Thursday, September 27, 2007

So What is This Thing

I've finally decided to address and download what I know about my tumor. I am going to precede this with "I am not a doctor and this is strictly a download of information that I have gathered in my head while doing a huge amount of research. I can not insure the validity of anything I say or even give sources for most of the information. I repeat, it is strictly a download of the information I have discovered by scouring the net and talking with people over the past 5 weeks. Remember that nothing I say here should replace the advice of your doctor or your own research."

First a bit about the brain. In the brain there are two types of cells, the Neurons which act as transporters and the Neuroglia or Glial cells which nourish.

When a tumor develops from the Glial cells in the brain, it is called a Glioma. This is the type of tumor I have. A Glioma is divided into four types or grades. Grade one and two are what they call low-grade Gliomas and grade three and four are what they call high-grade Gliomas. Low grade Gliomas are typically benign where high grade are malignant. A grade one glioma is a slow growing tumor with well defined borders while a grade two glioma is also slow growing but has varied borders and typically grows faster than a grade one. My neurosurgeon believes that I have a grade one glioma. (Note: the diagnosis can not be fully determined without a biopsy but that is addressed in another post.)

The good news about a Glioma is that they are resident in the brain meaning that they will not spread to other areas of the body. (They won't become metastatic and cause lung cancer for instance.) The bad news is that even a benign Glioma can grow very large and can turn malignant at some stage in its growth. Most problems with a Grade One Glioma are caused by the size of the tumor, not the tumor itself. Imagine your head in its confined little area with your brain nestled snugly inside of it. Now imagine an object, let's say the size of a plum (which seems to be a common size for when it is first diagnosed) that is sharing this space. Neither the brain nor the tumor wants to give up space and unfortunately, only the brain can be hurt by this battle. This "battle for space" can cause paralysis, headaches, seizures, or any number of other symptoms depending on the tumor's location. So why isn't it an obvious choice to just remove the thing then? Well, when partially removed or more importantly even when completely removed, a Glioma has a tendency to return and when it does, chances are good it will return malignant.

So what is the difference between a benign and a malignant tumor? Less than you might think. A benign tumor will still grow, it can still cause symptoms, and other issues. However, a benign tumor will not penetrate into the surrounding brain tissue. Rather it will simply "push" on it. A malignant tumor has little fingers that penetrate into the surrounding brain tissue, thus making it not only more difficult to eliminate but more "deadly".

The other issue is that with my tumor having been discovered with no symptoms, no one really knows how long it will be before I have symptoms and more importantly if it will ever grow big enough to give me problems. I was told by someone that it is believed that tens of thousands of people die each year with this type of tumor in their brain and they never had a symptom of it. So this thing could have remained in my brain for the length of my life (and it is estimated it's been there most of my life already) and never been discovered.

The typical treatment of a Glioma are as varied as the number of cases and neurosurgeons out there. Therefore, you could go to four different neurosurgeons and receive four different treatment plans. Some surgeons are on the "surgery is the only method" bandwagon and will operate regardless of whether it truly benefits the patient or not. Others believe that Radiation is the best method and that shrinking the tumor is as beneficial as removing it. Still others believe that you can use "watch and wait" and see if it will do anything before actually taking actions.

So the options for me become this... 1. I opt for a partial resection (removal) and remove the part of the tumor that is not in a critical area and take the chance of it causing a disability either physically or mentally. Then wait and hope it doesn't continue to grow or worse... turn malignant. Other options in conjunction with the surgery would be radiation or chemotherapy of which both have their own problems and issues and after all that it could still essentially kill me. 2. I can opt to choose radiation to attempt to shrink the tumor. This would only be an option after confirming the type of tumor and its risks include damaging the surrounding brain tissue from the radiation. 3. I can opt to watch it and employ one of the above methods if it shows signs of changing all the while hoping I die some day of old age. 4. I can do what I'm doing and that is to watch it but continue to constantly look at my options. This method is what found Gamma Knife for me and hopefully will continue to help me fight it without taking serious chances of permanently disabling me with the "cure" for my tumor.

Besides the risks mentioned above, it needs to be mentioned that my tumor is in the right frontal lobe of the brain but more importantly, it is also along an area called the motor strip. The frontal lobe controls things like emotion, planning ability, and thinking ability. Anyone that knows me knows that I have no problems in these areas except a bit of anxiety that could be hereditary rather than tumor caused. The motor strip, however, controls muscle movement for the opposite side of your body. Therefore, if I were to damage it with my tumor it would affect the left side of my body. This could be in any form from weakness in the face or arms to complete paralysis. This is why my tumor is considered virtually inoperable AND why some of the first signs of problems include issues with weakness or stumbling on my left side. (Go ahead, I can hear it now, is this why you are such a klutz? Don't worry peeps, I am just a klutz!!!)

Ok, so that was a brief explanation of the tumor, the treatment options, and what I'm doing. I will repeat that this is just a download of information. I do not know that all this information is indeed fact. However, it may give a perspective on what I am dealing with and why some of the decisions have been made as they have. If anyone has any information to add that maybe I didn't stumble across, please be sure to comment and let me know.

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