It is said that cancer survivors never forget the moment they are told they have cancer. For me, I vividly remember staring at a computer screen showing an MRI image of my brain. I was taking a break from ward work in the ‘doctor’s mess’ and had been looking forward to getting my very own brain scan to print out and keep; The plan was to stick it on the fridge door at home and entitle it “My super-clever brain, Aged 25”! This scan, however was most definitely not one to treasure.
Why have a brain scan?
A few weeks before, I had been to see my GP about a variety of general problems; tiredness, not sleeping well, not eating properly… At the time I was an uber-keen fitness addict and cycled 30+ miles a day. My GP kindly ordered some blood tests ‘just to be sure’ but correctly told me that I was probably over-doing the training and needed to ease back a bit. The blood results came back and confirmed her suspicions: I was training and working too hard. The results showed that several of my hormones (e.g. thyroid) were too low.
‘Just to be sure’
Hormone problems can be caused by damage to a gland in the brain. A brain scan was arranged ‘just to be sure’ that the tiny little pituitary gland in my head was unharmed. The brain scan showed what my doctor suspected: the pituitary gland was fine and the hormone imbalances were because of my excessive training regime. But there was something else was on my brain scan that didn’t look quite right. I had worked in hospital long enough to know that a white ‘cotton-wool’ blob sitting on my right cerebral cortex wasn’t normal.
The day after my scan I was called in to see a neurology consultant, an old boss of mine, to give me the news:
“You have what looks like a glioma”
The consultant didn’t elaborate but gave her sympathies. She assumed I could remember from medical school what a glioma was. I could only remember the basic details: a malignant form of brain cancer, that cannot be cured.
I went on to have two operations over the next 18 months to remove most of the tumour. Thankfully, the tumour is a slow growing one: on average people like me live 12 years. Mine was found by accident, and because I remain in good health fit, I’m hoping for more!
Living with uncertainty
After my first operation I developed epilepsy and had to leave medicine. Life changed dramatically: but not all for the worse! At 25 years of age and working nearly every waking hour in a hospital, I rarely spent time with my wife. I worked in a profession that paid well but sapped from you every ounce of physical and emotional energy. I now work in a profession (teaching) that I love! I was inspired by brilliant and charismatic teachers when I was at school and now I try to do the same for others! Getting diagnosed with Epilepsy meant I had to stop driving, but I have been able to raise money for charity through cycling! The generosity and genuine empathy that people (often strangers) showed has gone a long way to restore my faith in humanity. The whole world isn’t self-centred, unlike what much of the media tells you!
Living with hope
Every six months I have a scan to see if the tumour has grown back. This will continue for the rest of my life. Both my wife and I pray that I will defy the odds and that the tumour will never grow back again. In the meantime, we are actually enjoying life more than ever: treasuring time together, doing jobs we love and trying to have as much fun as possible!
21 responses to “Doctor Heal Thyself!”
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Great story, inspiring. Taking the positive from the negative.
Hi Stuart, you probably won’t remember me but I’m a nurse and worked with you on MAU and MDC at Musgrove.I’ve looked you up because I noticed you were really pale one day and meant to ask if you were OK but the moment passed- stupid of me because then I heard about your diagnosis- much too late to sponsor you on your bike ride (Sorry!)and now feel really bad about it. The reason I’m writing this though is because my husband was also diagnosed with a glioma, 18 years ago,and apart from a few set-backs, is still going strong, so don’t think of 12 years as a time limit!
All the best in your new career, Sue
Sue, thanks so much for getting in touch! It’s very encouraging to hear about your husband – it means a lot. 🙂
one of the advantages of being a doctor is being able to know how to take care and heal themselves . .
My MRI looks similar, 6cmX4 cm,same place. Scheduled for removal in 3 weeks . Concerned it could change me into a different person. Discovered LGG-2 by accident, have no symptoms. Sure it changes the view on life, for one I no more care about the stock market …well, not so much as before the finding. Find the whole thing interesting , yet alarming/scary. Yet ,am told this is a routine procedure, and I wouild be OK with P>0.9, liked reading what you posted, Thanks
Good luck! Feel free to ask any questions and I may be able to offer some insight/reassurance,
well it is a month later and no invitation, suppose hospital will wait till I flop on a floor like a carp to consider my case worthy a call.
