I was at work when I began having some nasal problems and trouble completing routine tasks. I made an appointment with an ear, nose and throat doctor to have my sinuses checked. The doctor found some congestion and ordered a scan of my nasal passage, which needed to be cleaned out.
In September 2008, Hurricane Ike hit our hometown and everything, including my health, was put on hold.
In the following months, though, my coworkers became concerned about my behavior and contacted my husband. I had recently had a hysterectomy, so I thought my hormones were messed up. I went to the doctor and was given a different prescription.
A deadly brain tumor diagnosis
On January 21, 2009, my husband and I were leaving our house to go to work when I told him that I couldn't drive. I had forgotten how. He took me to the emergency room.
The ER doctor showed me different items, such as lip balm and an ink pen. I knew what they were, and could gesture what they were used for, but could not get the words to come out of my mouth. A scan of my head revealed a four-inch mass on my brain that the doctor said needed to be removed as soon as possible.
Surgery was performed on January 23. I was released from the hospital two days later with a diagnosis of Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM), an aggressive and malignant brain tumor with a median survival rate of 12 to 14 months.
The surgeon in Louisiana removed about 95% of the tumor, but his prognosis was not encouraging. We decided to go where I could get the best brain cancer treatment possible: MD Anderson Cancer Center.
Hope in chemo and radiation
My first appointment at MD Anderson was with neuro-oncologist Vinay Puduvalli, M.D. He described what he thought would be my best course of cancer treatment. Never did he say that there wasn't any hope.
I started a chemotherapy treatment called Temodar. Dr. Puduvalli consulted a neuroradiation oncologist at MD Anderson, Mary Frances McAleer, M.D., Ph.D. She fitted me with a mask to wear over my head during radiation treatments so that the doctors could pinpoint the area that needed the most attention. I endured six weeks of radiation, five days a week.
MD Anderson worked closely with me to schedule my treatments and make traveling from out of state convenient for me.
A shrunken, stable brain tumor
On June 12, I had an open biopsy to determine the status of my cancer. Of the mass still left in my brain, about 50% was tumor and 50% was a treatment effect called necrosis (scar tissue from radiation).
I continued chemotherapy and underwent physical therapy to regain strength and movement until August 2010. Since then, there has been no sign of tumor progression. Every three months I travel to MD Anderson for blood work and an MRI.
We have met many people during our visits to MD Anderson. And, I cannot say one bad thing about any of them. If they can help you in any way, they will, and if they can't, they will put you in touch with someone who can.
Sharing my brain cancer story has helped me survive
I am currently still able to drive, cook, clean house, take care of our bills and play with my grandkids.
However, my outlook on life has changed. Never take anything for granted and always have faith in God, family and friends. Without that faith, I could not have survived my battle with brain cancer.
I have met people in stores or at gatherings that know of my condition and tell me that they have seen my name on the prayer list at their church or have read something about me on the Internet. Without the prayers, support from my family and friends, and a positive attitude, I don't know if I could have made it.
I have talked to many other brain cancer patients, sharing my story and listening to theirs. It really helps to let it all out -- cry, love, share and just be there for those who need your support.
Debbie Billings, a resident of Cameron, La., is a cancer survivor after facing an aggressive brain cancer.