Friday, February 8, 2013

Great News!

We went in and met with the Radiation Oncologist today. She had the results of my full body scan. The cancer was only in the brain, so it wasn't anywhere else. This is good. Very good. I will still need to continue to heal from the surgery (and that's going well), and then we will come up with a treatment plan that will include hopefully just localized radiation and easy chemo. The radiation will probably cause headaches and hair loss, but we won't start that until I am well healed from the brain surgery. We will meet with the chemotherapy oncologist on February 14th to talk about what treatment we will want to get started with. 
So because this cancer is my breast cancer again, it had broken off into the blood stream or lymph fluid and hid in the brain before chemo and radiation. And most chemotherapy does not travel to the brain very well at all, so that's why it wasn't wiped out. But since my cancer is HER2 positive, which is treated by the "easy chemo" drug called herceptin that does travel to the brain, I am hoping that we can do the easy chemo right away and not worry too much. 
We will be doing frequent MRIs (at least every couple of months for the first while) to monitor any tumor growth because they don't go in and willey-nilley cut out good brain so they don't go as much as a border as they do when it is just breast tissue (we can totally get along without that, lol).

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

It's Back. Kinda

Where to start… Some of you may know a bit, some may know nothing at all, we have talked to a few and let word trickle out because that was easiest for us. The news is, I just had a brain tumor removed.
It started with intermittent, but persistent headaches in November. I was still functioning just fine and taking ibuprofen when I saw my doctor for a check-up in December. We talked about the fact that headaches are fairly common for me, and I was starting to get ready to work for H&R Block and stress levels and stuff, and figured it was a tension headache. Over Christmas Break I started feeling worse, kind of cotton-headed and tired, and the headache was more persistent. I went in and saw the doctor again and we ran through the gamut of neurological tests (squeeze my fingers, does anything feel tingly, touch your finger from your nose to my finger, etc.). I passed fine and got a couple of tension shots at the base of my skull to see if that would help. It helped the pain on one side, but not the other.   I saw the chiropractor a few times, but that didn’t help. I would go and get a massage and that would help for a few hours. Around New Years, I felt the worst.  So dizzy I was sick. I spoke to my doctor on the phone and he said it was likely an inner ear infection along with the tension headache and to take some over the counter anti-nausea medicine and take it easy for a couple of days. As the dizziness got less, the headache got worse. The pressure built and bending over was a bad idea. I held my head very carefully and tried to move it as little as possible. Towards the end of January, I would work a half day at work and come home and rest. I had a day off on January 24th and was able to get in and see my doctor again. This time they asked if the headaches had woken me up at all. I said yes! Who knew that was a bad sign? That’s when they sent me in for an MRI.
Looking back it seems like we dragged this out, but getting an MRI is not cheap. We didn’t want to come out guns blazing if I was just going to have tension headaches for the rest of my life and just have to deal with them. It was very depressing to not feel like a fully functioning person. Brent and the kids really stepped up with helping out around the house in January.  I took Friday January 25th off and we went in at 7:30 pm for the MRI. After the MRI they had us wait while they tried to contact our doctor, but the one who ordered the test was out of town. They took us to the ER to meet up with the on-call doctor from our clinic so we could discuss what they found.
They found a tumor. It was on the left side in the cerebellum and about the size of a lime or small egg. It was pushing up against the drains for the venous cavity (a balloon like spot in the center of the brain) which made it difficult for the brain fluid in the venous cavity to drain. The radiologist wanted me admitted immediately, because of the pressure.  The neurosurgeon they had called said if I could walk in, I could walk out. The neurosurgeon put me on a high dose of steroids (4 pills a day) and sent me home. My parents took the kids for the weekend, and I became more of a person again as the steroids shrank the swelling, making the headache go away and the cotton-headedness subside.  We just stayed home and chilled all weekend. People at church knew I had been sick and being able to not give any more answer than I had a brain tumor didn’t seem productive and just exhausting.
Monday morning (January 28th) we met with Dr. Bryson Smith, the neurosurgeon. We scheduled the surgery for Thursday. I called into my jobs and told them that I had a tumor and would be having surgery. We went grocery shopping and cleaned house a bit, Brent went to work and wrote sub plans. I took the kids to school on Monday morning and told their teachers.  My mom went on a leave of absence from her work. My little sister Martha, who is single and lives in Michigan, was able to fly out Wednesday night.
The hospital called on Wednesday, we got an early arrival time on Thursday, 6:45 a.m. Having surgery is a LOT of “hurry up and wait”.  We got checked in, I got changed in to my surgical gown, and then they did another MRI (this one was for the computers that were going to guide the surgeons), which all took about 3-4 hours. Dr. Smith shaved a couple of little spots to place markers on my head for the MRI.  It was nice being on an IV and not getting hungry, and I was very glad Brent had found a book reader app for my phone.  We met the nice nurses and the anesthesiologist came and got me a little after noon. By the time they wheeled me to the operating room, I was done. Too much to think about and worry about, and I just started crying and thinking I didn’t want to be there. They were nice and I went to sleep right away.
I woke up after surgery in the ICU. We had a great nurse there, Rob, that was very attentive. I was in pain and they moved my IV so it worked better. I could move my feet and talk right away and that was excellent. I am sure I would have been happy if I hadn’t been so depressed about the whole situation. I was very clingy to Brent and thought about him spending the night in the ICU waiting room (because there wasn’t a place in my room for him to stay). But as the anxiety and anesthesia wore off I was able to be calm again and he was able to go home and sleep in our bed.  Brent stayed by my side and fed me ice chips, which were a blessed distraction.
I stayed in ICU until Friday night and they moved me into a regular room. By then, they just had me on oral pain relievers and a muscle relaxant.  Around that time I had a bowl of chicken soup to eat.
When I moved into the regular room I was able to walk carefully and slowly into the bathroom and back to bed. I didn’t have any real problem with nausea (hooray!!!) and was able to eat as I felt up to it. The doctors came and said the surgery went well, that they did a gross removal of the tumor. Initial pathology looks like it is the breast cancer, but we won’t know for certain until we meet with the doctors this week. The surgery went well, no side effects or need for physical therapy. The way I think of it is as a pushing tumor. So it did not consume or worm its way into different parts, just grew there like a lime. The neurosurgeon said my brain should slowly expand back out to its natural space, and I believe we won’t have any neurological side effects where we haven’t seen any yet.
I was able to come home Sunday afternoon from the hospital. Martha and my mom were both still here with the kids. Martha flew home Monday and Mom went home Tuesday. Brent will take off through Monday, when we visit with the neurosurgeon for the post op.
I have a full body scan scheduled for Thursday morning. This is when we see if there is cancer anywhere else. So we are currently in the “crisis averted, what’s next stage”. We will meet with the radiation oncologist Friday morning and figure that out then. Hopefully we will have the pathology on Friday when we see Dr. Ingersoll (the radiation oncologist), but will definitely have that back by Monday when we meet with Dr. Smith (the neurosurgeon).
The incision seems to be healing well; the surgeon was very nice and only shaved a very small area around the incision, so my hair covers it nicely.  So now we are just taking it easy, a pain pill and a baby step at a time. J