Brain Surgery or Die in Three Months

By the morning of March 24, the evidence pointed to a lemon-sized, cancerous tumor within my brain's right parietal lobe. Its presence explained my symptoms in the weeks prior to visiting the ER. At the moment I was lying in a bed waiting to be admitted to the hospital. Clearly there was no chance of going home anytime soon.

While waiting, still more neurological tests were performed. Squeeze both fingers. Stick out your tongue. Raise both eyebrows. Smile wide. Follow the light with your eyes. That kind of thing. I seemed to pass them all except for acting like I was holding out a pizza with my eyes closed. I bombed that one over and over.

By this point, I was sufficiently mobile to use the bathroom without help. I'd entered the ER able to walk, albeit with some difficulty. Had I realized what a high-water mark of athletic fitness that would end up being, I might have paid more attention.

Dr. Hospitalist approached my bedside. A brain surgery was going to take place soon.

Uh, what?

Within the course of just one day I'd gone from having strange neurological symptoms to a doctor telling me that an interdisciplinary team was being assembled to cut open my skull and pull out a brain tumor. The technical terms were "craniotomy" and "resection." A craniotomy (be warned) is a surgical procedure in which a section of skull is removed to afford access to the brain during a subsequent procedure. The skull section so removed is preserved, and then replaced. A resection is a surgical procedure to remove a brain tumor.

I'll have a lot more to say about the technical details later. For now, suffice it to say that I felt the same way about the good doctor's news that I did about his Keppra idea.

This was all happening way to fast. I needed time to at least consider what my options were.

I asked, "What happens if I just skip the surgery?"

The answer was quick and confident, "There is no 'no surgery'. You'll be dead in three months." I didn't know it at the time, but Dr. Hospitalist was basing this prediction on a rather large body of hard evidence. Whatever kind of cancer I now had, it was on a mission to kill me and it was a badass.

Two options were presented: (1) a biopsy alone; or (2) combined surgery and biopsy. Dr. Hospitalist recommended (2), noting the outcome was likely to be be much better than (1). Whatever downsides might result were not presented in any detail. I chose the surgery/biopsy, but in my heart wanted to get the hell out of there and never go back.

Dr. Hospitalist left the room, leaving me to sort through what he had said.

Late that afternoon, the doctor who had shown the brain MRI images the previous evening stopped by. Dr. Surgery Resident, as I'll refer to him here, told me that my brain surgery was scheduled for March 28, four days from that point.

Dr. Surgery Resident also sketched out a possible path forward. The surgery would last about three hours. I'd be admitted to the hospital and so all further tests/treatments could be done by them. At best the symptoms would stop progressing post-operation. At worst, there would be a 6-12 month recovery.

Dr. Surgery Resident also explained the significance of the tumor's location: my right parietal lobe. I'll have much more to say about this later. For now suffice it to say that this part of the brain is involved in sensory integration, attention, and pattern recognition.