Audit Lessons from a Brain Tumor

By Charles Hall | Auditing

May 20

Did you know you can learn audit lessons from a brain tumor? Here’s my story.

One day while driving, I said to my wife, “Am I weaving?” I did not feel in control, and I was hearing clicking noises in my ears. My conditions worsened and the mystery grew over the next two years as I visited three doctors. They stuck, prodded, and probed me, but no solution.


Audit Lessons from a Brain Tumor

As time passed, I felt a growing numbness on the right side of my face. So one night I started Googling health websites (the thing they tell you not to do) and came upon this link: Acoustic Neuroma Association. I clicked and read, having never heard of an acoustic neuroma. While reading about the symptoms, it was as though I was staring at my diary. My next thought was “it can’t be a brain tumor.” I turned to my wife behind me and said, “this is what I have.”

The next day I handed the acoustic neuroma information to my doctor, asking, “Would you please order a brain scan?”

Two days after the MRI, I received my doctor’s call while on a golf course. He said, “Mr. Hall, you were right. You have a 2.3-centimeter brain tumor.” (I sent him a bill for my diagnosis, but was never paid–just kidding.) My golfing buddies gathered around and prayed for me on the 17th green, and I went home to break the news to my wife. We had two children at the time, ages two and four. Having just started my own CPA business six years before, I was forty-one years old. So, as you can imagine, I was concerned about my family and business, but strangely, I was completely at peace.

Shortly after that, I was in a surgeon’s office in Atlanta. The doctor said they’d do a ten-hour operation; there was a 40% chance of paralysis and a 5% chance of death. The tumor was too large for radiation–or so I was told.

I didn’t like the odds, so I prayed more and went back to the Internet. There I located Dr. Jeffrey Williams at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. I emailed the good doctor, telling him of the tumor’s size. His response: “I radiate tumors like yours every day.” He was a pioneer in fractionated stereotactic radiation, one of the few physicians in the world (at that time) using this procedure.

A few days later, I’m lying on an operating table in Baltimore with my head bolted down, ready for radiation. They bolt you down to ensure the cooking of the tumor (and not your brain). Fun, you should try it. Four more times I visited the table, and I kept noticing everyone left the room–a sure sign you should not try this at home.

Each day I laid there silently, talking to God and trusting in Him. And my wife sat outside, lifting me up in prayer.

Three weeks later I returned to work. Twenty-two years later, I have had two sick days.

I’ve watched my children grow up. They are twenty-six and twenty-eight now–both finished college at the University of Georgia (Go Dawgs!). And a year and a half ago, my daughter had our first grandchild. My wife is still by my side, and I’m thankful for each day. Here’s a recent picture of my family at one of our favorite places: Cades Cove, Tennessee.

So what does a brain tumor story tell us about audits? (You may, at this point, be thinking, “they did cook his brain.”)

Audit Lessons Learned from a Brain Tumor

1. Pay Attention to Signs

It’s easy to overlook the obvious. Maybe we don’t want to see a red flag (I didn’t want to believe I had a tumor). It might slow us down. But an audit is not purely about finishing and billing. It’s about gathering proper evidential matter to support the opinion. To do less is delinquent and dangerous.

2. Seek Alternatives

If you can’t gain appropriate audit evidence one way, seek another. Don’t simply push forward, using the same procedures year after year. The doctor in Atlanta was a surgeon, so his solution was surgery. His answer was based on his tools, his normal procedures. If you’ve always used a hammer, try a wrench.

3. Seek Counsel

If one answer doesn’t ring true, see what someone else thinks, maybe even someone outside your firm. Obviously, you need to make sure your engagement partner agrees (about seeking outside guidance), but if he or she does, go for it. I often contact the Center for Plain English AccountingI find them helpful and knowledgeable. I also have relationships with other professionals, so I call friends and ask their opinions–and they call me. Check your pride at the door. I’d rather look dumb and be right than to look smart and be wrong.

4. Embrace Change

Fractionated stereotactic radiation was new. Dr. Williams was a pioneer in the technique. The only way your audit processes will get better is to try new techniques: paperless software (we use CCH Prosystem Engagement), data mining (we use TeamMate Analytics), real fraud inquiries (I use ACFE techniques), electronic bank confirmations (I use, project management software (I use Basecamp). If you are still pushing a Pentel on a four-column, it’s time to change.


Finally, remember that work is important, but life itself is the best gift. Be thankful for each moment, each hour, each day. 


About the Author

Charles Hall is a practicing CPA and Certified Fraud Examiner. For the last thirty-five years, he has primarily audited governments, nonprofits, and small businesses. He is the author of The Little Book of Local Government Fraud Prevention, The Why and How of Auditing, Audit Risk Assessment Made Easy, and Preparation of Financial Statements & Compilation Engagements. He frequently speaks at continuing education events. Charles consults with other CPA firms, assisting them with auditing and accounting issues.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Glad you enjoyed this, Amanda. And yes, I’m glad I’m still alive and kicking. I have had trying times in public accounting, but it is a world of opportunity and variety. I hope your future goes well.

  • Amanda says:

    I came upon this article while reading your article of lessons learned in public accounting. I’m now back in public accounting after being absent for almost 15 years working in corporate accounting, primarily with one company, but a couple of others, as well. I thought I needed some refreshers and resources on time/client management, while staying engaged with hot topics. However, while reading that article I saw your reference to this article and found it ironic, because I too suffered a large brain tumor (and resection), followed by radiation, last spring, summer and fall. I have never seen this site, but just in reading those 2 articles, I’m hooked and plan to stay more engaged with it. I’m glad to see that the tumor didn’t hold you back and am encouraged with your 22-years post-radiation as hope that I will see that many years (and then some) for mine!

  • Charles Hall says:

    Me too, Justin, though it does feel that way sometimes. 🙂

  • Justin says:

    Solid advice, glad your brain is not toast!

  • Charles Hall says:

    Thanks, Linda. Glad you liked it.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Thanks, Renee!

  • Charles Hall says:

    Normi, that’s a great verse. I do give thanks to the Lord!

  • Charles Hall says:

    David, I am glad we share in faith (not so sure about the tumors :)) I hope you are doing well.

  • Charles Hall says:

    Marcin, I appreciate your kind words. I’m glad you’ve found my books and articles useful. God bless you there in Poland. I wish you great success in the days ahead.

  • Marcin says:

    The story is great. I read CPA-Hall-Talk for a few years. I bought Charles’s books. What I can say – he is amazing. I’m CPA in Poland and belive me, he is my best teacher in audit area. Thank you Charles and God bless you !!!

  • David Howell, CPA says:

    Charles. You and I share many things in common including tumors and faith. Thank you for your inspiring testimony.

  • normi says:

    Thank you for sharing
    Psalm 9:1
    “I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.”

  • Linda says:

    What an awesome lesson!! Not just for auditing but for life!

  • Renee says:

    Amazing story! And good advice too.

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