Photos taken on Sugar Loaf Mountain and Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer) in Rio de Janeiro

Fernando Arenas

First post: Jun 19, 2018 Latest post: Oct 4, 2020

Dear friends, family, colleagues, and former students: I apologize for this long post regarding my current health status. I would rather send individual messages with a greater personal touch, however, I feel that Facebook offers a wonderful platform to communicate simultaneously with our network of loved ones, which in my case, are spread in different parts of the world (North America, Latin America, Europe, and Africa). I also apologize for addressing you exclusively in English, but I believe that all of you understand it enough to be able to follow me. In the midst of the planet’s turbulent life (socially, politically, environmentally, economically), the excitement of the soccer World Cup, our busy everyday existence with so many joys, hopes, dreams, and dramas, our bodies can suddenly and mercilessly remind us of our fragility and limitations.


Back in April in Ann Arbor, I suffered from a very mysterious seizure. The seizures have continued on here in Minneapolis since the month of May and they have become more frequent and severe. In one instance I was taken to the emergency room at a local hospital when one incident occurred in the middle of my swimming routine at the  downtown YMCA.  At the hospital they  attached a heart sensor to my chest that is connected to a heart monitor in the form of a cell phone via Bluetooth. So far, no anomalies have been detected in connection to my heart activity. Nevertheless, the seizures have persisted. So after visiting a neurologist, I was asked to do an MRI (magnetic resonance image) test and an EEG (encephalogram). These took place last week and revealed a significant red flag: a brain tumor.  My neurologist determined that this was in fact the cause of the  seizures.  My partner David and I subsequently met with an excellent neurosurgeon, Dr. Nagib, who will be taking care of me at one of the top medical care facilities in the United States just a few blocks away from my home in the heart of Minneapolis.  When I described the prelude to my seizures in detail as a surreal, dream-like state of disconnected images and sounds he called them "a textbook case of a temporal lobe seizure".


As we looked at the image of my brain on the computer screen he asked me questions about my life history  (he is a French-educated Egyptian, so he seemed impressed when I spoke fluently with him in French). As we proceeded in English (David does not speak French), he asked about my academic work and the kinds of courses I teach at the University of Michigan (he was particularly excited about the large lecture course I co-teach, “Intro to Africa and its Diaspora”). As I continued sharing with him at length my deep passion for world cultures, languages, and travels, he abruptly pointed at the image of the walnut-sized tumor on the screen and emphatically expressed: “We must get rid of this right away!


We are currently scheduling the surgery as well as additional pre-op MRI tests in order to map out the brain for greater surgical accuracy so that no damage may be caused to my cognitive and/or motor skills. At this time, there is no clear evidence that the mass has metastasized or whether it is malignant or benign. Once the tumor is extracted from my brain, a biopsy will be conducted so that we may have a better picture of my health status and arrive at a possible prognosis. The neurosurgeon sounded rather optimistic and the surgery should happen before the end of June. As a result, I’ve been forced to cancel a much anticipated trip to Colombia and Brazil for the month of July so that I can focus on my full health recovery and rehabilitation.


It's been a very scary and painful period  but I feel more confident about where things are going. I've been prescribed medication to control the growth of the tumor and the seizures. I can already feel the improvement in my daily life, even though the tumor or brain lesion is still lodged on the right hemisphere of my brain, next to the amygdala, which is wired to the realm of emotions and episodic memory (including autobiographical and emotional memory)!


 I am consoled to be dealing with this difficult matter while living in the city that I love so much and in the company of my partner David, with the support of David’s extended family, a large network of dear friends, neighbors,  as well as colleagues from the University of Minnesota, who have been very supportive all along.  (I do, however, miss  my students and colleagues at the University of Michigan  in Ann Arbor). I thank you all in advance from the bottom of my heart for your concern, support, thoughts, prayers, and love! We will be setting up a "Caring Bridge" webpage so that you may follow more closely my situation.


I apologize wholeheartedly  to my friends and family in Colombia and Brazil for having to cancel, or at least, postpone my much anticipated trip. I very much hope to be able to make this trip after all since it means so much to me. Please do not give up on me! I promise I will not give up on you!


I will keep you posted as to the aftermath of the surgery.


My warmest hugs to all and much love!


L@s quiero mucho! Amo tod@s vocês! Je vous tient au coeur! Tanti baci! Sodadi txeu, sodadi txiu!