Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I Had A Tumor

I am in nurse in the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit) at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.  I finished the Angeles Crest 100 mile race early in the morning on July 22nd.  Three days later I was at work, caring for a child who was severely injured and required an MRI of his brain and spine.  While the MRI was in progress a technician mentioned to me that our hospital recently purchased a new MRI machine, and that they were asking staff to volunteer to test it out.  They had to run some volunteers through it to fine tune some things before sending patients through it.  Free MRI?  Sounded great.

I came back on my lunch break and had the MRI done.  When I came out the technician had a worrisome look on his face and he pointed to the screen.  An image of my brain, with a huge lump of something where it didn't belong.

Do you see it?

How about now?

Yikes.  I knew this wasn't good.  Up on the top of my brain, looked like a tumor, or maybe an old bleed I thought optimistically, considering the fair amount of times I've banged my head while playing sports over the years.

Through the help of Dr. Powell, a family friend and brilliant physician, I was seen at City of Hope by Dr. Badie who ended up being my neurosurgeon.  He and his team, including Roger, NP and Rosalind, PA, were and continue to be amazing.  My surgery couldn't have gone smoother.  It only took the team an hour and a half to knock me out, remove the tumor - which was attached to a huge vein, and put me back together.

Dr. Badie I presume, holding my tumor.  Skull cut open, brain tissue looking good.
Going into the surgery I was under the assumption that my tumor was most likely a meningioma, which are very common and not cancerous 90% of the time.  Upon awaking after surgery and coming to, I was informed that they were surprised upon digging it out to find that it was not a meningioma, but instead a chondroma or possibly a chondrosarcoma, both of which are very rarely found in the brain.  How rare?  They make up 0.16% of brain tumors.

In the ICU with my good luck charm 'Little Frank.'  Thanks Megan =)

After surgery I was wheeled into my ICU room, where I was cared for by an amazing nurse, Bonnie, then Shay, my stellar night nurse.  The next night I was moved to the regular floor.  The following morning I was preparing to be discharged home when Dr. Badie entered my room with the news that the preliminary diagnosis of my tumor was in, and that it was in fact a cancerous tumor, and a fairly aggressive one at that.  Yikes.

Fortunately, he and Dr. Powell advised that I obtain a second opinion on the pathology of the tumor, from a facility with specialists who are familiar with these extremely rare tumors.  About a month passed between me hearing that my tumor was cancerous and my consultation with the doctor at another facility, UCLA.  Within this month I was preparing for radiation, telling friends and family the news - I had had cancer, I need radiation.

My imagination would occasionally run wild when I thought about my future.  When Elissa and I sat down with the doctor at UCLA and heard him tell us that they were quite certain that the tumor was not cancerous I was very surprised.  I didn't know what to think.  It took me awhile to realize that this was the best news I could have heard.  A week later, the 3rd "tie breaker" opinion came in from the Mayo Clinic, also considering my tumor to be a non-cancerous chondroma.  What a relief.  I no longer need radiation, in fact it could potentially turn any left over non-cancerous tumor cells into cancerous cells.  Glad I got a second opinion!

It took me a long time to write this.  So much has happened since I first saw that lump in my brain on the computer screen that I found it nearly impossible to write a semi-short blog about it.  There are thousands of details that I had to sort through.  Writing this brief synopsis of my journey over the last three months was difficult.  In order to make the story short and sweet I omitted thousands of important facts.  Stories of my wife, Elissa, my parents (it doesn't hurt to have a mother with decades of nursing experience when you're sick),  my in-laws, my brother and his girlfriend Vanessa, all of my aunts, uncles, cousins, co-workers, friends, cancer survivors, and others spending countless hours of there time and energy helping me out in my time of need.

Brain Tumor Fundraiser Walk last Sunday

Last Sunday my wife and co-workers surprised me by making team shirts with "Team Ultrarunner RN" shirts and completing the Brain Tumor walk with me.  I really have the best co-workers, managers included, in the whole world.  I am so proud to be an RN in the PICU at CHLA.

To all of those who have checked in with me, taken me out to eat, sent me cards, etc.  Thank you.  I have been overwhelmed with support, making it a little difficult to show my appreciation to everyone who has been there for me.  Just in case I have not been able to get back to you, or meet up with you yet does not mean that I don't appreciate you kindness.  Thanks for everything.