In 2013 a 3.5 cm breast cancer lesion was discovered in the left parietal area of my brain during a routine Pet Scan. The lesion was too large to be treated with radiation, so it was removed surgically (craniotomy) at the University of Miami. I never thought that I would live and neither did any one else, but here I am.
Since then 18 more brain mets have formed and they have been treated with Gamma Knife radiation. October 2013 (4), May 2014 (6) and October 2015 (8). This morning I had my 4th Gamma Knife treatment for just one(!) lesion. This one was in my right occipital lobe and rather large (1 cm) for a 1st showing. I get brain MRIs every 2-4 months, and nothing was there in August 2016.
Still, I feel lucky. I have the best brain doctor – Dr. Jordan Grabel. He is not only smart, he is a kind and gentle man. He has his own gamma knife machine, one of just 4 in the state of Florida. And it is just 20 minutes (Good Samaritan Hospital) from where I live. Besides all this, before I knew Dr. Grabel I was his mother’s computer teacher and she was my art teacher. I know Dr. Grabel’s father. I know some of his inside family gossip. All of this puts a really warm touch to our doctor-patient relationship, even though we don’t talk about it. This is one of the rare treasures of my life.
The gamma knife procedure was no big deal today. John and I got up early and drove in the light of a rising sun to the hospital. For the first time, no other lesions showed up on the preliminary mapping MRI, so there was just the one to zap. I was only in the gamma knife machine for 16 minutes, compared to 4+ hours the last time when 8 spots had to be zapped. The Versed hadn’t even worn off when the chimes rang and I was out.
There are challenges: Your head is screwed into frame that is bolted into a vice so that it can not move. I find this to be a mental challenge. I can’t think about it or else I panic. The frame that attaches to the vice is uncomfortable, both when they put it on you, and especially when it comes off. For at least 1/2 hour, while your skull bones expand (from being compressed in the frame/vice), you have a terrible headache. There are 4 major holes in your head where the screws have been used to hold the frame onto your head. These take at least a week to heal.
But it is a hell of a lot easier than surgery to remove cancerous lesions. There is no comparison.
I am lucky. In any other time, even 20 years ago, I never would have survived having cancerous things growing in my brain. Dr. Grabel says that my brain is looking “beautiful” (he says such things as this). He told John that my lesions just sort of fall apart and die when the gamma rays hit them. Cognitively, I feel like I’m keeping up with everybody else my age. I jokingly gauge my mental abilities by comparing myself to my husband, and I almost always come out ahead 🙂 .
Then there is the big mystery to all of this. I am learning my way around this landscape, new ways of letting go and discovering joy. Together.