On any other fall weekday, David Menasche would be in a classroom, teaching English literature to high-school students.
But this Nov. 2, a Friday, he will strap on a backpack stuffed with things like clothes and a toothbrush , say goodbye to his wife Paula and dogs Lucy and Milo, and step out of his banana-colored Miami home.
With the help of a red-tipped cane, he will walk to the nearest bus stop.
The No. 42 bus will take him to Metrorail. From then on it’s train after train, bus after bus, taking him out of Florida, through Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico and Arizona, into California. Then he is off to places like Chicago and Boston, eventually making his way back home. On his journey he will make more than 80 stops on his odyssey to visit as many former students as he can get to.
Partially blind and with difficulty moving his left leg and hand because of brain cancer, Menasche said “enthusiasm, excitement, curiosity and verve” best describe how he feels about his upcoming journey.
In 2006, he was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme, a lemon-size brain tumor in his right temporal lobe. Glioblastoma tumors are part of the glioma category of brain and spinal tumors that develop from the brain’s glial cells. The cause is unknown, said Dr. Deborah Heros, a neuro-oncologist at the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Glioblastoma is the most aggressive type of glioma tumor, as it is likely to grow and recur. No treatment can completely get rid of the tumor; usual therapies can only keep it under control.
For six years Menasche has battled the disease through a series of treatments: years of chemotherapy; 30 rounds of maximum levels of radiation; and three surgeries that left him missing chunks of his memory.
“To say that my memory is like Swiss cheese would be an insult to both the Swiss and cheese,” said Menasche, 40.
The tumor was relentless. In the beginning of the summer, Menasche was playing a game of pool with friends. He won the first game. By the second game he was seeing spots and losing his balance. He had a car accident on the way home.
The tumor had infiltrated and pressured the perietal and temporal lobes in the brain, affecting Menasche’s vision and movement on the left side.
He lost 80 percent of his sight.
“It just happened like that,” said Menasche, snapping his fingers. “In an instant I lost my vision. I lost my balance. I lost everything.”
For the first time in 15 years, he was not able to go back to work at Coral Reef Senior High School in South Miami-Dade.
That was “crushing” for him, he said.
Unable to be with his new students, he is setting out on a cross-country trip to visit his former students in hopes of regaining the memories and rekindling the friendships he had made with them.
“Cancer has taken from me something I cherished so deeply. The loss of it really was excruciating,” said Menasche. “But I can get it back.”
As he hops on and off the U.S. Amtrak train system, he will write about his experiences and students.
“I always knew I had the ability to write. But I never really felt like I had a story to tell,” he said. “Then I realized they are my stories. If I really wanted to write, I had to go see them.“
Menasche’s high school friend Heidi Goldstein set up David Menasche’s Vision Quest Facebook page through which she sent a request to people to host Menasche.