‘I’ve got a new look at life now’

Tyler Waugh

Home and recovering from brain surgery, Rob Cudmore is grateful for community support

Sitting on his back deck, Rob Cudmore takes a sip of coffee and soaks in the morning with wife Vanessa close by and their dogs frolicking in the yard.

It’s been two days since his release from Hinton Hospital, and only two weeks removed from surgery to remove a golf-ball sized tumour from his brain.

Cudmore was in a dark place in the months leading up to his surgery, but has emerged on the other side just feeling different, more positive. 

Part of it was surviving the surgery, he says, but part of the new perspective is a physical reaction. He says the tumour was also wedged in a part of his brain that controls emotions and memory. Doctors think it may have been present and growing over the past couple of years, and Cudmore believes it’s been impacting his outlook.

“I was in a bad place. I haven’t been happy, or appreciative of people around me, I’ve been frustrated. Now, I’m sitting here and I just feel different about people in general. It’s hard to explain, I’ve got a new look at life now though,” he said.

And while the tumour may have been present for a couple of years, its effects became more impactful in March.

Rob wasn’t displaying the same focus at work. His desk at the front entrance to VARA Automotive, which he owns and operates, was a mess. He was having vivid, dark dreams. He was having irrational disagreements with Vanessa, and thinking the worst of things going on around him.

“COVID had just hit hard and I was really struggling with that … I thought for a while that it was just stress from that and the business and kind of just brushed it off,” Rob said.

But there were also some troubling physical side effects that continued to build. The Cudmores saw their doctor in March and there were a battery of tests done and bloodwork taken. Rob was diagnosed with diabetes.

“We thought, OK sure, the blood sugar levels along with stress might be behind this,” Vanessa said.

But after a couple of weeks of monitoring and controlling the diabetes, Rob’s mental and physical health continued to become more uneven. 

He was running into things at home, and kept hitting his head while walking past the lifts at the shop. He’d occasionally drop things from his left hand. He had marks on his fingers from cigarettes burning down to his skin on that same hand.

He even lost his way driving to the shop and back home.

They kept Rob away from the shop for a bit to rest, staying home at first and then later dropping him off at his mom’s for the day.

Vanessa thought there was something physical that wasn’t found yet and took initiative to get Rob an MRI on June 4.

After seeing the results the doctors rushed him to University of Alberta hospital later that same day.

Due to COVID he was forced to deal with his brain tumour diagnosis without family at his side. 

“When I got in there I was so upset, and Vanessa couldn’t be there with me. I was a mess, your mind is racing. I remember wondering if I would ever see my boys play hockey again. It hit me hard,” Rob said, adding that his roommate, Phil, helped him get through.

Phil was mobile, and pushed Rob around the hospital in a wheelchair for distraction.

“He was amazing. I couldn’t have done it without him.”

Vanessa eventually was able to visit and the nurses later made the executive decision to let her stay in the room with Rob the night before the surgery. 

She walked him to the surgery room and watched him wheeled through the doors. Vanessa tears up thinking about that goodbye.

“You just … it’s hard,” she said. 

“But he was doing really good and that made it better for me.”

 She made her way to the hotel across the street where family and friends had stayed for a couple days in support. The long wait began.

Eleven hours later, Rob was out of surgery. He remembers doing a system check when he woke up in recovery, wiggling toes and fingers.

When Vanessa and his mom were allowed in the room he knew who they were. 

Rob seemed to have pulled through with minimal effects. 

He stayed in ICU for nine days before being transferred by plane to Hinton, where he stayed for a couple days before he had his more than 20 staples removed on June 22.

He was home later that same day.

“One thing I’ve learned in all this is that my frame of mind … it’s important to recovery,” he said. 

“Being home has helped and being close to everyone. I’m so grateful for all the support.”

The Cudmores are the benificiary of a voluntary donation for entry to the drive in event being hosted at Big Rock Dodge by the Föhn Festival on June 30 and July 1. 

Good family friend and Föhn board member, Bill McDonald, let them know about it last week.

Rob’s journey isn’t over, and he is due back in the city next month for six to eight weeks of treatment. The Cudmores will use the funds to cover costs associated with their stays in Edmonton for treatment, and other expenses. 

“When I get better we really want to pay this forward in the community. This means a lot to us,” Cudmore said.