What my brain cancer did during my chemo vacation

Posted in Uncategorized by Sean Holton on December 3, 2010

An abandoned house in Detroit

Suppose that you go away for two months, leaving your home unattended and unmaintained. What exactly do you hope or expect to find upon your return? Here are a couple of possibilities:

Scenario One: You return from the airport, open the front door apprehensively, and immediately notice  some cobwebs in the corners and a thin coat of dust on the furniture and floor — certainly not something you would have wished for but, at the same time,  not entirely unexpected either. And definitely not a crisis.

Scenario Two: You open the front door to discover that vandals have broken in and crapped on your living-room rug. Yes. A very ugly scene indeed.

 As a brain-cancer patient, I have been on a long vacation of my own lately. That is, I went without chemotherapy treatments for a stretch lasting from October 12 until just yesterday (December 2). The chemo hiatus was necessary because of the surgery I underwent October 21 to drain a potentially dangerous collection of excess cerebrospinal fluid that had built up around my brain. One of the chemo agents I receive intravenously (Avastin) comes with a bleeding risk that makes it too dangerous to administer until the brain has fully healed from such a surgery.

A bi-weekly therapy combining Avastin with the cancer-killing drug Irinotecan has been extremely successful keeping my tumor in check since August. I   was nervous being off the drug treatments for for so long.  So I  was more apprehensive than usual yesterday when I went in for my first MRI brain scan since October 20. Reviewing the results afterward with my oncologist would be a bit like opening the front door of my brain and wondering what we would find inside after such a long absence. Would it be crap on the carpet or just a little dust on the furniture? Thankfully, for me, it was more like the latter. Still, the so-called “clean scan that every patient with any kind of cancer always hopes for turned out to be too much to expect.

“”The scan looks a little worse. It shows the tumor might be coming back,” said my oncologist, Dr. George Bobustuc, stepping into the exam room.

“Oh no,” I thought. “My worst fears about being off chemo have been confirmed.”

But as Dr. Bobustuc calmly led me through the latest scan in a side-by-side comparison on the screen with my Oct. 20 scan, my fears quickly were diminished. He pointed out where the new MRI had picked up some “areas of enhancement” that showed up as tiny white flecks on the screen around the site of my original tumor. These little flecks looked nothing like the scary image of the full-blown recurrent tumor that I illustrated here with a photo of a comet afterI had a really bad scan on July 30. Now if you take out the comet and look only  at the stars in the background of that picture you’ll have a better idea of what my new scan looks like. No turds on that carpet, folks. Just a little dust.

Another blessing I continue to enjoy as a GBM (glioblastoma multiforme cancer) patient is the fact that, while the disease is usually assumed to have infiltrated the entire brain by the time it is diagnosed, there have been no signs of new  tumor activity anywhere in my brain beyond the site of the original tumor that was removed in July 2009.  And that didn’t change with the latest scan. Less fortunate GBM patients often must  deal with a progressive, spreading disease that creates multiple, new tumors popping up in more vital lobes of the brain. 

Dr. Bobustuc put me further at ease when he used the term “soapy bubbles” to describe the little white flecks.  He said he said he wouldn’t even use the definitive term “recurrent tumor” to describe what the new image showed unless those little dots had been larger, more dense and had popped up during active treatment — while my brain was being bombed with the chemotherapy. That would have been a troubling sign that my brain cancer might be””learning” to resist the powerful medicine. Instead,the flecks’ appearance during the long treatment hiatus was fairly predictable. They are definitely signals that the underlying GBM cancer is still in there, and maybe just waking up a little until we can start bombing it again.

Speaking of that, I was extremely relieved that shortly after leaving Dr. Bobustuc’s office,  I was  back upstairs  in a chemotherapy infusion room, sitting in an easy chair  with an IV in my arm. I will have another infusion in two weeks, and then a third two weeks after that. Then I’m set up to get another MRI scan in early January to check on progress. Based on my history with these two drugs, having seen just two of these infusions wipe out a dense tumor mass back in August, I’m petty confident about what my next scan will show.

In other words, watch out, little soapy bubles.  Avastin and Irinotecan are back in town.


