Astrocytoma: Prelude and Discovery

Sometime in my early 30s I started experiencing vertigo-type symptoms. When I laid on my back, the room would briefly spin. Then I couldn’t look straight up without feeling off-balance.

Eventually, I saw the doctor, and he employed some techniques to reduce the vertigo-type symptoms. They seemed to work.

Then, ultimately, the symptoms returned to a point that their seriousness couldn’t be ignored. I was walking like what I remember my worst drunken nights were. I was shifting from side-to-side of the sidewalk in broad daylight. Then one weekend I experienced incredibly painful and debilitating headaches.

I returned to the doctor. He sent me for a CT scan. I went home, went to work the next day, and got a call from the doctor that there was an abnormal mass. The doctor advised me to come to him the next morning. I did not have health insurance. The doctor personally drove to several area hospitals to see if they would admit me. He wrote a prescription for Emergency Room admission at one hospital. I drove myself there, parked, and walked in to what would become the cancer journey.

With many loose ends dangling, I entered an exam room, to be attended to by various resident doctors. When they tested my walk, I nearly fell over. That night I entered a hospital room and met the neurosurgeon. I naïvely thought ‘they’ll do the surgery, I’ll be home in a day or two.’ I did not inform my family. I did inform my ex, who wisely informed my family. The initial surgery went fine. The surgeon removed as much of the tumor as he could. A shunt was installed to alleviate fluid buildup, should it occur.

About five days into recovery, I experienced aspirational pneumonia, and an emergency second surgery was initiated. Things weren’t looking good at some points.

About 10 days after my surgery I was transferred to Rancho Los Amigos a public rehabilitation hospital, with an excellent reputation. About another 10 days later, I went home.

I have issues with the left side of my body. My left arm and leg are weaker, my hearing is worse in my left ear, the left side of my face feels odd, something like numb. I have serious mobility issues and currently spend most of my time in a wheelchair.

With general mobility issues and an off-kilter gait I lived fairly normally for almost two -and-a-half years. I did yoga, I swam.Every six months I went for an MRI adjacent to an ambulatory clinic, where I would then see one of the volunteer oncologists, who would report that my tumor had not grown.

Months passed. I fell in private. Then one day in a community garden, I collapsed into a tomato cage. I couldn’t get myself up. I had no core strength whatsoever and wiggled on the ground for 20 minutes, finally managing to get up. Before I left the garden, I fell again. Someone helped me up. The next day I went to work and fell twice within 15 minutes. They sent me home.

I had visited the neurosurgeon a couple months prior. He wrote a very detailed letter and referred me to the UCLA Neurooncology team. After my falls,  I was seen by the neurooncologist and became a cancer patient. I gladly am under their care today.