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Brain cancer: A dream come true

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constance with family blog post image.JPGBy Constance Blanchard

"Unfortunately, it appears the tumor has returned."

Those were the first words the emergency room doctor said after seeing my CT scans. My husband's face dropped.

 "How can that be? I must be dreaming. It's only been nine months since my craniotomy." Those are the words I wanted to say, but struggled to get out. 

I was having seizure after seizure with barely a five-minute break in between.

The emergency room nurses were giving me anticonvulsants intravenously, trying to get my seizures to stop. Eventually, my seizing stopped. I was so exhausted, I fell right asleep.

I was still not ready to digest the news. My brain tumor, a glioblastoma multiforme, had returned less than five months since my radiation therapy ended and within the first year of my chemotherapy treatment.

I needed the best in the business
By the next morning, my local oncologist, a very caring and sincere doctor, had already started writing his referral to MD Anderson. All he needed was my consent.

My husband and I said yes at the exact same time. There was no time for hesitation, not this time around. My daughter was only two, and I was just getting started with life.

I needed the best in the business, and everyone knows that is MD Anderson.

MD Anderson is a home away from home  

Within a few days, I received a phone call to schedule an appointment for scans and an initial consultation.
MD Anderson was already exceeding my expectations by taking care of me so quickly. It still felt like a dream, though, and I was waiting for someone to wake me up.

The reality was that I was heading to Houston. Luckily, I have family just northwest of the city, who welcomed me into their home. In fact, they were prepared to have me stay with them as long as I needed -- months on end, no questions asked.

When I walked through the doors off Holcombe Boulevard, I was amazed. It felt nothing like the hospitals I had visited before. In fact, it felt nothing like a hospital at all.

The entire atmosphere was calming - beautiful aquariums, fountains two stories high, lush gardens both inside and out. Now, I really thought I was dreaming. Everywhere I turned there was a kind, smiling face. The whole place felt like a warm blanket, and I felt at home.

A confident neurosurgeon and care team
On February 8, 2010, I met with neurosurgeon Sujit Prabhu, M.D. There are many wonderful things I could say about Dr. Prabhu, but his most important characteristic is confidence. During our visit there was an overwhelming amount of assuredness in his voice about his skills as a doctor. 

Dr. Prabhu gave me a couple of options for when he could perform my surgery, one of which was the very next day.

Like I said before, I had no time for hesitation. Waiting only gave me more time to worry. So, I scheduled my craniotomy for the next morning. Believe it or not, I actually felt enthusiastic about my brain surgery.

My surgery was performed in MD Anderson's state-of-the-art Brainsuite. Just before my surgery, I was given a glimpse into the operating room. The outer room was brimming with so much positivity that I couldn't stop smiling and laughing. Was I actually having fun before brain surgery? This had to be some kind of dream.

The nurses' and anesthesiologist's confident attitudes were infectious. Everyone around me felt like cheerleaders at the big game. They were rooting for their star quarterback, Dr. Prabhu, to make the game winning play, my craniotomy.

A dream comes true

That was over three years ago, but it feels like yesterday. I'm happy, healthy and enjoying my life as a mother, wife, sister, daughter and friend. I'm proud to say that I'm cancer-free.

I still get regular MRIs, but I enjoy making the trip to Houston to visit family - not only my aunts and uncles, but my
MD Anderson family as well.

Those of you who have experienced cancer can understand how it all feels very surreal. Every time I walk into
MD Anderson, I'm bursting again with the positive energy I felt from the moment I first stepped foot into the lobby. To sum up my entire experience at MD Anderson, it's a dream come true.

3 Comments

Hi Constance, thanks for sharing your story. I
am so happy to hear that you are cancer free.
My sister had her craniotomy in March and is now in her 3rd week of chemo/ radiation treatment for a stage 4 GBM. Although we
would have liked for her to have the surgery
done at MDACC it was not possible for a
variety of reasons. Would you mind sharing
more information regarding your initial
diagnosis, the % of tumor removed, your
treatment plan, etc. We have been told,
just as you experienced, that on average the
tumor will return within the first year. What are
your personal thoughts on why the 2nd
craniotomy was successful? The skill of the
surgeons at MDACC? We've been told it is
impossible to remove all of the cancer cells
in these type tumors. Do you attribute your
3 years of being cancer free to the follow up
treatment you received as well as the surgery?
What was the treatment protocol following the
2nd surgery? No doubt, you understand the
emotional roller coaster our family is on and
how desperately we are seeking answers to
decide "what to do next". We are trying to
remain positive but we know realistically that
the stats are not on our side. I appreciate any
information you can share with me. Again, I am
so happy for you and your beautiful family.
God Bless You.

I'm soooo sorry I never responded to your message. I just came across it. I'm terribly sorry to hear about your sister. My first craniotomy was done in Thibodaux,LA. The surgeons there did the best they could at resection of the tumor. They believed they removed all of the tumor, so percent wise I'd say they assumed 99%. I went through radiation and chemotherapy (pill form called Temodar). In January of 2010 I had my seizure I described in the article. I immediately went to MD Anderson. As you read I was in the BrainSuite which gives the surgeons the ability to take MRI's throughout the surgery to get the best possible chance at removal of the whole tumor. The skill of Dr.Prabhu along with this technology was exactly what I think has kept me cancer free for all of this time. As for the protocall of treatment. I was put on biweekly Temodar and 90mg of Accutane for an entire year. Please if you have any other questions do not hesitate to ask! Sorry for the delay again! God Bless!!

Hi Constance,
My name is Carol. 9 years ago (I was 19 at the time) I was diagnosed with grade IV GBM. I had a very large tumor. I was referred to MDACC and within a few days I had my surgery. After that I did radiation and took part in a clinical trial chemo that is now being called Tarceva. I believe it is being used to treat patients with lung cancer. I started to go yearly to get my MRI's and was cancer free until May. Within a week I had my second surgery and was released within 2 days :) What was so cool was that I had all the same team as I did 9 years ago. Down to the same anesthesiologist. The doctors were amazed to see me. My surgeon Dr. Weinberg (who is awesome at what he does) said that he had never worked on a patient 9 years after the first surgery. They couldn't believe it. He wants me to speak at a conference about my case. I guess I just wanted you to know that there are long term survivors out there and that It can be done!! Keep up your positive thoughts and know that I'll be praying for you and your family.

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