19 Responses

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  1. Colorado Bob said, on December 3, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    ” Atta Boy “

  2. Flatus Ohlfahrt said, on December 3, 2010 at 3:29 pm

    I will have to add Dr. Bobustuc to my list of Christmas angels :))

  3. Paul Lester said, on December 3, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks so much for the update. So glad there wasn’t any crap on the rug and I hope those soapy bubbles get popped soon!! Thoughts and prayers heading your way!

  4. patebooks said, on December 3, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    I love the image of soapy bubbles. Is this what it means to have a clean mind?!

    Congrats on your continuing recovery.

    Cheers! Nancy

  5. Jane said, on December 3, 2010 at 5:25 pm

    I, too, love the image of the soapy bubbles. I hope your chemo cocktail wipes out the remaining bubbles.

    Great news to start your weekend.

  6. Kathy Green said, on December 3, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Hi Sean, I’m on my third kind of chemo, have two rounds left!! The first two (Taxol and Carboplatin) gave me too much neuropathy, ditto for the second kind (Gemzar and Cisplatin) . So now, am on Doxil and it is much easier, just have to watch out for blistering. Got through the surgery fine, and ran to Europe three days after chemo. Can’t keep these Independence people down!! Glad you are back on the chemo regimen and beat those little bubbly bastards!!

  7. RebelliousRenee said, on December 3, 2010 at 6:26 pm

    since I can’t hug you in person…. a cyber hug will have to do…

  8. Janice Blase said, on December 3, 2010 at 6:59 pm

    Adding my hug to Renee’s…you’re gonna get thoroughly squeezed! Glad to read your news, and looking forward to more and better news soon….

    • Mary Munster said, on December 3, 2010 at 7:51 pm

      Good luck with your new rounds of treatment! And add yet another cyber-hug……

  9. bethyboo said, on December 3, 2010 at 11:04 pm

    Sean, I love the way you help us visualize the behaviour of your tumor and meds. See the soapy bubbles, take the soapy bubbles! I can guarantee you that you can still think and write, and we’re all happy about that. So happy your mood is so good.

  10. tim holton said, on December 5, 2010 at 12:04 am

    great news on the lack of turds buddy-keep em out in the yard. good luck with ur next round of chemo.

  11. Molly BB said, on December 5, 2010 at 1:51 pm

    Sean – just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you.

  12. Theola said, on December 6, 2010 at 7:33 am

    Glad your house was in pretty good shape and that you are able to continue removing the ‘dust’. Hang in there and did you get your candy?

  13. rebeany said, on December 7, 2010 at 9:26 pm

    i can only repeat what someone else said above: i hope you beat those bubbly soap bubble bastards down. wishing you easy treatment.

  14. Steve Doyle said, on December 8, 2010 at 11:56 am

    Sean, promising report and extremely promising attitude. You should coach patients around the country in how to look at diseases and treatments. What you do, say and write is for all of us a lesson. Happy Holidays.

  15. Angélica said, on December 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm

    Dear Sean, I was looking for some information about Thomas Merton, when I came up to your blog, and got surprised by these words “How Sean Holton Learned To Stop Worrying And Just Have Brain Cancer Instead”. It’s not easy to reach this clearness of mind infront of any illness, but necesary in order to assume our lives, our real lives, in order to find the real sense of life. I wish you the best. I wish you love.

  16. Elaine said, on December 10, 2010 at 6:42 pm

    Just saw your post — sorry to be a week late. The positive news is the subject of a toast by Joel and me this evening as we listen to “Bethlehem Down,” by Peter Warlock.

    Sending love.

  17. Jeff Propst said, on December 24, 2010 at 5:40 pm

    Merry Christmas Sean. I was thinking about you today and checked in on your blog. Hope you have a good day tomorrow, and Santa brings you some groovy stuff.

    Take care of yourself. I know you will.

  18. Marivel Briles said, on November 12, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    Apparently everyone has cancer cells or pre-cancerous cells in their body and also the body’s immune system disposes of these naturally. It is only when the immune method is down that the body is unable to fight and dispose of those cells that they start to multiply to a detectable level.The malignant cells will not show up in tests until they have multiplied to several billion and when a doctor tells a patient that they no longer have cancer, it just means that they have gone back down to below the degree of detection. It is for this same reason that, when carrying out surgery, physicians frequently discover much more cancer than they anticipated from what was seen on Xrays and MRIs – simply because there were cancer cells in other areas from the body that had been nonetheless below the detectable price.

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