Dec. 2nd, 2006

Astro-what?

Dec. 2nd, 2006 01:17 am
mellicious: Retro Houston Astros logo (Astros - retro)
By way of writing something introductory for Holidailies: since I am always talking about my mother and her brain tumor these days, hey, let me introduce you!

My mother is named Billie. The tumor is called an astrocytoma, which I always thought was a little bit ironic, considering that we live in the Houston area, where the names of all sorts of things start with "astro" - Astrodome, Astroworld (now late and lamented), the Houston Astros, and so forth. And of course all of those names come from the astronauts, who all live generally in my mother's neighborhood, since they train at the Johnson Space Center, less than a mile from her house. That prefix "astro" is all tied up with Houston being "Space City" and all that kind of thing so the connotations for us are usually positive. But not in this case.

Well, anyway, the astrocytoma became part of our lives a little over two years ago now. The first symptom - although nobody figured it out at the time - was that she suddenly lost the hearing in one ear. And I do mean it about suddenly, as in, she was walking through Wal-Mart one day, and poof! it was gone. The doctors were baffled. They did do an MRI at the time, but nothing showed up, and they told her to get another one in six months.

Then, a bit later, came the seizures. These started - naturally - just before she was due to go back in for the six-month MRI. The first diagnosis was a stroke, so at the time, the possibility that it could be a brain tumor rather than a stroke didn't sound so bad. Brain tumors are benign sometimes, after all.

It wasn't benign, although it took an awful long time for anybody to tell us that for sure. It's not an unusual type of cancer, apparently, but up until we got to the big cancer center in Houston, people acted like it was something they'd never seen before. The neurologist who did the initial biopsy sent it off to Harvard to be diagnosed, like he'd never ever seen such a thing before! Finally, my sister made a lot of phone calls and got my mother in to be seen at M.D. Anderson, where they have people on staff who specialize in these kinds of things. (Two years in, I gripe a good bit about M.D. Anderson and their neverending bureaucracy, but they are the #1 or #2 cancer center in the world - depending on who you ask - and they have that reputation for a very good reason. They know their stuff.)

So meet the astrocytoma. It's called a grade 3 astrocytoma in this case - in grade 4 it morphs into another thing altogether, a thing called a glioblastoma, which is very nasty and aggressive and you REALLY don't want that one in your brain. But there was no sign of that. Mom had grade 3, which  isn't any piece of cake, either - it's not as aggressive, but it doesn't just go away, either. It may go dormant for a while, but once it's there, it's there, like a little time-bomb in your brain.

They decided to do surgery even though it was in a delicate part of her brain to mess around with, near her speech center. But the surgeons thought that they could get the bulk of the tumor out without doing serious damage, and they did. She had some problems talking - she said it was God punishing her for talking too much all her life. (Very religious, my mother is. But not in an obnoxious way.)

Then a year ago (I don't know why this stuff always happens in the fall), something new showed up on her MRI. And this time when they did a biopsy, something went wrong. They've never been really clear on what - if they even know. Bone fragments, necrosis, I don't know, but something is interfering with the things that matter. Not just her speech, but her whole right side of her body, as if she had a stroke after all. (Although she didn't; they checked for that.) Things have just gotten worse and worse all year, and I don't know what's going to happen now. My mother's a trooper, though, she just keeps going and never complains. Well, except she was mad that she couldn't come to Thanksgiving dinner with us, as she was in the hospital at the time. Poor thing.


Holidailies gold
mellicious: pink manicure (Buffy quote: action fig deployed)
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mellicious: pink manicure (Xmas - pink aluminum)
I have started "preparing" for Christmas - that is, the tree is out of the closet and so are the ornaments, and I've addressed a lot of Christmas cards already - but I have no idea what we will be actually doing for Christmas. Last year was like this too. As I said yesterday, for some reason these things always seem to happen around this time of year. Last year my mother spent just about all of December in the rehab hospital (a different one, actually) and apparently this year is going to be about the same. A couple of weeks ago when my mother seemed really out of it, I was thinking that, well, we might just go up to my aunt's for one night and try to have a normal Christmas. But now my mother seems somewhat more herself, so I can't see leaving her in that case. Obviously we're going to have to play it by ear.

Last year we checked my mom out of the rehab hospital for the day, had lunch somewhere (Kelley's? Luby's? I forget) and went back to her house and opened presents. The year before that we went to Austin to my sister's and it was relatively normal on the surface, but we had the prospect of mom's surgery already hanging over our heads, and also Paula already knew that she was about to leave her husband, so things were definitely somewhat strained, although we ended up enjoying that Christmas, for the most part. Then there was the year - which one was that? - that my mother had a radiation treatment on Christmas Eve. (That was her first bout of cancer, which was unrelated to this one. It must've been 2001 or so.) And before that there was the year - 1999, it would've been - that my uncle was in the hospital at Christmas, and died a few days later. Really, it seems like there hasn't been a "normal" Christmas in my family for years and years.


(Later) We went to see my mom this afternoon, and - I'm almost afraid to say these words - she seemed better. Is it too early to think the chemo could be working? The oncologist did say we would see results (or not) fairly quickly, but three days? It may just be the good effects of lots of rehab in the last week, but still. She's moving her right side much better. Lately she hadn't been wanting to move her right arm or leg much at all.

The place she's in is kind of a hoot, and not really in a good way. I mean, it's nice enough, but it's entirely different from the rehab hospital she was in last year (which is just down the road from this one). That one was purely a rehab hospital, and this one is a rehab hospital AND nursing home, and boy, does the difference show. It's probably more noticeable on Saturday afternoon - probably the peak for visitors - when there were rows of little old ladies in wheelchairs parked in the lobby. (Or maybe they're there all the time. I don't know the answer to that one yet.) And some of her neighbors in the 300 hall engaged in a screaming match while we were there. I don't mean they were screaming at each other, either; they seemed to just be randomly screaming. First one and then another, like it was a contest. They didn't seem to have any particular purpose or be in pain or anything - it seemed more like a way to amuse themselves and maybe get some extra attention. Very weird.


 Holidailies gold

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