Thursday, August 27, 2009

From the beginning

Apparently, I will go to ridiculous lengths to avoid work. First I blew out my achilles tendon a week before school started and had surgery scheduled. But that was not good enough. I added a golf ball size tumor in my left temporal lobe to ensure I would miss much of the semester.

Let me fill you in. In June of this year, I had a sudden loud ringing in my right ear and became disoriented. It faded in less than a minute. The next day it occurred again but also with numbness only on my right side, like my arm and leg were asleep, but I could move them normally. I looked at the product info for an antibiotic I was taking for flu symptoms and saw that ear ringing and numbness were possible side effects, so we thought that was the source. Much milder forms of these (what we now know are) seizures continued through the summer, never more than two a day and always less than a minute in duration. I never lost consciousness, and could carry on conversations throughout. Often they were barely noticeable. So we didn’t think much of them.

In early August, we decided to see the doctor for routine check-ups. I told him about the symptoms and he referred me to a specialist. The following Friday, we went to the neurologist (on crutches due to a torn Achilles tendon…more on that later). He seemed perplexed when I described the symptoms. He scheduled an EEG and MRI for Monday, expecting they would be inconclusive. But after the techs reviewed the MRI, they sent me immediately back to the neurologist. He broke the news to us that I have a golf ball size mass in my left temporal lobe. The neurologist seemed to be as surprised as we were. He prescribed anti-seizure medication to control the seizures and referred me to a neurosurgeon.

Marcie and I were taken aback. This is a pretty heavy load. Lots of questions and fears—some rational, some not, but we didn’t necessarily know which was which at first. We had to wait four more days to meet with the neurosurgeon. We both went through stages of fear, acceptance, and resolve. I am pretty laid back but this was a tough week emotionally and spiritually. And it did NOT help that Ted Kennedy died of brain cancer the same week!

Meeting the neurosurgeon. We were very pleased with the confidence and competence of the surgeon. He put us at ease and explained plainly and directly that:
1. I do have a tumor.
2. It is the size of a golf ball.
3. It is located in the insula, a region in the left temporal lobe.
4. It appears to be a grade 1 or grade 2 (low threat), primary tumor (meaning it originated in the brain).
5. Because of its size and location, it needs to come out.

The neurosurgeon acknowledges that brain surgery by definition is difficult, but this is more straight forward than other brain surgeries. There are risks as with any surgery of course. The temporal lobe, the home of my golf ball, controls language. Some of the more likely complications specific to this part of the brain include effects on speech and receptive language. I will see a speech therapist after the surgery who will determine the extent of impact on my speech and begin rehabilitation if necessary. The neurosurgeon said to be prepared to be out of work for a few months.

Best case: Hopefully, this tumor originated in the brain (primary) and is benign (grade 1), and they will get it all out. If they cannot get it all out, or if it is grade 2 (low threat, but could develop into a more serious grade 4 tumor), additional treatment may be necessary in the short or long term. We will know more after the surgery.

Marcie's brother, a physician in Kansas City, helped us secure a second opinion. It concurred with the first.

The surgery is scheduled for Monday, September 21. I will take the week prior to the surgery off work. I will spend parts of three days in pre-op tests and making other preparations. I will try to spend the rest of the time relaxing (as much as possible). We are confident the surgery will go well, and that we are on the road to a full recovery.

We bought some very stylish hats for me to wear post op. I always wanted a fedora!

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