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Anaplastic astrocytoma: My husband's brain tumor story

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By Jamie Jessee


At age 25, my husband, Bradly, discovered the frequent headaches he was experiencing were something much worse: a
brain tumor.

It was 2005, and Bradly, just nine months out of college, was working as a speech pathologist. We weren't married yet, but after dating for five years, I had no doubt this was the man I was going to spend the rest of my life with. 

I just hadn't expected the rest of his life to potentially be a matter of months or years.

Bradly's astrocytoma diagnosis
Bradly had been having headaches on and off, so his primary care doctor prescribed several different headache and sinus medications. When these didn't work, the doctor finally ordered a CT scan of his head. 

 "Have you seen your scan? It's not good. You have a big brain tumor in your head," the emergency room doctor said.

A needle biopsy of the tumor revealed a grade II astrocytoma, a slow growing, but malignant tumor that needed to be removed immediately. 

The team of local neurosurgeons we saw couldn't agree on the best way to treat Bradly's tumor. A few thought it would be impossible to remove the entire tumor. Because of its location and the possibility of major deficits after surgery, it would be best to wait until Bradly had more severe headaches and other symptoms before attempting to remove part of the tumor.

"You probably won't walk or talk again after this surgery, so you should enjoy the quality of life while you have it," our neurosurgeon told Bradly. "This tumor is going to take your life." 

Going to MD Anderson for brain tumor treatment
I remember going through all of the possible scenarios in the parking lot before that visit. Would we do surgery here? Would we seek a second opinion? What if there was nothing they could do for Bradly? 

There was one answer we'd agreed on immediately: we would go to MD Anderson. We left that visit with a referral and spent the next three months with Bradly's aunt and uncle in Houston. During our first visit, we met with Sujit Prabhu, M.D.. He had such a calm, confident presence about him and eased our fears. 

We left with a battery of exams scheduled for the next few days, including an awake craniotomy to try to remove the orange-sized tumor in Bradly's head. Bradly also underwent a functional MRI, where his doctors identified the areas of the brain that may be affected during surgery. 

Amazingly, his brain had adapted and almost made room for this mass, with most functions moving to the other side. Dr. Prabhu and his team felt strongly that Bradly may not lose any brain function because of the surgery.

Bradly's anaplastic astrocytoma treatment
A week later, Bradly underwent surgery. Dr. Prabhu was able to remove all visible tumor. 

It turned out to be not a grade II, but grade III anaplastic astrocytoma -- a more aggressive tumor that calls for a follow-up of radiation and chemotherapy

So, Bradly completed six weeks of radiation under the care of Anita Mahajan, M.D., another incredibly attentive and amazing physician. He then conquered nine months of chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting.

Life after Bradly's brain tumor: Our normal has changed
We thought MD Anderson was a place we'd never see. We came in thinking: a cancer hospital, how depressing. But MD Anderson is the exact opposite. It exudes hope and care and an ease that you are in the best hands this world has to offer. Eight years later, we still return every four months for a follow-up scan and visit with neuro-oncologist Alfred Yung, M.D., and I am so thankful for him. He is more than a doctor. He cares and always inquires about our lives and how we are doing outside of the visits. 

So, how are we doing? We learned the most valuable lesson in life at such an early age -- it is precious and not promised. I almost think after the fight is the most difficult part because you are supposed to go back to "normal," and that's difficult when your normal has been changed. 

I don't go a day without thinking "what if?" We have a daughter and full-time jobs now. How would we drop everything to go through that again? But worrying doesn't change a thing. We try to live our lives, and we trust that the Lord will get us through if it does.

2 Comments

Jamie,

What an awesome story, sounds so much like ours. My husband is 32 and he was diagnosed at 30. He has had two brain surgeries and six weeks of radiation. He too was told it was a stage II and then they called us back in and said John Hopkins University said it was stage III and they had to go in and do another brain surgery. He is back to work full time and we go to MRI's every 4 months (we have one friday in fact). They are pretty nerve wracking. We have a seven year old son and I have an 18 year old daughter from a previous marriage (I'm 10 years older then my husband. I would like to hear more about the chemo, was it Tremador?

Cary

Jamie,
have personal experience with anaplastic astrocytoma, stage 3; my wife passed away in Jan 1997 @ 35 after a 4 1/2 yr battle; we found it quite by accident; we had a cottage in Turkey Point, Ontario and were at the cottage in Aug 1992; she kept bumping into furniture, missing stop signs, etc so I suggested she get her eyes checked; 2 wks later, I receive a call at work from an opthamologist in Woodstock saying I needed to get to their office asap - the appt that day was at an optometrist in Tillsonburg so I was a little surprised; when I got to their office. they had already made arrangements to admit my wife to Victoria Hospital in London for emergency surgery; what complicated matters was my wife was 6 1/2 months pregnant at the time; surgery went well but they couldn't use any chemo or radiation because of the pregnancy;
my wife had a Ceserian section on Oct 07/92 - another boy; 3 days later, she had a grand mal seizure; she was in the hospital until Christmas 1992; here I was at home with a new born, and my oldest son who has special needs, and trying to visit the hospital every day; when I look back I don't know how I did it - I give the credit to family and friends who were always there

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