Cancer

04 February 2009

My cancer diary

When Lynn Ferreira went to a doctor with unexplained headaches, the diagnosis changed her life. She keeps friends, colleagues and Health24 readers in the loop with emailed updates.

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When Lynn Ferreira went to a doctor with unexplained headaches, the diagnosis changed her life. She keeps friends and colleagues in the loop with emailed updates, and now she's sharing those with Health24 readers.

Hi there

Well, some of you know some of the story, others know more of the story so here is the whole story so far...

So I've been suffering with horrible headaches for the last six weeks or so and walking around like a real misery. Tried all sorts of weird and wonderful treatments and consultations to try and get to the root of it.

Being a generally very healthy person, a slight headache is enough to send me into a spin, so these persistent severe headaches were really starting to get the better of me. So after numerous blood tests and fistfuls of painkillers, the specialist physician I saw last Thursday booked me in for a CT scan on Monday.

The scan revealed that I have two tumour-looking things on my brain. One is quite small (about 1 cm) in the front on the right hand side, kind of like in the top right hand side of my head. The other one is a bit bigger (almost 4 cm) and tucked away in a bit more tricky spot kind of behind my right ear and a bit deeper in. It looks like it's sitting below the rear right temporal lobe (or at least I think that's where it is).

Anyway, these tumour type things have caused a lot of swelling around the brain which is what is causing the headaches. So now at least I know that it wasn't all in my head (well it was actually but you know what I mean).

Admitted to hospital
So they admitted me to hospital immediately into ICU nogal (very dramatic and all that) and put me on a drip with cortisone to reduce the swelling and also stuff for epilepsy, as I'm apparently at high risk of having a seizure with this stuff on the brain.

My mom always told me I had a swollen head - I guess she was right.

My biggest problem when in ICU was that they had me hooked up to all these weird monitors etc., and wouldn't let me go to the loo! Well anyone who has been camping with me will know that I'm sooooo not good at peeing in the bush as I get a nasty case of stage fright.

So they brought me this bedpan and I was like "now what?". So I valiantly sat on it for about 15 minutes until I lost all feeling in my feet and legs and I had to give up.

Eventually half an hour later I couldn't wait anymore and so called for the bloody bedpan again and then had to make a plan for my husband to move his chair closer so I could put my feet on it and "pretend" I was on the loo! And wouldn't it be my luck that just as I get it going I hear what I thought was the neurosurgeon (who we had been waiting for all afternoon) arrive!

Of course they pumped me full of "contrast" stuff in the CT scan which meant I needed the loo every two hours! The night staff were very kind though and organised a "commode" for me which is like a loo on wheels. Fabulous stuff. Wonder if you get ones that fold down for camping?

Anyway, then I had an MRI scan yesterday which basically gave a more accurate reading about where the tumours are and how bad the swelling is but also, thankfully, that there are only two tumours. I was hoping to come out yesterday, but the docs are still a bit concerned about all the swelling so want to get as much cortisone in me as quickly as possible.

I'm hoping to be out by the weekend. Ironically, I'm feeling much better than I have in weeks, because as the swelling goes down the headaches go away.

Next steps
So the next step is the biopsy which will probably take place next Thursday. Essentially the plan is to take the small one out completely and then depending what that turns out to be (they're assuming both things are the same) they will decide on what the next step is.

At this point these tumour things could be one of three things:

  • some sort of infection e.g. TB - although this is best case, also seemingly most unlikely scenario.
  • Metastases - this is where you have cancer in some other part of your body that pops up in your brain. Not sure exactly how they figure it out. Think that when they check it out they find skin, liver, lung cells in your brain then they know where to go look. I had a malignant melanoma removed from my back about 15 years ago, so it's possible that this could be rearing its ugly head after all this time.

    They can apparently check for melanoma markers when they do the MRI and didn't pick up anything yesterday. This doesn't mean to say that it's not melanoma, but if they had picked something up then they would be 99% sure that it was. In the meantime they doing X-rays and ultra sounds to see if they can pick up cancer anywhere else.

  • Brain Tumour - either malignant or benign.

So depending on what it turns out to be, the treatment will be decided on. If cancerous, then probably radiation/chemo and possibly surgery to try get the other one out (which is a bit more tricky).

So for now it's just taking it one day at a time. Thankfully both my husband and I subscribe to the "let's worry about it when we know exactly what we have to worry about" philosophy, but have to admit to the brief panicky moments in the middle of the night!

The girls
The girls have been staying with their grandparents this week and as yet don't know that I have been in hospital, but we plan on talking to them later today.

We were fortunate to be able to speak to the school counsellor earlier, who gave us some sound advice about how to deal with this with the girls.

In a nutshell it was to provide age-appropriate truths and be honest. Also to not hide our emotion and to make it safe for them to ask questions and know they will get honest answers.

I think this is my biggest worry at the moment.

The biopsy
So apparently what they're going to do next Thursday is make a little slit in my head just above my hairline and then they drill a hole in my skull (surgeon promised me that they would keep it safe and not have to fill with bubblegum or something).

Then they cut through the brain membrane and lift a little flap and then put this doodap in to "scoop" out the tumour. Apparently it doesn't look all tentacly like I imagine but more like a pea that's sitting on top of the brain tissue under the membrane.

The pathologist will be in surgery to make sure they get it all out and take an initial look at what it could be. They then close up the membrane, plug up the hole and keep it in place with little metal staples and then sew your head back together.

He doesn't think I'll look like Frankenstein, but will have a smallish cut on my head (bit of a relief what!) I will probably be in for couple of days and will only have results of the biopsy by Monday 24th.

The good news
Well there is lots of good news actually. First, the tumours are on the right hand side of the brain and in more "silent" areas - i.e. risk reduced of something horrible happening in surgery and not being able to talk (imagine that) or lose vision or memory or something like that.

Secondly, the docs seem really worried about the swelling and the risk of seizure it presents (and has been presenting). So I'm very thankful that I haven't had one yet, particularly not driving with the girls or something.

Also, the swelling is what gave me the headaches which has helped to diagnose the tumours. Otherwise they are normally only diagnosed when they affect something the brain is controlling and being where they are, they are not really affecting anything so could have gone undetected much longer.

There is also so much more that I am thankful for but most of all I'm really thankful for all the love and support and prayers from all my family and friends(and I am so fortunate to count so many colleagues as friends). It's been such a true blessing.

Lots and lots of love and thanks
Me

This mail was dated December 12, 2007, entitled All About Me.

- (Lynn Ferreira)

Click here for Lynn's second email.

Read more:
My cancer diary - part 1
My cancer diary - part 2
My cancer diary - part 3
My cancer diary - part 4
My cancer diary - part 5
My cancer diary - part 6
My cancer diary - part 7
My cancer diary - part 8
My cancer diary - part 9
My cancer diary - part 10
My cancer diary - part 11
My cancer diary - part 12
My cancer diary - part 13
My cancer diary - part 14
My cancer diary - part 15

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