Surviving oligodendroglioma with humor and gratitude
My brain tumor symptom came on Feb. 15, 2015. I was playing in a soccer match with my team -- Express -- at Meyer Park in Spring, Texas. I burst though our opponent’s defense and calmly knocked the ball home for a goal. Seconds after the restart, I headed the ball.
What happened next was the first of multiple seizures. After passing out, I woke up on a stretcher as I was being put into an ambulance. This was not part of an elaborate goal celebration, as some of my teammates thought. This was for real.
I was admitted to a local ER, where they found the cause of my seizures: a brain tumor. A biopsy a few days later revealed I had a glioma. We decided to visit MD Anderson.
I had my surgery -- an awake craniotomy — on April 9, 2015. Dr. Ferguson explained how I would be woken up during surgery to map the motor areas of my brain, but that I wouldn’t feel anything. During the operation, I talked to anesthesiologist Ian Lipski, M.D. We discussed cars, cycling to work, Jack Reacher, JK Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy,” traveling to Korea and – who knows why – cosmetic dentistry too.
That Saturday evening, Dr. Ferguson braved strong thunderstorms to personally deliver the good news about my diagnosis: post-operative pathology revealed my tumor was actually a grade II oligodendroglioma, a low-grade brain tumor.
Caring providers make all the difference
After MD Anderson helped convince my insurance provider to cover my proton therapy treatment, I started on proton therapy with Dr. Grosshans. Seeing people from all over the planet in the waiting room made me realize I was being treated in a world-class facility. Six weeks and one terrible haircut later, I rang the gong and said goodbye to my proton family -- the techs and nurses.
Under Dr. O’Brien’s supervision, I then started temozolomide, an oral chemotherapy for brain cancer. Maintaining my blood count was a delicate balancing act at times, but I had the utmost confidence in my care team. They’re just really good at what they do. Throughout my chemotherapy, I had several MRI scans and frequent labs. Doing blood work near my home at MD Anderson in The Woodlands was extremely convenient.
When I completed treatment, Dr. O’Brien explained that I was not cured, but in a new phase of monitoring. I started with more MRIs and checkups every two months, then less often as my condition remained stable.
I’m now more than two years out from my initial diagnosis. Visits to the Brain and Spine Center are not nearly as daunting. I could describe the folks there as awesome, but that would only be half the story. They genuinely care. Yes, they give you the proper medicine, but it’s the rapport they build and the humor they dispense with treatment that makes the visits enjoyable. When your doctor takes the time to laugh with you, or the nurse asks if you have any more jokes, you know you’re in the best place.
A promise kept
At Dr. O’Brien’s urging last year, my family and I participated in Head for the Cure Houston, a 5K race that supports brain tumor research at MD Anderson. You can join team MD Anderson at the 5th Annual Head for the Cure Houston 5K on Saturday, Oct. 14. I was never likely to set a world record. In fact, Dr. O’Brien vanished over the horizon after the first mile marker. But I did finish.
This reminded me of Dr. Grosshans’ promise that I’d “be back on the soccer field.” I wasn’t, but I was up and running, and it was my choice not to play soccer -- not the tumor’s.