It’s hard not to smile when speaking with Jeff Wagner. His positivity is infectious, and his desire to better himself, even in the face of adversity, is nothing short of inspiring.
Jeff has been through a lot in his 39 years, though he welcomes the opportunity to immerse himself in each experience – good or bad – and take it as an opportunity to grow.
There was the move to Canmore, Alta., 19 years ago, from his hometown of Welland, Ont. There was the chance meeting with his now-wife, Shauna, at a baseball tournament, and the births of their children, Evan and Isla. There was the job change, as Jeff, an electrician by trade, left the company where he’d worked his way up to a project manager role for another, smaller company. Then, there was the accident.
“I was having the best day at work that I could even remember,” says Jeff.
He’d been reading plenty of motivational books and was feeling good about where his life was headed. Jeff recalls talking to the employees on site that day about how short life is, and how “we’re all in it together.”
He’d left to travel to another site when he noticed a car speeding towards him. As it attempted to pass, the driver lost control and Jeff braced himself for the head-on impact.
“I closed my eyes and gripped the steering wheel,” he says. “When I came to, I was in the ditch with someone at my window. The passenger side was compressed completely towards the driver’s side. Fortunately, it was just me in the vehicle.”
Also fortunately, Jeff was only experiencing minor pain, though paramedics transported him in a neck brace to the emergency room.
There, he was told he’d need a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan.
Waiting for news
“I waited 30 hours in that emergency room,” Jeff says, “and in those 30 hours, not one person left without bad news from the doctor. So, when the doctor came to see me and said I had a brain tumour, I just said, ‘Okay,’ and accepted it as it was.”
Jeff learned he had a low-grade glioma in his right temporal lobe that could have been slowly growing over 10 years or more.
At home, he started to research how the brain works and what surgery would involve. By the time he heard from the neurologist, Jeff had already made his mind up to go through with the surgery.
“I was taken aback by the fact that I would be having brain surgery,” Jeff says. “I was almost excited that it was even possible – that people can even do this. I thought, ‘How incredible is this?’ And so, I went into it with good hopes.
That’s when I realized the news was a lot tougher for my wife. I just told her everything would be okay. Somehow, subconsciously, I was already prepared for all the news I was getting, and now, looking back, I see how important that was for me.”
A month after Jeff’s diagnosis, he went in for surgery. He was discharged three days later and says his recovery went well.
Jeff’s follow-up MRI revealed additional, smaller tumours, and he was to await the pathology.
“As I recovered, I continued to work on myself,” says Jeff. “I told myself, no matter the news, I am going to go about things the same way.”
He’s done just that, keeping the same positive attitude as he’s learned his diagnosis has progressed to grade three anaplastic astrocytoma.
Five months after his accident and four months after his surgery, Jeff started radiation treatments. Two days into his treatments, Jeff tested positive for COVID-19.
Following his bout with COVID-19, Jeff was cleared to continue his radiation treatments. After six-and-a-half weeks of radiation, he’ll move on to five weeks of chemotherapy.
“I’ve gone in acknowledging that there could be side effects, though understanding that’s not necessarily what I’ll have,” Jeff says. “I haven’t felt any ill effects to this day, but I’m on my fourth treatment and I’ve had some spacing between them. I’m going to just go about my treatments and listen to my body.
Naturally you feel like you can just drift back into your old ways when things are going well, or you could develop fears or worry when things are going bad. But you have to remember that you’re in control of how you think. And that’s the hardest lesson to teach yourself.”
Finding opportunities in the challenges
Jeff’s willingness to take life as it comes has perhaps been his greatest asset, as he adjusts to the changes he’d had to face.
“To me, it’s been an opportunity, not a problem,” says Jeff. “I’ve never questioned, ‘Why?’ But, ‘What is this for? What can I learn from this?’ I’ve always worked hard and now I know where I need to put in work.”
For Jeff, that means keeping on his path of self-improvement. He practises meditation and yoga, listens to podcasts, journals, and reads. One day, he’d like to write a book and launch a website about his experience, having signed up for a web development course to prepare.
He’s also found comfort in his spirituality.
“I never was a spiritual person before,” he says. “I did always feel like there was something I was searching for, whether it was success or approval from others. And then, I just realized that everything I was searching for is actually right inside of me. And we all have that ability to be our own superhero. We just have to wake up and realize that.”
“We all have that ability to be our own superhero. We just have to wake up and realize that.”
“Faith and fear make poor bedfellows; where one is found, the other cannot exist,” is a quote by Napoleon Hill that resonates with Jeff.
Another is one he came up with himself, through his learning experiences.
“I do not create life; life creates me,” Jeff says, “and I want nothing more than to be a part of it.”
“I do not create life; life creates me, and I want nothing more than to be a part of it.”
Jeff is very much engaged in his own life, spending as much time as he can with his loved ones.
“My proudest achievement is my family,” Jeff says. “I’ve realized I have everything I need right here in this house.”
Family comes first
Jeff and his family enjoy camping together and doing activities that keep them active. He and his nine-year-old son, Evan, both play hockey and are avid mountain bikers. His seven-year-old daughter, Isla, counts dance and gymnastics amongst her hobbies.
They often see their extended family, too. Jeff’s brother and sister moved to Alberta shortly after he did, followed by their parents. They settled in Calgary, where Shauna’s parents also live.
Jeff and Shauna, who just celebrated their 10-year wedding anniversary, are surrounded by a supportive network of friends as well.
“We like to get out and socialize with others,” Jeff says. “It’s a small town and we all know each other, in some way or another.”
Jeff and his friends have set up a ride program, where his friends will drive him an hour each way to his daily treatments.
“It allows me to connect socially and see how their lives are going,” Jeff says. “And then they ask about me and my family. Social support has been very helpful.”
Jeff encourages everyone who’s going through a hard time to reach out to available supports.
“Whatever your situation is, you’re not meant to do it alone,” he says. “Get out into groups or see family or friends. Socialize. Accept others’ help and appreciate all the wonderful nurses, doctors, and support workers. Talk about what’s going on and always be open, honest, and true. You’ll find that people understand and are there for you.”
Jeff’s positive mindset has helped him to accept whatever may come his way next.
“I’m not afraid of death, and I’m not worried about getting better,” he says. “I’m just here to experience life as it is.”
When asked what hope means to him, Jeff’s answer was telling.
“Hope is belief,” he says. “Belief that this is an opportunity; a lesson in life. It is believing in something other than the bad or the negativity. There’s always something out there better to believe in than failure, fear, guilt, shame, embarrassment, selfishness. If you can look at the other side of that, there’s always a positive to the negative.”
Jeff’s Reading List:
Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, by Dr. Joe Dispenza
The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer
The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren
Inner Engineering, by Sadhguru
Radical Remission, by Kelly A. Turner