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How an anaplastic astrocytoma diagnosis made our family closer

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Michael White521.jpgBy Lisa Talbott

My family had always been close. My parents taught my three siblings and me to value our faith and our family. But we never knew how much closer we would grow until my youngest brother Michael was diagnosed with a grade III anaplastic astrocytoma.

My brother's anaplastic astrocytoma diagnosis

Shortly after turning 23 and moving to Hawaii where he was stationed with the U.S. Navy, Michael started experiencing severe headaches. He went to see the medical team on his ship and was told he was having tension headaches. Over the next five months, Michael's headaches became more intense and more frequent.

On Nov. 1, 2013, Michael arrived at his barracks with his most intense headache yet. After three full hours of pulsing pain in his head, he drove himself to the ER. Following a CT scan, Michael learned he had a growth on the front right lobe of his brain about the size of a golf ball.

A subsequent MRI revealed that the mass was larger than the doctors had originally thought - closer to the size of a softball. Michael needed surgery as soon as possible.

A week later, he underwent his first brain surgery, a right craniotomy to remove the tumor. My siblings, my parents and I all flew out to be with him.

After a surgery to remove  part of the tumor, 52 staples and almost 14 days later, Michael returned home to Texas with us for an amazing Thanksgiving and Christmas. Little did we know that our family's cancer journey had just begun.

Just days after he'd returned to Hawaii for the New Year, Michael received the results from his surgery and was diagnosed with grade III anaplastic astrocytoma, and referred to MD Anderson.

In February, Michael  underwent a second brain surgery to remove the rest of the tumor. The surgery was performed by Nicholas Levine, M.D. in MD Anderson's Brainsuite®, which is used on patients with tumors that are challenging due to their size or location, enabled Dr. Levine and his team to get real-time views of the tumor site with intraoperative magnetic resonance imaging. Once again, my parents, siblings and I were all there with Michael.

Using social media to share updates about Michael's anaplastic astrocytoma treatment
I wanted to update people beyond our immediate family, so I started using social media. This made it easier to share news about Michael and his journey with our family and friends, including Michael's U.S. Navy family.

During Michael's surgery, I posted an update each time we learned something from Dr. Levine and his team. My 12th update joyfully shared that Michael was going home from MD Anderson.

I also shared that Michael would return to MD Anderson in mid-March to meet with Susan McGovern, M.D., Ph.D., to discuss his six-week-long, multi-angle proton therapy radiation plan. His treatment plan also involved chemotherapy with John de Groot, M.D.; the 42-day chemo regimen using Temozolomide Temodar capsules.
 
After each update, the comments, thoughts, and prayers just flood in. This has had a phenomenal impact on Michael, who has maintained the most positive, motivational and inspiring attitude out of all of us during this journey. He is the rock of our family and is getting us through this every day.

After everything we have been through in the last seven months, our family is stronger than ever. We accept what has happened, and we are living life every single day. We believe something great can and will happen, and we believe in MD Anderson. We are one and will fight this journey together.

To schedule an appointment at MD Anderson's Brain and Spine Center, please call 1-877-632-6789 or request an appointment online.

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