Surviving oligodendroglioma with humor and gratitude

My brain tumor symptom came on Feb. 15, 2015. I was playing in a
soccer match with my team — Express — at Meyer Park in Spring,
Texas. I burst though our opponent’s defense and calmly knocked the
ball home for a goal. Seconds after the restart, I headed the ball.

What happened next was the first of multiple seizures. After passing
out, I woke up on a stretcher as I was being put into an
ambulance. This was not part of an elaborate goal celebration, as some
of my teammates thought. This was for real. 

I was admitted to a local ER, where they found the cause of my
seizures: a brain tumor. A biopsy a few days later revealed
I had a glioma. We decided to visit MD Anderson. 

Accepting my brain tumor treatment plan

Our first appointment at MD Anderson was with radiation oncologist
David Grosshans, M.D., Ph.D., in the Proton Therapy Center. To say he was positive
was an understatement. “We’ll have you back on the soccer field,” he promised.

Our next stop was MD Anderson’s Brain and Spine Center, where we met
neurosurgeon Sherise Ferguson, M.D., and neuro-oncologist Barbara O’Brien, M.D. They recommended a pretty
intensive treatment plan that involved surgery to remove more of my brain tumor. I wasn’t
thrilled and was in complete and utter denial, but reluctantly agreed.  

Awake craniotomy and a new diagnosis

I had my surgery — an awake craniotomy — on April 9, 2015. Dr.
Ferguson explained how I would be woken up during surgery to map the
motor areas of my brain, but that I wouldn’t feel anything. During the
operation, I talked to anesthesiologist Ian
Lipski, M.D.
We discussed cars, cycling to work, Jack Reacher,
JK Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy,” traveling to Korea and – who knows
why – cosmetic dentistry too.  

That Saturday evening, Dr. Ferguson braved strong thunderstorms to
personally deliver the good news about my diagnosis: post-operative
pathology revealed my tumor was actually a grade II oligodendroglioma,
a low-grade brain tumor.  

Caring providers make all the difference

After MD Anderson helped convince my insurance provider to cover
my proton therapy treatment, I started on proton therapy with Dr. Grosshans. Seeing people
from all over the planet in the waiting room made me realize I was
being treated in a world-class facility. Six weeks and one terrible
haircut later, I rang the gong and said goodbye to my proton family —
the techs and nurses. 

Under Dr. O’Brien’s supervision, I then started temozolomide, an
oral chemotherapy for brain cancer. Maintaining my
blood count was a delicate balancing act at times, but I had the
utmost confidence in my care team. They’re just really good at what
they do. Throughout my chemotherapy, I had several MRI scans and
frequent labs. Doing blood work near my home at MD Anderson in The Woodlands was extremely
convenient.  

When I completed treatment, Dr. O’Brien explained that I was not
cured, but in a new phase of monitoring. I started with more MRIs and
checkups every two months, then less often as my condition remained stable.

I’m now more than two years out from my initial diagnosis. Visits to
the Brain and Spine Center are not nearly as daunting. I could
describe the folks there as awesome, but that would only be half the
story. They genuinely care. Yes, they give you the proper medicine,
but it’s the rapport they build and the humor they dispense with
treatment that makes the visits enjoyable. When your doctor takes the
time to laugh with you, or the nurse asks if you have any more jokes,
you know you’re in the best place. 

A promise kept

At Dr. O’Brien’s urging last year, my family and I participated in
Head
for the Cure Houston
, a 5K race that supports brain tumor research at MD Anderson. You can
join team MD Anderson at the 5th Annual Head for the Cure
Houston 5K on Saturday, Oct. 14. I was never likely to set a world
record. In fact, Dr. O’Brien vanished over the horizon after the first
mile marker. But I did finish.

This reminded me of Dr. Grosshans’ promise that I’d “be back on the
soccer field.” I wasn’t, but I was up and running, and it was my
choice not to play soccer — not the tumor’s.

Request an appointment at MD Anderson
online
or by calling 1-877-632-6789.