It all started on the 29th October 2011. Adam had just driven to Leesburg to pick up Ali’s prescriptions. He returned home looking really pale and sickly. He had the flu of his life, and spent the next 24 hours in bed with a fever. But, by Halloween night, he felt fine. The next couple of weeks, he continued to suffer from headaches and generally felt unwell. We did some online research, and came to the conclusion that he had viral meningitis. He ticked all the symptomatic boxes, and it looked like it might take several months to get over it. On Thanksgiving he suffered a relapse, and spent a couple days in bed vomiting uncontrollably and with severe headache pain. Again, it confirmed for us that he had viral meningitis, and we assumed that he’d been pushing himself too hard and needed to cut back a bit on work and get more sleep if he was going to defeat this virus. We ordered loads of anti-viral herbs and Adam started taking loads of supplements to try and help. The headaches continued and a few weeks later, another relapse, and Adam was in agony and vomiting again. He asked me to call my chiropractor and ask her advice. On the 21st December, I called Dr. Dixon. She suggested that we go to the emergency room to get a lumbar puncture done, just to find out what virus was causing the meningitis. As she told me, Lyme meningitis can be tricky, so it’s best to rule that out. So we packed an overnight bag (just in case) and headed off to the hospital.
We didn’t have to wait too long at the ER before they called Adam back. Because of Adam’s cancer history (he had a malignant melanoma removed 11 years ago), the doctor suggested an MRI first. Adam and I didn’t know how long he was going to be waiting and going through testing, so I decided to take the children to Chick-fil-A for some dinner and a bit of exercise at the indoor play area. To my frustration, the children decided not to eat anything, and were happily loosing their marbles in the tiny enclosed playground. Finlay had just pooped, to the disappointment of the other two moms sharing the small area with us. My phone rang, and Adam was on his cell phone. He said, “They found a brain tumor.” My heart sank to my feet. I looked up and silently prayed, “Please don’t let this moment be a defining moment in my life.” I insisted that the doctor must be mistaken. “You mean he just said, ‘There’s a tumor’, and walked out??” He didn’t have the best bedside manner, apparently. We hung up and I corralled the children out of the play area. I dragged the 3 boys to the tiny restroom, and changed Finlay on the changing table, struggling to see through the tears spilling down my face. Calum asked, “Why are you crying?” And I told him, “Oh, it’s nothing”, but he knew better. On the drive back to the hospital, my brave 7 year-old kept saying through his own tears, “It’ll be okay, Mummy… Daddy will be okay.”
Back at the ER, the doctor and a nursing assistant came out straight away. The doctor explained that the young woman would watch the kids so I could come back with Adam. Adam was on the bed, in shock, and I hugged him. The doctor said, “Do you want to see the MRI?” He showed it to me on the computer, and matter-of-factly pointed out to me, “See? Right there. There’s the tumor. It’s about an inch in diameter.” I rejoined Adam, and time blurred for both of us. I don’t know if it’s possible for time to simultaneously slow down and speed up, but it did. I was with Adam for less than an hour, but it felt like a blink and a lifetime. After some more blood draws, and some more chit-chat with the doctor and nurses (none of which I can remember all that clearly) they transferred him upstairs. Never in my life had I felt so torn. I desperately wanted to stay with my husband, but my children needed to go home and go to bed. I drove home in a stupor, and mechanically got the children through the bedtime routine. I wondered if I needed to get used to putting the children to bed on my own, since my husband might never come home. I went to bed, but never fell asleep. Finally at about 3:00am, I gave up and went on Facebook to distract myself. I found it mildly annoying that people were posting about a load of old crap, but it helped me to not think about our situation.
Adam was in the hospital over two nights, and they put him on steroids to help with the brain swelling and anti-seizure meds. He had had an episode weeks ago where his left leg just stopped working halfway up the stairs, and since that was probably a seizure he needed to be put on medication. We met with a neurosurgeon who we instantly liked. He explained what he was going to do, and what we were dealing with. Luckily for Adam, the tumor was in the back quarter of his brain, where no vital functions are located. The only possible side effect of the surgery would be the loss of peripheral vision on his left side. He told us, “If you’re going to have a brain tumor, that’s the best place for it!” He explained that it was actually much bigger than the MRI showed initially, about the size of a fist. When looking at a scan of Adam’s brain from behind, the entire right side was tumor. He wouldn’t know what exactly it was until he got in there, but he predicted that it would be a glioma, the most common type of brain tumor. Adam was released on Friday with instructions to enjoy the Christmas holiday as best he could, and to return Monday morning for surgery.
Monday morning was nerve-racking, but the surgical check-in and prep was quick and painless. Three girlfriends came to provide support while I bit my nails to the quick in the waiting area. Adam was so positive and happy going into surgery, and confident that everything would be okay. And it was. The surgery was successful, and the surgeon felt he got everything. Adam was awake and alert post-surgery a mere 4 hours after they had wheeled him into the OR. The doctor came to talk to me after the surgery, and explained that he was quite sure it was a glioma, possibly a mid-grade. We wouldn’t know for sure until the biopsy results came back in a week. The worst case scenario would be a Grade 4, a glioblastoma, which had an 18 month prognosis. That one hit me hard, and I cried on my friends’ shoulders in the waiting room as I waited for Adam to be transferred to the ICU. When I saw him an hour later, he was sitting up and happy to see me. His head was wrapped up like a mummy, but otherwise looked great. He felt good, no pain, but a bit groggy from the anesthesia. I stayed as long as I could, and then kissed him goodnight. We talked briefly about the prognosis and different scenarios, but he said to me, “I don’t care about their predictions. I’ll be here to celebrate my 65th birthday with you and the kids.” Adam came home just 2 days after, his incision healing remarkably quickly. The first 24 hours at home, he was a bit foggy-headed and easily confused, but by the 3rd day he was back to normal.
That’s when we started researching like crazy. Regardless of what the result was, we were going to go alternative. Adam definitely did not want chemo or radiation, and the more research we did, the more comfortable we felt with that decision. The side effects of radiation to the brain were horrific, and chemo was notoriously ineffective on brain cancer and notoriously debilitating. Neither one of us wanted him to go through that. The biopsy results told us Adam had a Grade 3 Anaplastic Oligoastrocytoma. Internet research didn’t tell us much, other than that it was quite malignant and fairly rare. Brain tumors usually originate from one of three different types of brain cells, but Adam’s tumor contained two types, what’s called a “mixed” glioma. The prognosis is 5 years, as is the prognosis for almost all types of cancer that are Stage or Grade 3. I was terrified by the thought of being a widow at the age of 42, but Adam has sworn that won’t happen. And I believe him. He’s completely changed his lifestyle. He’s making sure he gets at least 9 hours of sleep a night. We have gone part-time vegetarian, only eating meat 3 days a week. Adam is eating vegetable soups and salads twice a day, and juicing (with our new juicer) once a day. Green tea is drunk with every meal, along with taking several different herbs and supplements. Adam gets outside for a 30-minute powerwalk every single day, and he refuses to work more than 8 hours a day. Being his own boss makes that easy! Most importantly, the cell phone and cordless are gone. Adam used to talk on the phone all day, but now calls are restricted to a few minutes, and we’ve gone old-school with our new corded phone. Adam feels amazing. His headaches are gone, and he has a new lease on life. There’s nothing like a second cancer diagnosis to put everything into perspective. Now we are looking at the next phase of his treatment, and are shopping around for a doctor. Although his new lifestyle gives him a great chance at a long life, we do realize that we’ll need a great doctor to ensure the cancer doesn’t return. This blog will keep you updated as we travel along this journey. We hope and pray it will be a long and happy one!