Aging can be a sneaky little critter.
Those steps you've traversed for years suddenly jump up and grab you. You stub your toe and you stumble.
The end table was never an obstacle. Your body radar always steered you clear. You could do it blindfolded. But as the years pile up, the end table becomes a stealth bomber and your shin says hello and it hurts.
You rise too quickly from your easy chair and the blood flow to your brain hasn't arrived. You are dizzy. You nearly pass out.
You turn quickly to walk down the hall and your balance is nowhere to be found. You careen into the wall.
You don't vault out of bed as much as you roll.
You have aches and pains in locations you had no idea you had.
Some names escape you.
Your keys play hide-and-go-seek.
You walk into a room on a mission, but are clueless as to what that mission was.
So when Vern Foster began his journey toward the old man's club, he wasn't alarmed. Like a lot of men as they age, no biggie.
In fact, if there were no mirrors in the world, aging would not exist.
Foster, the radio voice of the Mark Morris Monarchs athletic teams, was happily naive regarding the hands of time. Until one day ...
... Foster, in his role of salesperson and sports announcer at radio station KEDO, was selling tickets at a musical event at the old Cadillac Ranch on Commerce. When sales slowed, Foster poked his head to take a listen.
"It was really, really loud. I thought, I can't deal with this, so I walked out."
But the ringing walked out with him. Surely he thought the irritant would subside in a day or two. "But it never went away."
As one day rolled into another, the ringing persisted. Foster, 48 at the time, began noticing other things.
"When I was walking, I would take a miss-step. I'd stumble down a hallway and bounce off the wall," Foster explained. "While umpiring, I went to wipe off the plate and almost fell over. I didn't feel dizzy, I just lost my balance."
A friend suggested Foster should probably have the situation checked by a doctor.
"So I go to the doctor and the tests aren't making any sense. So as a wise-guy I say - what are you looking for, a brain tumor? And the doctor says yes," Foster said.
An MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) showed a tumor. An acoustic neuroma tumor. It is a benigh tumor that grows on the cranial nerve that connects the ear to the brain. The tumor usually grows slowly. As it grows, it presses against the hearing and balance nerves. At first, there may be no symptoms or mild ones including loss of hearing on one side, ringing in the ears and dizziness and balance issues.
The tumor can eventually cause numbness or paralysis of the face. If it grows large enough, it can press against the brain, becoming life-threatening.
"It was big. That was why I was losing my balance," Foster continued. "I went to Portland and started radiation for weeks."
The radiation treatments did not work, so the doctors turned to steroids. Again, no success. Next up - brain surgery.
So four years into this medical mystery tour, Foster is told this is it. "The doctors told me that if I don't do this, the tumor will grow down my spine and kill me. I'm stubborn, but not that stubborn."
After nearly nine hours on the table, Foster was free of the tumor. In the process, he lost all feeling in his face.
"I felt like my face was hanging down to my ankle. And I was having a bad time talking."
And when your job is announcing, that can be a problem.
And there was more trouble on the horizon. In brain surgery, the doctors used fat from Foster's stomach to pack around areas of the brain surgery to help with healing, leaking and cosmetically to fill in for any bone or soft tissue removed to prevent a divot in the patient's head.
Foster's stomach started acting up. He headed to the doctor and while in the waiting room, something inside burst. "There was blood everywhere."
With that setback piggybacked onto his facial numbness and speech problems, Foster was in no shape to work, let alone announce games.
"I didn't know what to do with (Mark Morris) basketball games. So I called Dave Andrew and he and Mike Fowler did all the games," Foster said. "Dave is one of the great guys in the world. He really is. He's a Coug (Washington State University grad) and so am I."
Foster's inability to speak at a normal pace was striking. His attempts at announcing football (with Jerry Treffry) or basketball (with Fowler) were alarming.
"The doctors said it would take three months at least for it to come back. How bad was it? I don't know. I felt like I was slurry words. My face was drooping. People were being nice when they said it wasn't as bad as I thought."
Foster had his doubts.
"At times I wondered how I really sounded. There are times when I'm not keeping up with the game. I can tell. Really tell. And that ticks me off," he said. "My tongue gets twisted and I slur words when I get tired. Now it may take me a few seconds to get out what I am thinking, whereas before it would just pop out."
Foster admits it isn't clear to him if he had speech therapy. "I don't recall if I did. Like I said, some of my memory has gone away," he said. "But I know I can't smile and my left eye doesn't close. My eyesight has been getting worse and I've had some dental problems including six teeth pulled lately. Collateral damage, but I'm not worried about it."
Foster is quick to add he hasn't been flying solo on this trip.
"I would be a mess without my kids (Kelsey Parcel, Emily Foster, Lauren Foster)," he admitted. "As well as my mom (Carol), my brothers (David, Steven), the four grandkids and (his long-time companion) Ann Rothwell."
Five years after the surgery, Foster and KEDO parted ways. "Everyone gets fired in radio," he said with a chuckle.
Foster, now 63, landed at KLOG and MM boys' basketball coach Bill Bakamus and MM football coach Shawn Perkins immediately began the process of moving their games from KEDO to KLOG.
"Bill and Shawn said he (Foster) is our guy, so KLOG president Joel Hanson made it happen," Foster said.
"Vern is a detail guy. He's well-educated in basketball," Bakamus said. "He makes you feel like you're at the game. He has fought through rough times in his life and stayed with his passion. Vern is well-respected and he is great at it. He is as loyal (to Monarch athletics) as they get. He's the best homer."
"So many people were really happy to see me back in my element and the Monarch family has been fantastic. It has always had my back," Foster added.
So how long will this run last?
"I still enjoy it and it makes me feel young. Unless I do something stupid (and get fired), I'll do it for a few more years," he said. "It might be two years, five, six or seven. But not beyond age 70."
Until that time, it is play ball.