Wednesday, September 21, 2016

The Treatments

In case somebody stumbles across these posts about my mom and her anaplastic astrocytoma brain cancer, I thought I would include a post about her actual treatments. As I said earlier, she is getting both radiation and chemotherapy at the same time to maximize their effectiveness on her brain cancer.

To back up a bit, her anaplastic astrocytoma brain cancer is of a diffuse nature which means like water, it can leech into healthy tissues of the brain and not have a defined wall like other types of cancer. As a result, even though then did a complete resection as they like to call it, they couldn't get it all without scooping out important parts of gray matter that control necessary functions like walking and talking. This makes getting what cancer cells remain very important to increase life expectancy before the cancer, a highly aggressive cancer returns. Due to the radiation dosing, Mom can't get more of it once her initial treatment is complete for another six months so if the cancer returns in that time, it is essentially game over. If she can go six months, then when (we hope that when is actually if) the cancer returns, we can go through another resection and treatment to push the ball, in this case Mom's life, down the road a bit further.

For the radiation part of it, Mom had to get a mold made of her head while in position on their machine. This mold actually bolts down to the machine holding my Mom's head so firmly in place, she can't even blink. Once in place, they took a high resolution MRI scan of the area where the tumor had been removed so that they can get very precise coordinates to target with radiation. This minimizes the damage to surrounding healthy tissue that can affect her in less than desirable ways. To take it to the next notch, she has to put a mouth piece in connected with some long wires connected to some balls suspended above her head. If she wiggles even a little by just swallowing, the balls wiggle cutting off the radiation treatment immediately so not to do collateral damage. The entire process take her about fifteen minutes to get bolted down to the machine with the mouth piece in and the machine programmed and about two minutes for the actual application of the radiation. Another few minutes to get her unstrapped and she is done for her treatment for the day. She gets treated five days a week with weekends off to recuperate and she has 34 treatments scheduled which will run until the last week of October.

The chemotherapy portion which runs concurrently with the radiation portion is an oral pill. It's actually several pills exactly dosed to a particular weight. So for example, there is a pill for 100 pounds of weight, another for 20 pounds, another for five pounds and another for one pound. Depending on your weight at that time, they get the pills that add up to that correct weight and you swallow the whole works the night before your treatment the following morning. The make you very nauseated which is no surprise since you end up with a belly full of chemicals foreign to your body, so my mom also has to take anti nausea pills along with others that help reduce swelling in her brain from the radiation. While on radiation treatment, the chemo dose is fairly low and when she finishes radiation 7 weeks from now, they will up the chemo to a much higher dose for a period of time yet to be determined. Eventually, she may be taken off chemo or put on a "maintenance" dose for the rest of her life.

As stated before, none of this is a cure for anaplastic astrocytoma and studies have shown that it only provides limited additional symptom free life beyond those that don't get treatment.  But cancer is a very fast changing field and if there ever is a cure, days and weeks may be critical. Also, though few, there are those that defy the odds and continue to live fifteen years after doctors told them they were supposed to die. These people got complete resections followed by chemo and radiation therapies, exactly what my mom is getting. The hope is that she can add her name to that list of people that doctors will be telling future patients have defied the odds. That is why Mom has decided to fight this disease even after being told it is unwinnable. One just never knows.


Kelly said...

Thanks for sharing this in more detail. I'm a bit of a science geek at heart and I find learning about things like this very interesting. I admire your mother's spunk and attitude.

sage said...

What a grueling treatment. Thanks for explaining this and prayers for your mom.

Bob said...

Great explanation Ed. You and your family have been in my prayers this morning.