When neurosurgeon W. Lee Warren would see a type of brain tumor called a glioblastoma on a scan, the same thought always came to his mind.
“I’ve seen the end of you.”
It grew harder and harder through his career to honestly tell the patients to fight, pray and hang in there, when God never seemed to answer those prayers.
“But as a Christian, I also had this belief that we’re supposed to pray and keep our spirits up and believe that God can help us,” he said. “And so I had this sort of faith versus science conundrum between things I believed and things I knew. And so that started the exploration of how do I counsel people and how do I try to help people, when I think I already know the outcome.”
The Casper author and neurosurgeon’s new book, “I’ve Seen the End of You,” was released this month by Penguin Random House imprint WaterBrook. In it, Warren tells stories about the patients who’ve affected him and ultimately taught him as he grappled with those big questions.
Warren will sign copies and discuss the book today at the Natrona County Library.
As he worked to sort out the conflict in his mind, Warren began to study how people respond to difficulties in their lives. Then his teenage son died in 2013.
“And so I went from sort of observing other people’s responses to hard things to experiencing my own,” he said. “And that experience just sort of reframed everything that I thought I knew about how to help people. And so the book really came out of all of that — out of learning how to sort of find our own feet and faith again after losing a child and then learning how to be a better doctor to people in the hardest things that they deal with.”
Warren’s first book, “No Place to Hide: A Brain Surgeon’s Long Journey Home from the Iraq War” details the Air Force veteran’s experiences at a tent hospital in the Iraq War, where he performed 200 brain surgeries in a combat zone, he said.
The book was named to the 2015 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff’s Professional Reading List. Warren’s writing has also been featured in Guideposts magazine and he’s appeared on The 700 Club and the CBS Evening News, according to his website. His Dr. Lee Warren Podcast features covers faith, neuroscience and how to lead a happier, healthier life.
His weekly email subscription letter available at his website reaches people in 35 countries and all 50 states, he said. He also plays guitar and is involved in community organizations with his wife, Lisa, and holds two patents for surgical instruments he invented. Warren moved a few years ago from Alabama to Wyoming to work at Wyoming Medical Center.
After war, a divorce with his first wife, rebuilding and then his loss, “I realized I was standing on the deathbed of my shattered faith,” he wrote in the new book’s blurb. “I’d seen the end of me too.”
The stories of several patients with brain cancer in “I’ve Seen the End of You” are true, with names and enough details changed to protect identities.
He calls one of them Joey, a man with a drug addiction and a brain tumor that Warren caught early enough for a chance of cure, only because the neurosurgeon treated him for a skull fracture after a fight with a DEA agent, he said. From a troubled upbringing and run-ins with the law, the patient turns his life around even as he grows sicker, Warren said.
As Warren studied his patients through their trials, he saw patterns. Some seem to have their lives together and have never experienced much difficulty, and then their lives fell apart after a serious diagnosis. Some of them never seemed to gain their spirit back even if they recovered from illness or injury. Others who’d experienced few good moments in life somehow rallied in their illness.
“They find hope, or they reconnect with their families, or they sort of come alive even while they’re dying,” he said. “There’re just these different ways that people encounter things. Some people hit something hard and stay strong and never waver. And some people, you know, get punched in the gut by it but then recover and end up having a high quality of life even if they ultimately die from the disease. So I started seeing that there’s a difference between a spiritual outcome, if you will, and our physical outcome; and that your quality of life depends on how much hope and faith you’re able to have in spite of the things that happened to you in your life.”
Writing for hope
Warren never planned to become a published author. His first book grew out of journal he kept to work through PTSD and through some of the things he’d seen. He wrote the book for himself and to maybe help friends and family. Then the book caught the attention of Christian author Philip Yancey, who encouraged Warren to rewrite it for a wider audience and introduced him an agent. Zondervan under HarperCollins published” No Place to Hide,” in 2014.
Warren intended from the start for “I’ve Seen the End of You” to be published to help others, he said.
He calls what he’s learned from his patients “moving the goal posts.” Everyone faces death at some point, he said, so it’s about whether life is a series of things that happen to you, or a story of how you handled and responded to them.
“Then you start looking at your life in a different way,” he said. “And so I think that’s probably the biggest lesson I learned in studying these people and writing this book, is just how to redefine what life’s all about and becoming more immune to the circumstances that you face. Because you want to live your life with joy and hope, and you don’t want to be sort of a slave to circumstance; because all of us you’re going to encounter hard circumstances.”
He hopes the book gives others opportunity to learn those things too, he said.
“I came to learn ... brain tumors aren’t the deadliest disease, hopelessness is,” he said. “Like when you lose hope, you really lose everything — even if you survive. So the thing is, this book will give you some tools to find hope again if you feel like you’re lost in the dark.”
Follow arts & culture reporter Elysia Conner on twitter @erconner