Thomas Latimer is soft spoken, his voice difficult to hear, his words registering barely above a whisper.
He’s obviously hesitant to have the focus on himself. Yes, he’s shy, but it’s more than that.
The 44-year-old father of two young children is living with an intruder in his brain.
One recent August day, going about his daily routine, his head started hurting. Really hurting. The pain was unmanageable. He’d never felt pain like it before and nothing he did would make the pain stop.
Finally, a family member took him into the emergency room for help.
Three cat scans and eight MRIs later, Thomas had his answer: meningioma – a tumor had formed on the membrane that covers the left front lobe of his brain. The tumor has taken up residence, with no sign of departing anytime soon.
Thomas thumbs through pictures of his brain in stark black and white on his cell phone. The tumor jumps out. It’s a large, triangular-shaped growth, showing up stark white against the grey matter of his brain. These tumors are often slow-growing. As many as 90% are benign.
That’s Thomas’ hope.
The doctors won’t know how deep the tumor goes or if it’s wriggled its way into his cerebral matter until they operate, which a neurologist is set to do Jan. 16 at Wyoming Medical Center.
Finding a neurosurgeon was challenging. Following the debilitating headaches, Thomas was referred to a doctor in Cheyenne who refused to operate. Another doctor in Salt Lake City referred him to the doctor he has now in Casper.
“We went all over the place for tests, doing MRIs and CAT scans, seeing surgeons,” he said in his calm, quiet voice.
Talking about himself makes him squirm and fidget. His mom, Vickie Huffman, often talks when Thomas either can’t, deep in thought . . . or when he simply doesn’t respond to someone.
It’s all too much for him.
“The doctors keep telling me they don’t think it’s cancer, but they have to get it out and biopsy it first to know for sure. Right now, they don’t know,” he said, his eyes flickering nervously around the room. Then he glances down at his hands in his lap, his fingers racing over and under each other.
Life has not been easy for Thomas or his family this year, and it’s been especially hard this winter. Thomas’ father passed away on the morning of Dec. 18, just two days prior.
“I was very close to my dad,” he pointed out.
As he spoke, his mom’s eyes are tightly shut. She’s trying to hold back tears, but is unsuccessful. A drop sneaks out of her eye and slowly trickles down her cheek.
She and Thomas are visibly heartbroken.
Vickie is scared of losing Thomas, too. So are his children, Cole, 5, and Lily, 8.
Talking about their situation – medical and financial – isn’t easy, they said.
Thomas works when he can.
The headaches often are debilitating. Other times they’re manageable with over-the-counter pain relievers.
If the tumor is left untreated, doctors have told him he could die.
“If I let it go, it can cause hearing loss, affect my vision, cause dizziness. They told me it can cause my death,” his voice is barely audible.
He’s been fighting to get medical insurance for four months, ever since he found out about the tumor.
Thomas found medical insurance through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Wyoming, with help from Bob Shimori at the Community Block Grant Program.
“He helped me pay the first payment on my insurance premium so I would have coverage for the surgery,” Thomas said.
Now, Thomas, his mother Vickie and other members of their family are trying to raise money to cover a couple of months of Thomas’ expenses from the day of the surgery until he’s well enough to go back to work, most likely for about 60 days.
“We’re not asking for a lot. I’ve figured it out and for two months of rent, insurance payments, the deductible he has to meet, utilities, it’s about $5,000” Vickie said as she rattled the expenses off from memory.
Thomas’ deductible for the tumor’s excision is estimated to be about $2,000.
Two women sat outside of Safeway a couple of weeks ago, a table stacked high with cookies, homemade breads and other goodies in front of them.
They’d baked all day and night to hold a bake sale to raise money to help Thomas.
The baked goods brought in $195, including donations from folks who didn’t buy anything to eat.
“We’re brainstorming what we can do after Christmas. Money is tight for people right now around the holiday. I understand that. We’ll hold off until after Christmas, but we’re thinking about doing a dinner fundraiser,” she said.
To date, the family has collected about $550 – just $4,450 to go.
Vicki has an account open at Converse County Bank in her name on Thomas’ behalf.
For those inclined to donate toward Thomas’ medical and living expenses, please contact Converse County Bank and ask to make a contribution toward Thomas Latimer’s fund via Vickie Huffman’s account.
“We pray a lot. It’s been a really, really hard year. I can’t lose my son, too . . .”
Vickie’s voice cracked as she began to cry. She put a hand over her eyes to cover her tears.