Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Phone Calls, Comfort Food, and the Big Picture

I wasn't comfortable with the news myself yet, but I had to bite the bullet and make some awkward and emotional phone calls. I started with my boss. "I'm sorry...but I think I have to take some time off," I remember saying. I called my roommate at school and asked if she would mind keeping an eye on my cat for the next couple of days. Finally, I needed to let my teachers know that I would not be in class on Friday. Thinking about school completely overwhelmed me. My primary doctor had made it sound like I would probably be in surgery by Monday morning...what about the rest of my semester? I had to tell them something...But what should I tell them? I barely know these people, I thought. Should I be telling them all of this? After writing and rewriting, this is the email I came up with:

Hi there-
So, I got some pretty upsetting news today :(
I got a CT Scan and an MRI this morning at the hospital in Woodland in the hopes of figuring out what has been causing my dizzy spells. I met with the doctor this afternoon and it turns out they are actually peti mal seizures caused by a tumor near my optic nerve in my brain. I am scheduled to see the neurosurgeon tomorrow at 1:30pm in Marysville. I will know more after tomorrow but my primary care doctor warned me that surgery and recovery will be a long process and that I may have to take a leave of abscence from school. I'm still digesting the news but I hope to still be in class on Tuesday depending on what the doctor says tomorrow. 

It had been an exhausting day. Before we got the news about my brain my mom had received a phone call from Arkansas informing her that one of her closest uncles had been killed in a car accident. She had spent hours on the phone already, and now she had to call all of these people back with another update. Needless to say, none of us were in the mood to cook we went out instead! My parents asked me where I wanted to go, as if it were a special occasion, and I quickly chose my favorite barbecue restaurant. I had been on a strict "no flour, no sugar" diet for the past month and I decided to give myself the day off. My day off included gigantic onion rings, a juicy tri-tip sandwich with extra bbq sauce and an ice-cold soda to wash it all down. I have always been an emotional eater and that day was no exception.When we finished, the three of us sat around the red and white checked tablecloth, momentarily satisfied with the simple pleasure of a full stomach.

As we sat there talking about how to get to the neurosurgeon's office the next day, the waitress, a neighbor of our's who I've known since junior high, came by our table. I glanced at my mom to see what she would do. I hadn't thought about seeing anyone I knew that day and it suddenly occurred to me that my mom might tell her what was going on. My mom has always been an upfront kind-of person, and I have always admired that quality about her. And true to form, as the waitress began to take our plates my mom set in to give her my diagnosis. Usually I would be irritated that my mom hadn't bothered to ask my permission but in this case I was just tired. She means well, I told myself and smiled up at the waitress.

Amazingly enough, my mother and I both slept well that night. But I when I woke the next morning I felt just as anxious as I had the day before. As we left the house for the appointment in Marysville, I decided to throw my digital voice recorder in my purse and I'm glad I did. My mom brought a small notebook to take notes and all she wrote down was "astrocytoma" the entire appointment.

(I apologize for the paraphrasing in the next portion of the post but my knowledge of medical terminology is still very limited...I'm learning!) 

The doctor shook our hands and invited us into an exam room while he sat at a computer looking at my MRI. He scrolled through my brain scan as if it were the tenth one he had seen that day. He stopped on an image with contrast and circled a large white mass with his finger, and said that it was possible that the area could be swelling from a smaller tumor. But after looking at the rest of my scan, and based on his years of experience, he thought that the entire white mass was a tumor. He pointed to a smaller, slightly darker, area within the tumor, and said he would like to watch this area. "Areas that take on more contrast are generally faster growing," he said. He wanted to hear all about my seizures, and he laughed when I handed him my detailed notes. We discussed my previous medical history, specifically my migraine headaches. During the onset of my very first migraine I lost all vision in my left eye for thirty minutes before I experienced any pain. My dad took me to the emergency room and I was given a CAT scan. That scan was taken five years ago and there was nothing abnormal about it.

After he had finished writing his notes in my file, he began a brief examination. He checked the sensitivity in my cheeks, right versus left, by poking both sides with the end of a safety pin. The prick was considerably more painful in my right cheek. He also gave me a quick vision test. He had me stare at his nose while I followed the red cap of a ball point pen. When the pen was at the top left of my field of peripheral vision it was bright red but as he lowered it to the bottom left, it became almost gray in color. I was surprised. How did I not notice that before? This lack of color saturation is due to my new little friend who had taken up residence in my brain.

He had looked at the scan, talked to me about my seizures, and now he had poked me in the face. It was time for the moment of truth: what did it all mean?? He calmly explained that the tumor needed to come out and it was in fact operable because of it's location. He felt comfortable saying it was some kind of astrocytoma and did not think it was cancerous, but he would not truly know what it was until he "got in there." I don't want to think about how he's going to get in there right now, I thought. He did offer me the option of a biopsy, but he assured me that regardless of what kind of tumor it was, it would need to come out.

I'm not sure who did, but one of us asked, "So where do we go from here?"

He wanted to wait a month, get another MRI and decide what to do from there. If the tumor had grown at all after a month, meaning it was growing quickly, I would have to go in for surgery right away. If it was the same size, I would be able to wait until my Christmas break from school to have it removed. No matter when I had the surgery there were major risks. I could possibly lose all peripheral vision in my left eye, making it very difficult to read music and all of the normal risks that come with any surgery. He restricted me from driving and kept me on the anti-seizure medication my primary care doctor had prescribed the previous day.

I shook his hand again as we left, and got into the my parents car with a sigh a relief. Nothing had been solved or even really decided...but the future wasn't completely uncertain. I grasped onto what little we did know about my situation and tried to give all of my worries to the Lord. This is all part of your plan, Lord, I believe that. Not really sure how it all fits into the big picture...but I'm always more concerned with the details, aren't I?? 

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