Saturday, September 10, 2011

11 down, 4 to go...

Our daily trips to Ballard are soon coming to an end...for the time being. Meagan has done very well with the Tomo therapy radiation treatment - no side effects to speak of. After each treatment she seems a little unsteady, but that pretty quickly resolves. She has four more spine radiation treatments next week, then a brain MRI on Friday (the follow-up to the Gamma knife radiation treatment of her most recent brain tumors), with the results discussed in person with Dr. Vermeulen the following Monday. We continue to be impressed with the staff at the Ballard Swedish Radiation clinic - very helpful and Dr. Landis is quite personable and patient at answering Meagan's questions.

The big question she has these days is, will her mental state get any better, either from being able to reduce the drugs she is on, or as the effects of the last brain radiation treatment diminish. It has been a very frustrating couple weeks for her - she realizes her mental state ranges from not sharp to downright loopy. It definitely is worse after she takes her medications at 9:00am, but even before that (from when she gets out of bed around 6:30am) she is a bit fuzzy. It is impairing her ability to do some things she wants to do, as she can't keep a train of thought, or write well, or follow the thread of a conversation or book. It has also been increasingly frustrating for us at home, as she has to ask the same questions over and over (because she can't remember she asked them or she can't remember the prior response).

Both Dr. Kaplan and Landis couldn't offer much in the way of prognosis about what is causing the mental state or how it might be reduced. She is on so many medications and has had so many brain insults it is hard to figure out what exactly is causing it. And, as I told her last night, it is pretty unlikely that she is going to have her medications reduced, in fact it is more likely they would get increased (for example, the steroid dose) as more tumors present. This obviously doesn't make her happy - but we talked about shifting the focus to figuring out different strategies to get done what she wants to get done, assuming the continuation of her present mental condition.

Meagan has never wanted to look ahead at her prognosis or what possible paths the disease can take. She feels that any discussion of this takes away from her enjoyment of whatever life she has left. It's not how every person would deal with a life ending disease, but it is the way she wants to deal with it. It's not complete denial - she knows where this is headed, she just doesn't want to think about it. It is a conundrum however, because then the doctors don't lay out all the facts and impacts for her of treatments and progression (although I know). So then when issues arise later, sometimes she is surprised or upset. For example, when the latest brain tumors were discovered, all she wanted to hear from the radiation person was, "we can handle this, these are small". It was the confidence of Dr. Vermeulen that was more important than the data (size and location of tumors, potential impacts), and the way the message was delivered. But fast forward, and she did have side effects (speech slurred, mental faculties diminished, ability to do things like write, read, follow conversations reduced) and then when she hears that the one tumor was a decent size (small is all relative) and by the zappage getting some healthy brain tissue as margin, some brain impact did result, it causes her to be upset. Then due to her mental abilities, it becomes hard for her to follow my recount of how we got to where we are. It is also complicated by the fact that she can't remember well anymore, and what she does remember tends to be what she wants to remember, or partially invented.

Obviously trying to nail down the difference between perception and reality in her state is not particularly useful, especially for past history. So as I told her yesterday, let's not focus on that - trying to dissect your recollection of what the tumor sizes were and what Dr. Vermeulen said and how that might be different from your perception today. Because likely those tumors are handled - they've been treated. Those are not what are going to get you. If she wants, the next time she gets zapped we can get a copy of the radiation pathology report and read it in detail and know exactly what she is faced with. That is an option. But we also don't have to - especially if she doesn't want to focus on future impacts.

She knows our program is scan and zap, rotating between head and body, and that apparently the radiation treatment can have some positive effect, until at some point the tumor burden overwhelms the ability of the medical community to address it. So we are in a weird kind of disease limbo land - it's active, it's popping up in really bad places, but at this point appears controllable, without physical side effects, just mental (and emotional) ones. And life isn't really too bad for her, relative to others who have this. So we need to be somewhat appreciative for where we are right now, and she gets that.

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