Cindy Stueber was supposed to be helping her daughter, Shelby, look at wedding dresses and elegant up-dos. Instead, she was making plans to help Shelby cut her hair, which, once long and thick, was now thinning and sparse from medulloblastoma treatment.
Cindy, a licensed cosmetologist, didn’t want to cut Shelby’s hair, but she wasn’t going to let anyone else do it either.
“She’s 23, but she’s still my baby,” Cindy says.
With Shelby’s dad, Jeff, and fiancé, David Espinosa, nearby, Cindy began to cut Shelby’s long brown hair. When all the hair was on the ground and Shelby’s head was shaved, both women looked in the mirror and smiled.
A daughter’s medulloblastoma diagnosis
In early March, Shelby had called Cindy and complained of a seemingly never-ending headache.
“Mom, it just won’t stop,” she told her.
It was so unusual for Shelby that Cindy urged her daughter to go to the emergency room. The two live about an hour from each other in central Texas.
A few hours later Cindy got a call from David. He said she needed to come soon. Cindy and Jeff quickly packed and jumped in the car. When they arrived in College Station, Texas, David and Shelby were home from the hospital and shared what they had learned: Shelby had a mass the size of a kiwi near the back of her head.
A pathology report would later show that it was medulloblastoma, a type of brain tumor common in adolescents. It was unusual in someone Shelby’s age, but not impossible.
It was hard to grasp the news. Just a little over a week before, they had celebrated one of the happiest days of their lives. David had proposed to Shelby near her parents’ home, then threw a surprise engagement party with all of their friends. Well, David thought it was a surprise, at least. Shelby had figured it out, but played along to avoid hurting his feelings.
The family was supposed to be thinking about wedding dresses, venues, cakes and toasts, not scheduling surgeries and chemotherapy.
Seeking brain tumor treatment at MD Anderson
After a surgery in Bryan -- just outside of College Station -- to remove the tumor, Shelby came to MD Anderson. Because it was unusual to find medulloblastoma in someone Shelby’s age, her hometown doctors told her to seek the best care possible at MD Anderson.
At MD Anderson, Shelby saw Kristina Woodhouse, M.D., a radiation oncologist who specializes in pediatric and adult brain tumors. She and the rest of Shelby’s care team determined they would use what’s known as the “Packer protocol.” Under this treatment plan, there was no need for additional surgery. Instead, Shelby would have six weeks of daily proton therapy, followed by a three- to four-week break and then six cycles of chemotherapy.
To keep patients safe from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), MD Anderson had begun restricting visitors just a few weeks before Shelby started her treatment, so she has to attend her appointments alone. But Cindy says she finds comfort knowing that MD Anderson’s brain tumor experts are taking great care of Shelby and that she’s staying safe at her appointments.
“It hurts so much as a parent, knowing there’s nothing you can do,” she says. “It’s all in someone else’s hands, so we had to get to the best place for us, and that was MD Anderson.”
Cindy and Jeff also take comfort in knowing that David is always there for her daughter. Cindy and David take turns driving Shelby to her appointments and wait patiently in the car in the parking garage.
Shelby Stueber and her fiancé, David Espinosa
Planning for a wedding after medulloblastoma treatment
With the end of her medulloblastoma treatment in sight, Shelby is starting to think about wedding planning. She’s picked a date in 2022, and she’s even looked at a few venues.
Cindy and Jeff are looking forward to the celebration, confident in their daughter’s future with her soon-to-be husband.
They know the young couple can take on any challenge, Cindy says. They’ve already been through so much.