We All Fall Down

Dec 7, 2010 by

We All Fall Down

John’s chemotherapy and radiation treatments were over in six weeks as promised. Three weeks later he started falling apart. Falling down. A lot. At first he could help me get him back if not his feet, and least into a chair. But even that didn’t last long, and then it was just me struggling to lift my big, forever strong and handsome husband up from the floor.John had seizures, many of them, and all he could do was sleep them off the way some ridiculous college binger would sleep off a big weekend. I watched him sleep, sometimes dozing off myself, then waking with a start, afraid that John wouldn’t awaken at all.I took John back to Barrows ahead of schedule and insisted he have a scan done of his brain. The news the scan brought was not good. I hadn’t expected it to be, of course, but I couldn’t always trust my intuition anymore. (Other than from the kids, I wasn’t expecting to see good coming from anything). There were three new spots on John’s brain. In strictly physical terms, small. In medical, and psychological, terms, enormous. The glioma was recurring with remarkable speed. The cerebellum, where your physical coordination comes from, was the site of one of the new spots. That explained a lot. His motor skills were shot. The falling wasn’t just weakness from the weeks of chemo and radiation. This was not something he would get over with time and rest.The implantation of a Gliadel wafer was brought up now. Of course it would mean going into what should be no man’s land—John’s brain—once again. It was, in the most generous terms, a stopgap measure, one that might add some time to John’s physical life, but would not in any way ensure any quality of life. And the side effects, as mentioned before, seemed almost more dreadful than the treatment.We chose home instead.

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©2010 Catherine Graves

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The Ugliest Word in the World

Oct 1, 2010 by

The Ugliest Word in the World

Glioma is a word ugly enough to make you wish your mouth and tongue couldn’t make the motions necessary to say it. Glioma. Or more exactly, and more to the point, Glioblastoma multiforme. On a list of things you would ban from this world, brain tumors—particularly this type of sinister, aggressive, cancerous growth—would have to be near the top of the list. Even if you are the ultimate misanthrope; even if you hate dogs (which are also strangely susceptible to this particularly horrible disease). It was also exactly what John was diagnosed as having.These devastating brain tumors are relatively rare (fewer than twenty thousand are diagnosed annually in the United States), unpredictable (there are no blood tests, no genetic test nor marker that can predict who will develop Glioma; there appears to be no hereditary component to it either), and always incurable (though there are different treatment regimens that can extend the life of a patient, the commutation of that grim sentence generally lasts no more than ten to sixteen months).The warning signs of glioma mirror so many other physical and psychological disorders that a tumor—and this particular tumor— is one of the last things anyone would blame. Symptoms include headaches, confusion, seizures, nausea, arm and/or leg numbness, personality changes. But, as was the case with John, he never talked about any “symptoms” as such; he complained that his eyes hurt one time and never mentioned it again. The confusion and personality changes, I took as “symptoms” of something very different, as did behavioral specialists. Another significant problem with diagnosing gliomas is that they frequently produce no symptoms until they get to a relatively huge size.

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©2010 Catherine Graves

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