I thought I'd take a moment to talk about the disease that is affecting my mother. She has been diagnosed with primary brain cancer. Brain cancer affects approximately 15-20 out of every 100,000 people each year. About half of these cases are secondary (or metastatic)...meaning that the cancer starts somewhere else (breast, lung, liver, testicles) and spreads to the brain. The other half of the cases (about 2% of all cancer diagnoses each year) are like my mom - the cancer begins in the brain and does not metastasize anywhere else.
Of the primary brain tumors, there are several different kinds. The most common, affecting 2-3 out of every 100,000 people annually, is a glioblastoma multiforme, or GBM (about 23% of all primary brain cancers). This is my mom's diagnosis. GBMs are always considered a "Stage IV" cancer (the worst stage) because they are aggressive and incurable. In fact, GBMs are the worst kind of tumors to have...they have the lowest survival rate of any type of brain tumor.
The standard treatment is to resect as much of the GBM via surgery as possible and to follow up with radiation and oral chemotherapy. The average life expectancy for a GBM is 3 months without any treatment (the time that already elapsed from when my mom became ill until now), and 12 months with treatment. The rates are higher if they are able to resect 90% or more of the tumor, or if it is a slower growing GBM. They were only able to resect 40-50% of my mother's tumor, and they have determined it is highly "aggressive" or fast growing.
We have been told that you can never tell how a tumor will respond to treatment. Some slow-growing tumors that are small are very resistant, and others that are fast-growing and large can be more responsive to treatment. An individual's body chemistry seems to have a lot to do with the reaction to treatment, and we have to hope my mom responds well to treatment. The goal is to kill off more cells, and try and limit this tumor's ability to grow.
My mom has been asking some questions trying to learn more about this type of cancer. Today she asked how it happens. The doctor had told us that it is pretty random - that he believes that cells become damaged sometimes, and some people do not have the ability to "fix" their damaged cells, and that is what happens with primary brain cancer - the damaged cells multiply and become cancerous. We were told that GBMs are rarely genetic, and rarely strike twice in the same family.
My mother has asked us to look into getting brain cancer bracelets to symbolize our desire to fight this battle (think Lance Armstrong and his live strong bracelets). Grey ribbons are the symbol for brain cancer. Jen, my mother and I will be purchasing bracelets with a grey ribbon to show our support for the fight ahead (and we will be trying to find some of those grey rubber bracelets to purchase and hand out for those who want to wear one in support of my mother).
In my research, I learned that May is brain cancer awareness month…ironic, isn’t it?