Phil Stern speaks of his family, his love for and appreciation of them is
palpable. He is profoundly grateful for the love, patience and support he
has always received from them. He says that if there is a silver lining
in all that he has gone through since his diagnosis with a 2 cm acoustic
neuroma, it is that it was the catalyst for him to start his own law practice.
This has given him the freedom to make his family his priority. He has been
able to make time in his work schedule to attend his children’s assemblies
and other activities instead of answering to outside demands.
Phil was 34 years old in
1994 when he was first diagnosed. For several years prior he had occasional
episodes of tinnitis that would last for a full day and came with muffled
hearing for a week or so. He mentioned this at a routine medical appointment
and was referred to an ENT. A hearing test revealed a 1-sided hearing
loss so he was sent for an MRI. He remembers the doctor telling him he
had a “good tumor in a bad place”.
Phil had a lot of questions and consulted with 3 neurosurgeons before
making a decision about where to have his surgery. He made the choice
to have his retrosigmoid surgery at Mt Sinai Hospital with Dr. Kalmon
Post largely because of his experience and that of his staff who were
doing about 2 such surgeries per week. Despite the surgery being postponed
for several weeks as a result of some test results, he remained calm.
He said he received so much support from his wife, sisters, mother and
in-laws that he almost didn’t have a chance to experience anxiety.
He was also very hopeful about the outcome. Tests revealed the likelihood
of preserving his hearing was not good but he expected to be back to his
normal life in a month or two.
The first week after surgery was lost in a fog of pain. A spinal tap
was removed after 5 days and things immediately improved but he did have
double vision, a loss of taste on his left side and a lack of saliva.
He also had lost his hearing on his right side, which causes him some
problems, but this has been relatively minor to him. He was on steroids
for several weeks but when they were tapered off he began what would become
years of crippling headaches. The first headache woke him up in the middle
of the night but then they came 2 or 3 times a week lasting 12-14 hours
at a time. They might be spontaneous or result from any slight jarring.
He would find that he could not bear any stimulation such as touch, sight
or sound during these episodes. Something as minor as a sneeze could set
off one of these headaches. He is amazed at how good his 2 young sons,
Mitch and Jared, were about it. There were times when they had to keep
quiet for Daddy but they were very understanding and sympathetic.
Phil returned to work at a law firm part time several months after surgery
with the help of his wife Amy driving him. There were times when he would
get a headache at work and go sit in his car with the air conditioning
on full blast trying to control it. He explored every medical option to
deal with the headaches. The surgeons were unable to help. Doctors prescribed
anti-inflammatories, anti-depressants, beta-blockers, calcium channel
blockers and pain medications. He tried self-hypnosis and imagery, focusing
on other things. Nothing helped. He went to headache clinics and to an
acupuncturist with no relief. It was difficult to maintain a full productive
work schedule and 9-years ago he left the firm on disability and opened
his own office. There he specializes in business-oriented practices such
as contracts, employment litigation and a variety of “transaction
related” litigation matters. He is also legal advisor to ANA-NJ.
Phil’s headaches diminished in frequency and duration over the
next few years and in 1998 the additional help of a chiropractor seemed
to bring the problem under control. In 1999 Phil was diagnosed with congenital
spinal stenosis that he anticipates will ultimately require surgery and
which limits his physical activity to some extent. He has also had to
have his gall bladder removed after 1 severe attack. He acknowledges that
all of this has had to have an impact on his wife and kids but that if
it has, they don’t show it. . As for Phil, he says "I can't
change it. It is what it is and I accept that and count my many blessings."