Hi! It’s a quarter to ten on Friday night and I’m sitting in my room at Froedtert Hospital here in Wauwatosa. Froedtert is one of two large hospitals that anchor the Wisconsin Medical Center. The center is only a mile away from our house—if you’ve been here to visit we may have driven you by it. The Wisconsin Medical School is here, too.
Anyway, we have had a busy day and developed our plan of attack. First thing this morning I had a visit with Dr. Oesterling, an oncologist. He had received a final copy of the MRI report. It showed a large tumor on the right side of my brain. It sits very close to the strip of tissues that control arm and leg motion on the left side of my body. The tumor appears to be bleeding, which is most likely what is causing me to lose strength and function in my left leg and arm. The report also indicated a smaller tumor in the front lobe of my brain, right above my left eye. The doctor said when they can see a couple of melanoma “mets” in the brain, then most likely there are 15 to 20 smaller ones they can’t see.
The doctor said it was urgent that we remove the large tumor immediately. I had contacted two neurosurgeons yesterday when Dr. Legha told me I needed to have surgery as soon as possible. One of the doctors I contacted was Dr. Wade Mueller, who was recommended by my dermatologist and one of Kelly’s legal partners. Dr. Oesterling agreed that Dr. Mueller was a good choice and arranged for me to meet with Dr. Mueller right after lunch.
Dr. Oesterling said we could address the smaller tumor, as well as all other melanoma cells in my brain, by attacking them with radiation. He arranged for me to meet with a radiation oncologist to discuss this part of the plan. The radiation oncologist said we would take a two-part approach. The first part would entail using a “gamma knife”, which is essentially a concentrated radiation dose, to go directly after the smaller tumor. They would do this procedure shortly after the brain surgery. They don’t have to wait for the wound to heal to do it. As soon as my wound has healed fully—in 10 to 14 days after surgery—they would radiate the entire brain. The brain radiation would be conducted five times per week for three weeks. This should destroy all other melanoma cells in my brain.
This plan of attack conformed to the recommendations made by Dr. Legha yesterday, so Kelly and I felt comfortable proceeding. I met with Dr. Mueller today after lunch. He is a very likable man who performs 300 to 400 surgeries per year specifically to remove brain malignancies. His sense of humor had me laughing hard for the first time since this new nightmare began. He said he would do the surgery Saturday morning and admitted me to the hospital immediately after our appointment. He ordered me to have a chest X-ray and another MRI scan, this one done with mapping sensors taped to my head. The sensors will help the doctor identify the precise location of the tumor when he goes inside.
The surgery itself should take two to three hours. They will shave a strip of hair just to the right of the center of my head for the incision. He said they will return me to the intensive care unit for close observation after the surgery. If things proceed as they should, I will be back in a regular room within a day or two. He said the first two days are unpleasant but then the recovery is remarkably fast, and I should be home in three or four days if all goes well. He said that, given my age and otherwise good health, the most likely side effect is prolonged or permanent weakness in my left side. It all depends on whether he can remove the tumor without removing the brain material that controls motor functions on my left side.
Kelly brought the kids to my room for pizza tonight so we could visit. My sister, Mary Margaret, was here as well. Her boss, who is a melanoma Stage III survivor, gave her the day off to come up and babysit the kids while Kelly and I went to all our appointments. I was so glad to see them all. My very good friends, Tony and Cee Cee Popanz and their two daughters, came by to say hi. Fr. Charlie from our parish, St. Jude’s, also came by to give me the sacrament of the sick. It meant a lot to me to have them here.
When I stop to think about what is happening, I get frightened. Fortunately, I haven’t had much time to think. The good news is that the doctors feel fairly confident that they will be able to eradicate the cancer in my brain with this approach. I appreciate all of your prayers and notes of support. Hopefully I’ll be home soon and doing my power walks around the neighborhood before too long.