Support at the heart of recovery for North Vancouver family

For Bayan Azizi the difference between a problem and a challenge is simple. Learning that distinction didn’t come easily for the North Vancouver Power To Be participant. Diagnosed with a brain stem tumour when he was nine, Bayan’s strength of character and body has been repeatedly tested as he underwent treatment and redefined goals for himself.

“It’s the way you see things,” says Bayan, now 26 years old. “It’s up to you whether you want to see any adversities as problems that you dwell on or as challenges that you can work towards.”

That he chooses the latter is apparent as soon as he starts to share his story, and his ability to do so was a driving force behind his desire to pen a memoir. Published in 2015, Me, Myself and My Brain Stem Tumour details the experience he shared with his family as doctors worked with him to turn a deadly sentence into a lifetime of possibility. He wrote the book to share a message of hope, and inspire others dealing with challenges to find happiness in the face of adversity. His commitment to doing so landed him recognition as a 2016 Courage To Come Back Award finalist.

“I hope people will take inspiration from the book and not limit themselves,” he says. “Someone with my condition could just sit and feel sorry for themselves, or you can try and achieve something. It’s a good mentality and attitude to have.”

For Bayan, that has meant rebuilding strength and motivation after each surgery and learning to live in a new reality as he became reliant on a wheelchair and 24-hour medical care. His tumour is benign, but it is rooted in the part of the brain responsible for essential functions such as breathing, heart rate, swallowing and digestion. With three surgeries in six years, doctors have removed as much of the tumour as possible without doing further damage.

“It dawned on me that I just had to take whatever life threw at me and live with it. Everybody had given up on me long before I started high school, but the main thing was I hadn’t given up on myself,” he says. “Nobody thought I would live to even finish elementary school … but my sheer will power and determination proved them all wrong.”

In a life with uncontrollable factors, one thing remains consistent. Bayan’s commitment to living life to the fullest and being an active member of his community is unwavering in his desire to share his story and help others. In return, the community around him has supported him each step of the way through open communication and encouragement for him to reach his goals. For his family, that meant making decisions together.

“We believe that consultation is very important. Out of unity, support and the search for the truth in everything, if you come to a decision as a united body then no matter what the outcome you will know it was the right decision,” says Nika Azizi, Bayan’s mom. “The family is just the beginning of that.”

An active participant with Power To Be, Bayan is keen to kayak, explore the trails in his community and push his body at the local gym. He is enrolled in a writing course at Capilano College and works for a North Shore moving company, assisting with online marketing. He has done speaking events to share his story and has volunteered at senior and community centres in his neighbourhood. His consistent message is simple but powerful.

“Focus on the good parts of life and try to be happy with what you have,” he says. “One of the most important assets in life is happiness, so try to keep that as a priority. That is what has helped me the most, and I am sure that many other people will benefit from it too.”