Blake knew he was in the right hands the moment he saw the surgeon’s wrists. Dr. John M. Tew, Blake’s neurosurgeon, was wearing one of Lance Armstrong’s yellow LiveStrong cancer bracelets. So was Blake. Dr. Tew, who was also sporting a Tour de France lanyard, was an avid cyclist. So was Blake.
The two cyclists hit it off immediately. “It was a perfect match,” Blake recalled.
In a story that only gets better, Dr. Tew was able to successfully remove a malignant tumor, four centimeters in diameter, from 18-year-old Blake’s brain. A year later, Blake was cycling again and enrolled as a freshman in college. Although still battling fatigue, he had largely pulled his life back together. Deeply religious, he also found himself facing his future with a new appreciation for his life, his abilities, and the family and friends who surrounded him.
“When you experience something like this, you’re more grateful to be alive, whereas you would have taken it for granted before,” Blake said at the time. “When you’re 18 and healthy and fit, you can feel pretty much invincible. But when you realize, hey, I almost died there, you become a lot more grateful.”
Years later, Blake said that, “Objectively, getting the tumor was a terrible situation. But God has brought the best out of it in giving me a life direction, waking me up to the wisdom that there is more to life than living for what you want to do.”
Today, Blake is a husband and law school graduate, and he is well past the seven-year anniversary of his surgery. While most cancer survivors are considered cured at five years, a survivor of Blake’s type of tumor, a medulloblastoma, is considered cured at seven. A malignancy that arises in the cerebellum, medulloblastoma is rare but accounts for one-fourth of all brain cancers in children. The cerebellum, located in the back of the brain and next to the brain stem, is involved with posture, motor coordination, and balance.
Blake’s physical trials have continued since his surgery and the radiation treatments that followed. The radiation treatments impacted his thyroid and caused fatigue, which likely will remain a lifelong companion. Blake needs at least 10 hours of sleep each night, a challenge for someone who is pursuing a legal career.
Blake continues to find strength in God, however, and the setbacks are minor in the face of his determination to pursue a life devoted to faith and justice. “One of God’s callings is to care for the widow, the orphan, and the oppressed,” he said. “What does God require of man? To act justly. I think that encapsulates what I feel, that pursuing justice is the essential mission in life. It is the calling I feel.”
“A lot of people would grow bitter when their dreams are interrupted,” said Blake’s mother, Joan. “But Blake has been able to make the most of a very difficult situation. He has the Grace of God all over him.”
Blake and his wife, Amanda, will serve a one-year fellowship with International Justice Mission in Gulu, Uganda, beginning in September 2013. As a legal fellow, Blake will assist the office in protecting the property rights of widows.