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04 February 2009

My cancer diary – part 3

When Lynn Ferreira went to a doctor with unexplained headaches, the diagnosis changed her life. This is part 3 of her story.

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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.

We last heard from Lynn shortly before the first tumour was removed. (Click here for that email.)

After the operation her husband let everyone know that it went well. A few days later, once again feeling strong enough to write, Lynn sent the following email.

Hello everybody!
I hope you all had a fabulous Christmas, and a special time with friends and family. I know I did!

The Op
I had the op on Thursday 20th December and it went remarkably, remarkably well. Having my wisdom teeth out when I was 21 was truly more painful and traumatic than having little T1 (the smaller brain tumour) out.

They put me into the ICU immediately because of the brain monitor (it doesn't look ANYTHING like a Teletubby!) which was probably the most stressful time for me. You do not want to be compus mentus in the ICU because it is really noisy and busy, and there are seriously sick people in there!

But I was feeling great - I was awake, not in pain at all and just having to hear and observe what was going on around me. They finally moved me to a normal ward after a couple of days where I managed to get some sleep, and peace and quiet - and they let me go home on Monday 24th... YAY!

Yesterday I went to have the staples removed from my head and once again, I was completely amazed that this procedure didn't hurt at all. I have attached a pic that my husband took of the process as it looks much more impressive than it actually was. I mean, check out those pliers!

The surgeon removed 23 little staples and I truly didn't feel a thing. The only thing I felt was when he sprayed on the plastic skin which is really cold and it made my head ache a bit, but that was it.

The girls bought me this very bright (and hard to match with anything) scarf which covers the scar up nicely, as it's still a little gory to look at I think, but my hair will cover it up in no time.

The hair
Speaking of which, call me naïve, but I honestly and truly thought the surgeons (who had always promised to cut in my hairline) were going to part my hair nicely when I got into theatre, make the cut in the hairline as they had promised and then stitch or staple me up again. But no. They shaved my head, didn't they? Not overly much or anything, but considering I wasn't expecting it, it was a bit of a surprise.

When I asked the one surgeon about it he said, “we're brain surgeons darling, not plastic surgeons”. Well, that put me in my place!

What did they find?
The point of taking the little dude out was to figure out what he was made of and then decide what to do with the big dude, T2 - and he has been posing a bit of a conundrum.

We went to see Dr Wilson at the Constantiaberg Oncology unit yesterday and he has been working with Dr McAdam (who is apparently a melanoma guru) on the histology of the cells they removed. They said from the start that they thought it was melanoma because of the type of cells they removed, but when they put it in the “stains”, the 3 major melanoma markers didn't come up. This is apparently unusual, but not unheard of.

They then did further tests for epithelial (lining) markers which came up positive for melanoma so they are 99% sure that it is melanoma, but need to be 100%.

The Doc says that essentially they have ruled out a primary brain tumour, germ cell tumour or immune system cancer and have established that it is some sort of carcinoma or cancer of linings (like breast, lung, kidney, skin or whatever).

While we did X-rays and ultrasounds of most of my major organs before surgery to check out if there was possibly cancer somewhere else in my body, they didn't pick up anything, but the tests are pretty rudimentary.

What next?
Now they want me to go for this thing called a PET Scan, which is kind of like a full body x-ray, but they pump you full of radioactive material (I kid you not) and it's apparently very good at picking up the tiniest of tiny cancer cells anywhere in the body.

It's also apparently very good at melanoma metabolic imaging (whatever that is) so, if there is a primary melanoma site, we will find it. Essentially we've got to pray for a clear PET because frankly, if they find that it's, for example, cancer of the something else, then we'll have that plus the brain thing to deal with.

With the next round of public holidays upon us I don't imagine we'll have the green light for this procedure from the medical aid in the next week, but we'll keep you posted. It's quite an expensive procedure as they have to fly down the plutonium they make in Pelindaba on a daily basis to the various hospitals around the country that have a PET scanner (in CT it's at Panorama Medi-Clinic) and it has a very short shelf life, and of course the equipment must cost an arm and a leg.

But, hey, at least we have the equipment here! Ever-practical Andre thinks it's quite cool and says that we won't need to take torches camping anymore because I will be radioactive and can just light up the campsite on my own!

What then?
Well assuming that the PET comes out clear, we then need to look at the options and, let me tell you, am I grateful that this didn't happen to me 10 or even 5 years ago because it's amazing what they can do today – particularly regarding the access to treatment and facilities that we have here. Assuming the PET is negative, we only have to deal with the head, and it can be done relatively quickly.

Dr Wilson said yesterday that he thinks surgery (although tricky) will be our best first option (assuming melanoma), but there are other sorts of sci-fi type x-ray treatments to the head that we can consider in combination, or isolation, such as stereotactic radiosurgery (very focused, hi-tech x-rays), proton beams and possibly even normal radiotherapy (but have to weigh up toxic risk to brain).

So the good news is that even though this is pretty serious, we have options – and a few of them, too! Dr Wilson has already consulted with a Dr Dave Eedes and put me on the agenda of a special forum that regularly meets to discuss these sorts of cases, so we are very confident in our care and advice, and are still feeling the most awesome peace that all will be well.

Thanks so much for all the prayers, love and support – it has been such a wonderful encouragement to us. Please just keep it up (I'm a slave driver, I know!). The girls are doing great and, now that we know that it's definitely a type of cancer we're dealing with, we'll be chatting with them about this today.

Please pray for wisdom when we speak to them – that we can help them understand and not be afraid, but to also learn to trust in God who is good and faithful, and who has an awesome plan for all of us!

Lots and lots of love
Me

(Lynn Ferreira mailed this message on December 29, 2007)
Click here for Lynn's next message.

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

Cancer Centre

 
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