Five years ago, his newly-earned MBA in hand, Oscar O. Garcia had just moved cross-country with his wife Eleanor ‘Ellie” Garcia to start a position in finance at Intel.
Just three months after starting his dream job, in January 2016, the Ahwatukee man was diagnosed with brain cancer following an MRI that revealed a large tumor in the right temporal lobe.
“I’d been suffering from a wide array of psychological symptoms – like dropping a pen and not being able to pick it up, or forgetting where I’d parked my car – but at the time I chalked it up to bring stress at work and/or stress from moving across the country to a new place,” he recalled.
Two days after the MRI revealed a “massive size tumor,” Garcia underwent an 11-hour surgery that appeared successful.
Four months later, he underwent his second delicate craniotomy to remove some “residual” from the first operation.
There have been six more brain surgeries in the ensuing five years.
Garcia said that earlier this year, he realized some symptoms were returning – indicating a dreaded recurrence.
And even so, Garcia, who grew up in rough-and-tumble Yonkers, is fighting his newest obstacle with stalwart determination and his usual optimistic outlook.
“There’s potentially another surgery but that takes a lot of wear and tear on the brain so I’m taking chemo orally and having IV infusions at St. Joseph’s,” said Garcia. “Surgery is an option if things don’t get better, but I want to try these other treatments first.”
After his initial two surgeries, Garcia was even more optimistic.
He was featured front page in an Intel publication with the article entitled ‘He battled a brain tumor and is winning his fight against cancer, now Intel’s Oscar Garcia advocates for individuals with hidden disabilities.”
That 2017 headline appeared in all caps, and the accompanying photograph pictured a smiling, healthy-looking, bespeckled 33-year-old Garcia posing with his surgeon.
For several years, Garcia did indeed advocate for those suffering with “hidden disabilities,” a condition he understood personally and felt strongly about.
After his two surgeries, he experienced visual spatial issues that affected his physical abilities. Yet, because he didn’t “look impaired,” he found making use of handicapped parking spaces rankled passersby, who assumed he was scamming the spot.
“What happens, at times, is I get a stink eye from people like, ‘Look at this guy, he’s fit and healthy, and he’s in a disability [spot]. He must be a faker…’ but what they don’t realize is that it’s hidden,” he explained.
For years, he spoke out on the need for empathy in the workplace and the marketplace.
These days, his disabilities aren’t so hidden. As a young man not yet 40 and the father of 2 ½-year-old Theodore, it’s painful.
“There’s a lot of physical and psychological stuff going on the last few months,” admitted Garcia. “In particular, I am fatigued and my energy is low, there’s a lot of vomiting, and I have balance issues. I don’t go out too often, primarily due to my health.”
“I’m only 37 years old and I feel I’m losing my mojo and it sucks.”
He tries to remain as positive as possible.
“I’m always smiling. Well, almost,” he said.
Since he was first diagnosed with the brain tumor, the 5’11” 188-pound Garcia has focused on nurturing a healthy lifestyle.
“I’ve always maintained a strict workout schedule during and after treatments with exception to when I had dramatic symptoms with balance, nausea and vision,” he explained.
“After the second surgery, I educated myself on the metabolic approach to cancer, and got religious with a strict ketogenic diet.”
He had hoped to avoid more invasive procedures like chemo, but “after a few more recurrences is when I started chemotherapy, brachytherapy radiation seeds implanted in my brain, radiotherapy and a medical device called Optune that I wear all day long and sleep with it.
“It sends electromagnetic signals to the tumor with intent to disrupt the tumor cells trying to replicate,” said Garcia.
He’s engaged in other therapies as well, such as hyperbaric oxygen therapy, cryotherapy, extended day fasts, Vitamin C IV infusions and others.
“Since the inception, I’ve undergone eight brain surgeries, three brachytherapy procedures, radiation therapy and tons of other naturopathic procedures.”
Despite all this, Garcia has kept his faith.
“My belief is I will get better because of my spiritual connection,” he said. “When things don’t get better, it certainly challenges your faith, but I’ve been on this road before and I got through it, and I have taken the time to be one-on-one with my Lord.”
He said he isn’t hesitant at expressing his faith and his dogged determination.
“Throughout the past five years, I’ve been very steadfast and public about my struggle, which has brought inspiration to many as I’ve witnessed.
“Things like attending Elena’s weekly yoga classes and meditation sessions is a small testament to my aptitude and dedication to my relentless pursuit of long-term survival,” he said. “There have been many other anecdotes along the way, like the birth of our son two years ago.”
As Garcia readied for his eighth brain surgery a year ago this month, he took some giant leaps. He took his first skydive and became a regular at Mountain Park Church’s Christ Centered Yoga, led by Elena Porter.
Porter, founder of I AM 360 and a well-known yoga instructor at Mountain Park Church, said she has been inspired by Garcia.
“I met Oscar a couple years back when he came into the yoga room, this strong, kind man with a huge smile. When class was over, he thanked me for the class and shared how amazing he felt – and never mentioned the personal struggle he was dealing with his brain cancer,” said Porter, a long-time Ahwatukee resident.
“When I look back, it was a huge life lesson to me, to always be kind as you don’t know one’s inside personal struggles.”
She recalled when she first learned of his battle.
“One day Oscar let me know he was going to be missing class for a while and that he was going to have a treatment for brain cancer. I was stunned. I had no idea,” Porter said.
“Over the last several years Oscar has been in and out of my classes depending on treatment. He would always say, ‘I will be back Elena, I love your classes, they feed my soul.’
“One day I asked Oscar if I could pray for him with the whole class, and he agreed,” she recollected. “That was life changing, the class was very emotional, God was very present, and we all became ‘Team Oscar’ that night.”
Porter said Garcia showed her and the yoga class how to fight any and all battles with God as a guide, and to continue to be more aware of other people’s hidden disabilities.
“Oscar continues to help others going through similar health issues,” she said. “He is a beautiful soul, my friend Oscar.”
Garcia said he is touched when people thank him for his example.
“I do tend to get a lot of people who say I inspire them, and that’s very humbling but they never really say why I do,” he said. “Maybe it’s just the idea that I’m battling brain cancer and yet I’m living my life. It is one of the factors that helps me get through this.”
“I will prevail and beat this cancer once and for all” declared Garcia. “The relentless pursuit of long-term survival continues.”
Follow Garcia’s journey on Instagram at Oscargarciaoptimalliving. On FB, he is listed under Oscar O. Garcia.
His middle initial ‘O’, despite some friends claiming it stands for Optimistic, actually is for his name, Orlando.
For more information on brain tumors and cancer, see braintumor.org