We’re doing the best that we can
To follow an abnormal scan
The rumor was tumor
But the answer was no cancer
And the treatment’s a flash in the pan.
Synopsis: I’m a Family Practitioner from Sioux City, Iowa. In 2010 I danced back from the brink of burnout, and honoring a 1 year non-compete clause, travelled and worked in out-of-the-way places in Alaska, Nebraska, Iowa, and New Zealand. After three years working with a Community Health Center, I went back to adventures in temporary positions until they have an Electronic Medical Record (EMR) system I can get along with. A winter in Nome, Alaska, assignments in rural Iowa, a summer with a bike tour in Michigan, and Urgent Care in suburban Pennsylvania stretched into the fall. Last winter I worked western Nebraska and coastal Alaska. After the birth of our first grandchild, I returned to Nebraska. All our plans have been put on hold pending resolution of my wife’s brain tumor. Any identifiable patient information has been included with permission.
Three weeks ago on Tuesday my wife, Bethany, awakened with severe vertigo. She couldn’t get out of bed without vomiting. Over-the-counter meclizine helped but little. I posted the case on a physician’s chat site the next day, and got the recommendation for the Transderm Scop patch (she had one left over from a recent trip). It helped but the problem persisted.
I don’t like to be my family’s doctor, so that Friday morning we went to the Clinic Formerly Known As Mine. Bethany’s doctor found horizontal nystagmus (a twitching gaze), when looking to the right, and ordered an MRI with contrast.
Chaos dominates Friday afternoons, thus Friday’s MRI happened without contrast.
I have the training and education to imagine a large collection of really bad things, and by now I’ve learned that the awful moments in life come to us unanticipated. So I went through my catastrophic catalog and felt better for having done so. My phone went off while I was gardening.
In general, you don’t want your doctor to have bad news, especially not on Friday afternoon.
The MRI showed a 2.2 centimeter something behind the left eye. The original report mentioned possible glioma with the strong recommendation for a contrast study. The thing’s location didn’t account for the dizziness.
With advances in imaging, we have had to come up with a term that means an abnormal finding found by coincidence; we call it an incidentaloma.
I called my locum tenens recruiter to say I had put all plans on hold; she relayed the information to those facilities expecting me in Nebraska and Alaska. Bethany phoned our daughter to say she wouldn’t be coming to help with the new grandson.
That night I read Bethany the Wikpedia article on glioma: 1/3 benign, 2/3 cancer.
Bethany’s cousin’s first wife died three weeks after getting her glioma diagnosed; she only had time to pick out her husband’s next wife, and say a loving goodbye to her family. In the ‘80’s I had a patient with a glioma who lived for less than 100 days after diagnosis.
We didn’t talk about those things.
Bethany took the information in stride, with understated courage. I focused on the moment with the joy of uncertainty that gives hope. I embraced not knowing and did my best to focus on the moment: stripping the last tart cherry tree of its fruit, bringing in the first green chiles from the garden. I clung to things precious for their normality.
We suffered through the next four days, our plans shredded, as Bethany’s dizziness faded and her balance improved.
With her vertigo improved and her calm unruffled, Bethany went in for the contrast MRI the Tuesday morning before July 4. In the afternoon our fax brought the new diagnosis of meningioma, a well-behaved tumor with little if any malignant potential.
Relief of a magnitude that brings tears defies description.
I relied on my status as a physician and on friendship to get us an appointment with a neurosurgeon the next morning.
He explained the choices: leave it alone, open surgery, or radiation. He said if it were his tumor, he’d prefer the radiation. He also showed us the MRI image, with a bright cylinder an inch long and half-inch wide growing up from the floor of the skull just behind the left eye.
He doesn’t do that procedure, but his partner does. And that partner wouldn’t be back in the office till Tuesday the following week.
Basking in the light of a better diagnosis while marinating in the darkness of an upcoming brain procedure, we went about our business. We had ice cream with our neighbors, and friends over for dinner on Friday.
Yesterday we met with the neurosurgeon, who explained stereotactic radiosurgery. And today we met with the radiation oncologist.
The actual treatment consists of focusing a radiation beam on the tumor, zapping the same way sunlight, focused with a lens, burns one point.
The next step, the 3D MRI, remains unscheduled.