Feb 2 is THE day ! Left message on your facebook…Good bye LGG2, hello new life !
Good to hear. Nope didn’t get anything on Facebook…
tried Facebook messaging again….had pre-op today.. amazing experience
had the tumour resected 2/2, sent home the next day, drainage tube removed, walking without assistance, memory good, no pain pills needed, justy on the styroids controlling the brain swelling / edema, gradulally reducing the dosage, 34 fancy staples … envy of punk & skin heads on the street, all asking me for the surgeon’s name since free / paid by OHIP insurance.
Dr. may have give me a sligt face, forehead lift – has not charged extra for it yet… received a bunch of follow up dates with an oncologists ( re pathology results – hoping for the best again ), neurosurgeons,feel greatly relieved, relaxes, sleep better, no more inner voice advising me how to die, and all the attention from friends, arriving flower & fruit arrangements – have they thought I was not going to make it, have they just changed the signs to get well soon ?
What an experience, suppose I’ll be watched for the rest of my life. So thankful for the experience and to my guardian angel without whom I would have never found out I had a problem since I have not listened to the friends who long ago advised me to have my head examined…just cannot make all happy…
Only a day 5 after the surgery, and all is well, Must be careful not to over eat, as I have an unusually good appreciation for fresh , even microwaved and older tea -biscuits, supplied by many of our friends,, and food in general.
Life is good again, while not out of the woods yet – but almost ! Thanks Dr. Stu for the support via Facebook and e-mails, much appreciated, you must be a very special person.
day 20 ! 6 lbs heavier, still on dexamethasone 2 mg 2 X day, great appetite, thinking about food, but know there must be a limit…today will learn about the cells found in my tumour since the 2/2/12 surgery- expect and hope for a good news. What an unbelievable “all inclusive return trip to Hell and back” at the expense of Health Canada . A trip one would not want to repeat ever again.
20/3/2012 = 7 weeks after the surgery, all is well, back to normal life, pathology report favourable- no cancer- just 4% cells of the removed nasty tumour were dividing, as compared with expected 10%-20% => great news !!!
Trying to drop gained 7 lbs weight. Have no more the appetite of a starved wolf – thank God !
No more frequent runs to bathroom during the night resulting in better sleep – doctors should warn patients about the dexamethasone’s side effects and what to expect. The temporarily lost mojo is also back…
From now on must keep an eye on the few tumour cells left behind, as 100% resection is not possible with olegodendroglioma, else they would be removing “good brain cells “. Will have MRIs once a while. No chemo, or radiation is required – another good news . Prognosis is favourable, this guy was really lucky and wishes same good luck to all with similar condition. It is survivable, stay positive, keep the chins up and trust in the power of possitive thinking and the mental support from family and friends. You may discover that people are good.
Do not keep your finding a secret, you may be surprised how many people around you share similar fate.
Good luck !
All is well , except yesterday I noticed an uncontrollable twitching of my pinkie and the index finger on my left hand.
Reported the finding, and hope it is some minor nuisance. Otherwise I am in control of my weight gain, dropping weight gradually, serves me right for over indulging on pork hocks when under the ‘power” of dexamethasone….
Volunteering for a cancer centre. So many people are worried sick about their future, hope I can help in some little way.
Finally a news I waited for.” My tumour” has apparently the most favourable chance of a survival. Well, I believe that the histopathology has overstated the finding and my tumour was destroyed and gotten rid of. I’d prefer if I had the best chance, not the tumour but think that is what the doctor had in mind, so I am grateful and happy it is over. I also got married again !
So do you teach at a medical school now? Were you finished your doctor training when you were diagnosed?
I hope this question is not too personal: What kind of glioma did you have?
No, not too personal – grade II astrocytoma