Last October just as Lori Ames, her husband and her only child, Robert, 22, were leaving on a much-needed vacation, Robert said he wasn’t feeling well. Thinking Robert might have a virus, she called his father to pick him up and Lori and her husband continued on their trip to Las Vegas. When she landed, she learned that Robert had been admitted to Winthrop University Hospital and before Lori had time to sort out what to do next, her sister, a nurse, called to tell her that the doctors had found a brain tumor. By the time Lori landed back in New York, Robert had already undergone two brain surgeries.
Utterly devastated, Lori went to her son’s side, and they have been inseparable ever since. Only a few weeks prior, she had taken Robert to another hospital where Lori was told he had a migraine headache and he was sent home.
“He might have had the tumor for 10 years,” she says. “No one had ever connected his symptoms before.”
Only a week after his emergency surgery, Robert had to undergo two more operations. In the first one, Lori explained that the doctor literally unfolded his brain, performed a biopsy and refolded it. The diagnosis was that his tumor was inoperable so another surgery was scheduled to put in a shunt to drain the fluid accumulating in his skull into his abdomen.
Lori was the vice president of a New York City public relations agency and had been with them for more than 20 years. While trying to take care of her son, Lori’s employer was regularly asking her when she would be able to return to work. For Lori, however, leaving her son was not an option.
Robert was very aware that his mother was a successful businesswoman who worked hard to attain her position at the agency, and he was extremely upset that she was not working. Lori says that Robert suggested she open her own public relations business. Lori had vast experience in PR and marketing, specializing in book authors and small businesses. “He told me if I started my own, he would stop worrying,” Lori says. She knew that Robert still had a long road ahead of him involving more surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and physical therapy, so the idea of going out on her own was taking root.
At the end of November, while Robert was recuperating from surgery and getting ready to start chemotherapy, Lori knew she could not go back to her job and officially resigned.
“I was thinking about how I was going to run my business,” Lori recalls. “Robert and I talked about it, too. We both decided that you just can’t worry about being sick.”
Many people report feeling isolated, lonely and desperate as they endure brain tumor diagnosis, treatments and rehabilitation, but this mother and son team worked their way through it. In a way, Lori had to reprogram her own brain and how she thought about everything in her life.
“I’m either a genius or I’m insane,” Lori says with a smile. Not one to waste time, she immediately registered her URL and had her first client by mid-December.
At first Lori worked from home to accommodate Robert’s recuperation and rehabilitation schedule.
“Everything grew from that,” Lori says. She rebuilt many of her connections from Linked-In but believes another reason for her success is very simple. “I have been nice to every person I have spoken to for the past 25 years,” she says.
Her business took off but that brought a new set of challenges. “I know how to make money and run a business,” Lori says, “but working at home was impossible. I was out growing my house and needed to find office space.”
She found a great location less than half a mile from her house, and now Robert is doing so well, he accompanies Lori to work everyday. Their set-up, which includes Lori’s intern Christina, is professional yet homey. Robert is a charming and very funny young man, he is his mother’s alter ego, her muse, her foil. Robert has to come to terms with his post-surgery identity, just like his mother had to. Although Lori is no longer the VP of a New York City PR firm; she is the president and owner of her own thriving Long Island agency. Robert is amazingly candid about what he’s endured and even has a sassy rejoinder to anyone who might be impatient if he takes a little longer to finish a thought: “I had brain surgery. Can you give me a minute?” The line is delivered with perfect timing, like a professional comedian. Robert launched into a comedy skit about Lori’s lack of culinary skills and ad libs: Boy Survives Brain Tumor: Killed By Mom’s Cooking. Everyone laughs.
There are no apologies from either mother or son for their office arrangement and their schedule, which includes working on the weekends to keep a routine, but Lori doesn’t mind in the least. Attitude is everything. “I needed to be strong for Robert,” Lori says.
Recently Robert’s doctor’s gave him the go-ahead to start fishing again. Lori and Robert have taken a weekly fishing trip on a party boat out of Captree since he was 4 years old. “Fishing has always been our passion. It was the one thing Robert always asked about when he was sick,” she says.
For both Lori and Robert, life today is precious and full of hope. “There are two things that happen,” she says. “A: you worry they’re not going to make it; B: you wonder if you should have found it [the tumor] earlier.”
“I learned that you can’t do that and lead any vibrant kind of life,” Lori says. “We try to laugh a lot because, believe me, there were plenty of tears.”