherishing so much time with his kids.
“To be honest,” he said, “you could go, ‘Would I rather be walking around normally and healthy, but not see my family and kids, or be in my current situation, but able to spend more time with my kids in one year than I probably could not have been able to do in 10?’”
Walsh didn’t have the choice. That choice was made for him.
“And you know what?” he said. “I’m blessed for that.”
Walsh’s candle website is at HaybrookCandles.com.