April 26th of 2009 I had my first recognized seizure, while not a grand mal seizure. It was still pretty scary. After some back and forth with my doctors a CT scan was finally ordered. As I was coming out of the CT machine a Doctor looked down at me and said, "I don't want to scare you but, you have a large aggressive mass on the right side of your brain." Don't want to scare me huh? Yeah ok, no big deal...at the time I was the mother of a 5 year old little boy. I don't have time for this nonsense! "Ok, well what are we going to do about it?" Being that this was done at a Navy facility they didn't have the resources to handle my case. So they tossed me in an ambulance and sent me off to Savannah GA. Long story short, Doctors in Savannah confirmed the presence of a large tumor and declared it inoperable. Off to MUSC in Charleston, SC. There a surgeon said he was pretty sure that he could get "Eehh, maybe 25% with a high risk of physical deficits" Um, hard pass. Thanks.
Its at this point things start to get a little fuzzy for me. My mom, with the help of her super brainy Doctor and nurse friends, did some research and came upon Dr. Allan H. Friedman, co-director of Duke's Brain Tumor Center in Raleigh NC. Dr. Friedman had successfully operated on then Senator Edward Kennedy. After a brief battle with my insurance company, a referral was placed and we were headed for Duke!
I can't recall how many MRIs I had there but it seems like there were several before we met with the Doctor. Upon meeting with Dr. Friedman he assured us that he was absolutely certain he could get at least 60% of my tumor. Followed up with radiation and chemotherapy to kill the remaining tumor. We scheduled my surgery ASAP, within two weeks we were headed back to Duke. This time for surgery. If I remember correctly(which I'm probably not), my surgery lasted approximately 8 hours and required 3 units of blood. Dr. Friedman successfully removed 64% of the tumor that pathology then confirmed was an Anaplastic Astrocytoma. AKA, a really nasty tumor. If you're out to catch a nasty form of cancer, this is the one to catch. After recovering from surgery I began a 5 day a week, 6 week radiation treatment plan in addition to a year long oral chemotherapy regimen. Fast forward to September of 2010, my family and I piled into our mini-van to make the 3 hour trip to Duke for my regular check up. At this visit Dr. Vredenburg informed us that my scans had been stable long enough to safely say that I was "as cancer free as someone with your diagnosis gets."
Today it has been nearly 10 years and I've had nothing but stable scans which only show expected changes given my treatments. I'll never be in the clear and I still have significant cognitive deficits but I'm alive and have a pretty darn good quality of life! I thank God for getting us to Duke and seeing me through surgery and treatments. Had we chosen another hospital, the likelihood of my survival, with minimal deficits would not have been what it was at Duke. Duke's Brain Tumor Center is constantly at work studying and developing new and more effective ways to treat the many different types of brain cancer. Unfortunately, none of this is cheap. So today I'm asking my friends and family to donate as little or as much as you're able towards this cause! Not only is Duke leading the way in brain tumor/cancer research, through donations they're able to offer their patients and survivors grants and scholarships to help us continue living our lives to the fullest! Please consider donating any amount towards this cause that means so very much to myself and my family!
Or, if you're within driving distance of Duke, consider running the Angels Among Us 5k this year! I, along with my mom, oldest son, aunt and cousin all ran last year. Its a great time and excellent opportunity to meet other survivors, those who are still going through treatment and learn so much more about how Duke is providing the best treatment options for people like myself.