Thursday, July 12, 2012


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The Glioblastoma

Cancer is an enormous problem across the world, infecting millions of people as well as wreaking havoc on their families. Any person can develop cancer virtually anywhere in their body and not know it until it is too late. Although of the cancers, brain cancer isn’t the most common form, although a Glioblastoma is the most fatal. In the United States, fifteen to twenty people in 100,000 are said to develop brain cancer. 

In 14 my father was diagnosed with an Astrocytoma. A form of brain cancer that was clearly life threatening, but with adequate treatment doctors could prolong life for numerous years. The doctors explained it on a numeric scale. They said on a scale of four, the Astrocytoma is a one.

Being years old at the time I really didn’t grasp a good understanding of how serious this really was. The doctors didn’t know how long the cancer had been forming for. They decided it had been a number of years because it wasn’t affecting him until it was pushing on his brain so hard he blacked out and fell down the stairs. They immediately went into surgery as soon as they arrived at the hospital. I wasn’t there for it because I was out of state, but when I got back my dad had changed, he had staples in the side of his head running linear for about nine inches and had lost all of his hair through chemotherapy. He had lost his short term memory, could not read or write, as well as having trouble speaking. The doctors gave him four years to live.

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My grandparents had him take numerous supplements that in the long run had all seemed to be working. The Astrocytoma wasn’t the direct cause of all these losses, it was the operation, and the loss of brain tissue. The Astrocytoma is the most common type of brain cancer with the highest survival rate. After the operation they use a series of chemotherapy and radiation to slow or stop and reduce the advance of the cancer.

After a few months my dad began to use the same “Hooked on Phonics” that I had used when I was a kid and that made me very emotional. I had to teach my dad to read as he taught me in the years previous. He started to regain his speech and he had problems spelling words that he used to take for granted.

Four years later he still got held up when trying to find words to describe something. As well as trying to read, the time it takes me and you to read a paragraph he could only read a sentence. Then when you ask him what he just read and what it meant he couldn’t tell you either of them. There was definite improvement though although he wasn’t easy on himself.

Eight years from his first operation everyone had thought he had “kicked it,” they had him coming into Anchorage every six months for an MRI to see if there has been any growth, and there wasn’t. So by this time the doctors believed that it was gone for good and they moved the MRI’s to once a year.

The very next MRI, one year later proved to be a breath-taking one. Not only was that cancer back it was coming with extreme force. It was a Glioblastoma, on the scale of four it was the four. They gave him medication that was supposed to help reduce the swelling but with all the chemical reactions taking place in the brain, this medication didn’t mix well. When he was taking the pills his brain told him to stop taking them he said and all of a sudden he got 100% independent. He didn’t want anybody interfering with anything and that was all it took. My grandparents couldn’t control him and he never went to sleep so they called a doctor, who came in a ambulance. My dad refused to go so the troopers got involved and the took him to Alaska Psychiatric Institute. Where I wasn’t allowed to see him because I was only seventeen.

They held him there until they were able to operate. By this time the cancer was four and a half inches long and two inches wide. The cancer was imbedded to far in the tissue to operate as effective as possible. The doctor didn’t want to touch the brain and only ended up getting 60% of the tumor. They said no one has lived with this type of cancer for more that a year and they were going to do radiation every day for two weeks. My grandparents told me later that the doctors knew it wouldn’t stop it but it would prolong his life a little longer.

When my dad got home from the hospital he was calm and didn’t talk much but enough to where you could understand him and carry on a slight conversation. I was only able to see him once a week because he lived in Willow and I worked and lived in Palmer. Every time I went to see him his condition was drastically worse he could walk at the start, then the walk went to a shuffle and from there to a cane, to a wheel chair and finally bed ridden. All in a span of roughly months. The doctors said that the areas where that cancer pushes on will cause his body to do different things. When dad could still talk he said the ground moved and seemed really close to his face, that’s why he had to shuffle with really small steps. All they could feed him was soft foods and liquids. Soon after that all his bowel functions shut down. At this point all there was to do was stand by his bed and talk to him although he couldn’t respond I knew he could hear me. His body was at the point that his eyes were wide open as well as his mouth and he would just stare into my eyes. About one day before he passed away they were giving him morphine every hour. The book that explained the dying process said in the last minutes of their life they gasp for air like a fish out of water until the tumor eventually reaches the brainstem where the body shuts down immediately. ( “The Dying Process”- A book given to us by the Hospice Org.) The cancer everyone thought he had beat, transformed into the Glioblastoma form and with the severity, grabbed a hold of his life and cut it off short.

Although there are numerous types of brain cancers the Glioblastoma is the most deadly.

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