Friday, May 8, 2009

M.D. Anderson: the aftermath

I spoke with Dad a few minutes ago about his and Mom's visit to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Clinic in downtown Houston. The consult was constructive and informative overall; it's possible that we will be working with the clinic again. In the meantime, however, it seems that the best strategy is to get Mom home to northern Virginia, let her have her meeting with the radiotherapist (Dr. Tonnesen) on May 13, and have her start the 6-week phase of in-tandem therapy (radiation plus chemo) through a combined effort involving Fairfax Hospital and NIH/NCI. The latter's role will, at least for the moment, be more about monitoring Mom's progress than about administering treatment. Drs. Tonnesen and Meister (Temodar chemotherapy) will handle the actual treatment through Fairfax Hospital.

Mom got her scalp/skull staples out today; according to the folks at M.D. Anderson, the staples had been in there a mite too long, making them difficult to remove. But the job was done, and Mom is now staple-free. She can't wash her hair until tomorrow, alas, and she's been warned against coloring her hair for the next several weeks. I've been quietly pushing for Mom simply to shave all her hair off and pretend to be a Buddhist nun, but she's having none of it. I told Mom that she could be like pop star Tina Turner, who is (or at least was) bald and who uses all manner of big-hair wigs. Mom shook her head disdainfully at the idea.

She did, however, consent to wear a wide-brimmed hat when we drove her and Dad to the airport on Thursday. That's a step in the wig-ward direction, I think; once clumps of hair begin falling out during the radiotherapy, she might be persuaded to go all-out and do the Big Shave. I won't push her too hard on this point, but I'm sure she'll make an aesthetic calculation and conclude that being bald is better than walking around with patches of hair missing (targeted radiotherapy doesn't make a patient lose all her hair; it affects only those areas of the scalp targeted by the machines, resulting in patchy hair loss, not complete hair loss). Cancer clinics have, among other features, shops that sell various types of headgear, from hats to bandannas to wigs, for patients looking to conceal what is happening to their scalps. Mom might be persuaded to visit such a store in the very near future.

Dad wasn't able to record the entire session with the doctor at MDACC today; my voice recorder's batteries apparently ran out on him. When he brings the recorder home tomorrow, we'll have to see how much was recorded. I got the impression, in talking with Dad, that he generally liked MDACC very much, but that he wasn't convinced that it was light years ahead of NIH/NCI or Fairfax Hospital. At no point did he say, "We have to move Mom here right now!" I'll need to talk further with Dad tomorrow to know whether my impression of his opinion is correct.

For me, today was basically a day to hang out with my brother Sean, who came over around 11:30AM. We went out to see the new "Star Trek" movie, which turned out to be pretty good, though perhaps not as good as "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," a film that has attained nearly sacred status in Trekkie lore. I wouldn't call myself a serious Trekkie, but I am geeky enough to pick up on the newest movie's many sly and overt references to "Star Trek II" and to other "classic" Trek films.

But having a mom with cancer makes me watch TV and movies differently. Watching "House," for example, can tug at my heart these days, especially when the "guest victim" is a cancer patient. Looking back at "Battlestar Galactica," I sense more keenly the trials of President Laura Roslin-- the tough broad with breast cancer who often seemed to cling to life out of sheer stubbornness. And in watching "Star Trek" today, I couldn't help feeling empathy for one of the main characters, a son who does his desperate best to save his mother, yet fails.

Of course, it's just TV, just movies. But we see the world through the filter of our current situation, and in my and my brothers' case, that filter now includes brain cancer.

My parents will be home tomorrow evening; I'll drive out to the airport to pick them up. Once they're home, I'm sure they'll both have more to tell me about what they thought of MDACC, and whether having Mom remain in Texas seems like a viable long-term option.



bob koepp said...

Kevin - I've been following your mom's story with interest and concern, and with sympathy and with hope. Your family is doing everything that you should be, and giving your mom a great gift in the process. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Kevin said...

Thanks, Bob. We appreciate the sentiments.