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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