Glioblastoma - A Challenging Diagnosis
Personal perspective and prospective on a serious brain tumor now impacting Sen. John McCain
Melody Brigowatz knew very little about glioblastoma when she was first diagnosed three years ago, except that it wasn't good. She simply planned for the challenges ahead.
It began when Melody had trouble remembering things and made the decision to return to the place where she was treated so well before, OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony Medical Center, in Rockford.
The tumor was on the left side of her brain and surgery was ordered imediately.
Melody's radiation oncologist, Dr. Iftekhar Ahmad, of the Patricia D. Pepe Center for Cancer Care at Saint Anthony, says of all cancers, giloblastomas are a very, very small percentage, but among the most serious. That's because they're very agressive and the recurrance is high.
"And that's based on the nature of how the tumor is," says Ahmad. "Even though it's a solid mass, it tends to have these kind of tenticles that go out into the brain matter and so it's very difficult to be able to take out all of it. And even if you could, it may leave the pateitn with a severe deficit."
Melody's initial prognosis was perhaps 6 months, but following the primary treatment of surgery, along with radation and the oral chemotherpy - pills which she still takes - the 72 year old is entering her fourth year of recovery.
"So by moving this, it made me still live on, live with my husband, live with my children, my grandchildren and all my dear, dear friends," says Melody. "And I was able to, to go on."
Dr. Ahmad says the prevenlence of glioblastomas in older persons is possibly the result of mutations that accumulate in the body over the years, which sometimes result in a tumor. And while Melody's sudden loss of memory was her cue, Ahmad says any number of symptoms could be a warning sign.
"You know yourself the best," says Ahmad. "And if you feel like you're not acting the way you normally do or if you're having physical symptoms, then get it checked out."
Ahmad also cautions that even with the best treatment, glioblastoma patients do not have good outcomes. But, he adds, that does not mean there are not options for a good quality life. Melody's longer than average survival time is proof of that.
"First of all, believe in the Lord," says Melody. "He did it for a reason. He may have taken, he may take somebody who can do a lot of different things and now you do less. And, why?" Melody says, "Well, that's not for me to ask. But, living with that is really the thing that keeps me going. And looking at all the good things in my life."
Those "good things" include her husband of 49 years, Jerry, who Melody says has always been a blessing - as well as her two children and five grandchildren.