Blessed with a New Outlook

Actor Mark Ruffalo dreamed he had a brain tumor, but he had no idea that growth would be a gift.

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Actor Mark Ruffalo found a growth in his head to be a blessing in disguise.

Have you ever had a dream that seemed more vivid than reality? Actor Mark Ruffalo did, in 2001. A dream that something was growing inside his head, slowly killing him. He awoke in tears. He’d had no headaches, blurred vision or other suspicious symptoms. Yet the dream convinced him he had a brain tumor.

After years of scraping by in Hollywood, he’d landed a plum role in a movie. The New York Times had lauded his performance. He and his wife, Sunrise, had just had their first child, Keen. Mark was shooting his current movie with his idol, Robert Redford. At age 34, how could he have a brain tumor?


Mark told the set doctor about his disturbing dream. She was predictably skeptical, but sent him for a CAT scan to humor him. Incredibly, it revealed a benign mass on his facial nerve. Surgery was unavoidable, with a substantial risk that the left side of his face could be permanently paralyzed.

Mark began to plead with God. Don’t take my face, don’t take my life. I need to support my family.

The operation removed the tumor—but facial paralysis did set in. Mark withdrew to rural Upstate New York with his wife and newborn, fearful his acting days were over. It was there that God reached out again. Mark was on a solitary walk when he heard a voice whisper, Keep moving.


Those words became his mantra as he focused on his future—as a husband and father. He laughed when Keen imitated his half-frozen smile. His relationship with Sunrise deepened.

Months later, he looked in the mirror and saw a twitch on the left side of his face. Before long, he had fully recovered. “Everything that seemed a curse was really the best possible thing, even my tumor,” Mark told Parade magazine. “I had a whole year with my son and wife, every waking hour. I wouldn’t give any of it back.”

Mark’s friends call it “getting Ruffaloed”—when a setback is a leap forward in disguise. We call it Mysterious Ways.

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