My surgery on May 8 went well, spending just under about 80 minutes total in the operating room. I don’t remember much of that as the anesthesiologist went to work quickly. I woke up in the recovery room and spent a couple hours there before being transferred to the Neuro Critical Care unit where I was soon reunited with Julie and my sister Deb.
Somewhat surprisingly, it wasn’t the craniotomy itself that was the most uncomfortable – it was the after-effects of having been intubated. My throat was very sore and I had to master ice chips before graduating to jello. I also had these cool wraps for my lower legs that had air bladders to inflate and deflate over time to simulate circulation. I could feel it happening on my left leg, but not my right leg. This was really the first sign of something we expected – much of the sensation below my knee in my right leg is now gone. Maybe it will come back over time. We’ll see. Fortunately, I have reasonable strength and flexibility in the leg.
Late in the afternoon on Thursday, we were thrown for an emotional loop. We were visited in the room by Dr. Mohammed Hamza – a Neuro Oncologist. His specialty deals with chemo-therapy treatments for cancer patients. He asked if we had seen the MRI that had been taken just prior to my surgery. We had not, so he brought it up for us. In the process of showing it to us, he highlighted enhancements in the imagery that were revealed. He indicated that this was suggestive of a higher grade tumor, possibly even a grade 4, instead of the lower grade tumor we had come to expect. At least, I think that’s what he told us, because both Julie and I found it difficult to concentrate on actual words after hearing from him that he thought it might be high grade. He emphasized that we needed to wait to see the final pathology, but it was difficult to hear him and not start thinking of the worst.
The next morning, the hospitalist’s assistant – a nurse practioner – was one of the first to visit us. She was in a no-win position. She had seen his initial notes, but had neither the experience he had nor the pathology we were waiting for to give us any of the answers we wanted. It was very stressful. She was quickly joined by Dr. Praveen Dubey who is a radiation oncologist. His role would be in providing radiation treatments for me as part of an ongoing treatment plan. He had the experience to answer our questions. And we had had enough time to formulate a bunch of them since first seeing Dr. Hamza. Still, the overwhelming feeling coming out of our conversation with him was to prepare for the worst. We started telling a few close friends, but didn’t want to worry the kids until we had a more complete picture. That was a difficult decision.
Also on Friday was my first attempt at getting out of bed. The physical therapist walked with me up and down the hall. I did better than I expected given that I couldn’t feel the lower half of my right leg very well. But I managed to walk a few hundred steps and not stumble in any significant way.
Later that day, the I was transferred out of Neuro Critical Care and into a step-down room in the Brain and Stroke unit of Riverside Hospital. That meant I got a roommate (Dave) and less regular unprompted evaluation (down to once every 4-6 hours instead of once per hour). By Saturday morning, they concluded I was doing great and ready to head home to wait for the pathology results.
Yesterday was Mother’s Day and I managed to get around pretty well. I put in over 4000 steps for the day and even managed to do the dishes and cook a pot roast. Julie and Deb weren’t entirely comfortable with my level of activity all the time, but I was happy to be up and moving.
Today, right about noon, we got a call with the pathology results. And after almost two days of feeling resigned to being told it was high grade, Dr. Hamza’s office called to tell us that it was a grade 2 oligo-astrocytoma. That’s a low grade “mixed” glioma of astrocyte and oligodendrocyte cells. We still have much research to do on this, but this is unquestionably good news compared to what I had been expecting after the first visit with Dr. Hamza.
There are many next steps to come. These include scheduling physical therapy so I can get better control over my movement. It includes follow-up appointments to get my sutures out of my head and meetings with Dr. Hamza, Dr. Dubey, and Dr. Robert Caveliere of the OSU James Cancer Center (2nd opinion) to better understand what my treatment plan is like. I may still end up with some combination of chemotherapy and radiation therapy, but at this point, I don’t think we’ll know until the end of the month.
For now, the short term plan is getting enough rest to properly heal while slowly incorporating other activities to get me back to as normal as I can. The original prognosis called for me to be out of work for 4-6 weeks. Given how good I feel already, on day 4, it’s hard to see how I won’t be back at least part time sooner than that. But I’m not going to jeopardize my health and rush back.
Finally – I want to thank all of you again for the love and support you’ve provided over the last days and weeks. It has been so overwhelming. Julie and I had many visitors in the hospital. My sister flew in from California to help out. I’ve gotten so many cards, letters, and prayers from people – many I don’t even know and from states far afield. Prayer really does help and I have been the beneficiary of it. Even if you are not a spiritual person or a follower of Christ like I, please do know that you all have acted in a Christ-like manner to us. The warmth of your embrace and your positive thoughts, prayerful or otherwise, is appreciated more than you can possibly know.