Life after brain cancer: Austin singer back at the mic
In 2007, brain cancer survivor Christine Butterfield added two new words to her vocabulary. Words she wishes she didn't know so much about.
"Anaplastic astrocytoma of the right frontal lobe. That was my diagnosis when I came to MD Anderson," she says. "Big words I never wanted to learn - even how to spell!"
In 2007, Christine and her extended family - including her husband and 18-month-old daughter -- were having a great time in Breckenridge, Colo., about 80 miles from Denver. Then, she started to have severe headaches and nausea. The local hospital didn't have imaging equipment, so they took her by ambulance to the closest larger town for a CT scan.
"The doctor came into my room and said, 'There is a large mass on your right frontal lobe. We don't know what it is, so we have to get you to Denver,'" she remembers. "The problem was the chopper was grounded, and the highway was closed because of the weather."
To make matters worse, it was New Year's Eve. Finally, the doctor found a neurosurgeon in Denver who would see Christine, and they tracked down an ambulance willing to make the drive.
"The doctor in Denver said it really looked like cancer, but that I needed a biopsy to find out for sure," Christine says. "He recommended that I find a place where I had support. My family lives in Houston, and MD Anderson was the first hospital I thought of."
As soon as Christine arrived at MD Anderson, she met Ganesh Rao, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Neurosurgery.
"Because of Christine's condition, we needed to do surgery immediately," he says. "We performed a craniotomy and were able to remove most of the tumor."
Rao used the high-tech Brainsuite®, an integrated neurosurgery system that allows for precise treatment of complicated tumors in sensitive areas of the brain.
Chemo, radiation - and recovery
"After surgery, Christine had chemotherapy and radiation for three months," says Charles Conrad, M.D., professor in the Department of Neuro-Oncology. "Then she had another 22 rounds of additional chemo."
Christine was released four days after surgery, and she spent the next several weeks recuperating in Houston with family. Then, she was able to return to her home in Austin to continue chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
"I was in a weird blissful state," Christine says. "I thought, 'I can do this; it's just another chapter in my life.'"
Singing a different tune
Christine's life is filled with family, staying healthy and doing what she loves - singing. She networks with Austin's stellar musicians to find back-up professionals, then shows off her pipes with what she describes as Latin-infused standards.
"There will always be a few cancer cells in my brain," she says. "But right now they're dormant, and that's how we want them. Totally asleep."
"Being treated at MD Anderson was the silver lining for me," she says. "I kept thinking, what a privilege I get to be here. These are the best and brightest, and I send them prayers of gratitude."