Did You Say An Inoperable Brain Tumor?

Carol Rood

By Carol Rood

BrainStem

You can never be exactly sure about what is going on inside your body.  Well, there are the obvious things, like hunger pains and gas…. but beyond that, it is impossible to really have a clear picture of how healthy our organs are, or how our blood looks, or exactly how things are functioning.  Of course we know when they STOP functioning, but what about when things are “okay”, but maybe not perfect?

For example, what if your lungs had some spots that were unhealthy because when you were younger you decided to cave to peer pressure and smoked cigarettes for 15+years? (I am talking about a friend here….duh.) Or if you decided to smoke marijuana a couple of times just to “check it out” (ummmm duh, a friend again)? Or maybe you even might have tried something harder once (FRIEND…OKAY?? Sheesh!).  We can’t look into our bodies and see what kind of damage these choices may have caused.

What about the people who have illnesses due to no fault of their own, but just because it is that way for them?  What about time bombs that are just ticking away, like cancer, or heart disease, high cholesterol, or a stroke.  Just waiting until your guard is down to strike and cause havoc in your life and those of your loved ones.  Too bad we can’t have some sort of see-through window that doctors can use to determine what might happen to us and our bodies, so we can prepare.

My point is  that we never know what is going on inside us.  Maybe that is a good thing, maybe not.

About four years ago Bluebell began having headaches.  Every day.  All day.  They were worse if she coughed, or sneezed, or bent over to tie her shoes.  I made her go to the Primary Care doctor.  They sent her to a neurologist.  He ordered an MRI.  We were called back to the Primary Care doctor.  She brought us in, and told us she did not know what was causing Bluebell’s headaches, but they had found a “tumor” in her brain while they were doing the MRI, and Bluebell would be sent to a Neurosurgeon for evaluation.

Then the Neurosurgery appointments began.  MRI’s, Cat Scans, discussions.  This was in December of 2009.  Bluebell was diagnosed with a Meningioma (benign tumor of the meninges), which was sitting right next to her brainstem in a very bad (inoperable) spot.  She had an amazing Neurosurgeon at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital: Dr. Piccarilli.  Dr. P. is a super smart lady, and told Bluebell that it was a very small (millimeters) tumor and we were simply going to watch it for a while.  Get MRI’s annually and see what it does.

I was shocked! Really??

A tumor?

In an inoperable spot right next to her brainstem?

Only Bluebell could have this kind of luck.  We often joke that when God created her, He mixed up lots of different kinds of health issues, and tossed them into her DNA, just to see how she could handle it.  We had already been through eye surgery, cervical cancer, a radical hysterectomy, benign thyroid tumor, lymphedema from the hysterectomy, a stapedectomy to correct her deteriorating ear bone…

I mean…really?

So we did what we assumed everyone does in that situation.

We named the tumor.

Calvin.

He became her scapegoat.  Any time she did something and we got into an argument she said “Oops, must be Calvin.”  If she forgot something she would say, “thanks a lot Calvin.”  Poor Calvin. Blamed for all Bluebell’s difficulties.  I almost felt bad for the poor little millimeter of tissue….except that he parked himself right next to Bluebell’s brainstem (which is, incidentally a VITAL organ).

Bluebell's looks like this only hers is a bit smaller.  Not encroaching on the brainstem
 

Time went on and Bluebell continued to see Dr P.  After a year, Dr P decided that Calvin had grown just a smidge, and it was time for Bluebell to see someone else about Calvin.  A neurosurgeon who specialized in a particular procedure that could help either reduce Calvin’s size, or stop him from growing.  So she sent us to see a doctor at Riverside Hospital in Newport News named Dr Lesnick.  He is a surgeon who specializes in a procedure called Gamma Knife Radiation. 

For the procedure, Bluebell was given a twilight anesthesia cocktail which means she wouldn’t feel anything but would be alert enough to answer questions and respond to directions.  However, she wouldn’t remember anything, so of course I took advantage of that!

They had to put a contraption on her head called a “halo”.  Then they buckle this helmet thing on in the machine and use a computer to pinpoint exactly where the radiation is to go.

 

Bluebell in hospital bed with halo on.
Bluebell in hospital bed with halo on.

To hold the halo in place so it won’t move they actually screw in into your skin in four  places.  Two on the forehead and two in the back of the scalp.  Hence the anesthesia.

left side of forehead
 

It was pretty much an all day procedure.  All went as well as expected, and she was scheduled for a follow up visit in 6 months to do another MRI to see if Calvin was affected by the Gamma Knife.

The follow up MRI showed that Calvin had not grown, but he had not gotten smaller either.  Still, Dr. Lesnick was very hopeful the procedure had worked.

So now Bluebell goes in every year to have an MRI done to see how her tumor is doing.  In May it will be time for her annual visit to check on Calvin.  Since she remains asymptomatic, I feel pretty confident the Gamma Knife stopped him in his tracks.

I will say that one of the most touching moments I had during this entire situation was during a visit with Dr Lesnick.  I told him how grateful I was that a doctor of his prominence made this procedure available to those of us who use government healthcare insurance (Tricare) because I know Tricare does not reimburse doctors very well.  He responded it was the least he could do to honor people who served in the military!  Brought tears to my eyes!

I guess the moral of the story is that you never know what life will throw your way, and in the big picture we just do the best we can and keep marching forward to face the challenges head on. Literally, in Bluebell’s case.

So, because he is in a place that no surgeon can get to, Calvin is here to stay.  He is a part of our life, and he is going to remain right where he is.

The post Did You Say An Inoperable Brain Tumor? appeared first on The Next Family.

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