This post is the eighth in a year-long series ... Through this series of posts I plan to share our family's experiences during our 17-year-old daughter's year-long battle with brain cancer, which began in February of 2008. My desire is to process through the events of that year from the perspective that a decade of time has brought ... for myself, really. But if you'd like to follow along, you're welcome to join me.
February 21, 2008
After a restless night, it was time to load up and head to Arkansas Children's Hospital. I packed a suitcase for myself and for Hannah, which was difficult as we had no idea how long we would be there. Brad drove us the 50 miles to Little Rock ... and I'm sure we must have discussed what was ahead of us, but I honestly don't remember anything from that drive.
We arrived at the hospital, and after some confusion at the admissions desk, we ended up at the Neuroscience Clinic on the third floor. As we walked into that area, I remember feeling as if I were watching someone else go through all these motions ... that this couldn't be our family walking into a neuroscience clinic ... no way was this our reality. But it was our family that was escorted into a room to wait for a visit from a doctor.
We had only been in there a few minutes when a smiling face appeared at the door. It was our friend Tim, who had driven up to spend the morning with us. Words cannot express how much it helped to see a familiar face in such an incredibly foreign place. His presence was something solid to cling to ... a link to reality in this surreal situation. He hung out with us all morning, helping the time pass more gently. He knew when to talk and when to be quiet, and faded into the background when hospital staff came in to speak with us. But his presence was an anchor throughout that topsy-turvy morning, and it was a great gift.
The chief resident finally came by, accompanied by three med students, one of whom was a former student of Brad's. He explained to us that Hannah would be admitted, and would remain in the hospital until after the surgery, which would be the following Monday or Tuesday. He ordered an MRI of her spine to be done that afternoon to be sure the tumor had not "seeded." I heard him say those words, but my mind could not process them, so I simply dismissed them as not being applicable to us.
When they took her down for her MRI, they moved us to the fourth floor and put us in a tiny little holding room, where our parents were brought when they arrived. There was an emotional time of reunion as we hugged and cried. They stayed with us for awhile, then headed to our home where they would help care for Bethany for the next several days while Hannah was in the hospital.
We were stuck in that holding room for quite some time. It seems that the floors were being waxed in the room where we were ultimately going to be placed. It was hard for me to process that people were actually doing mundane things like waxing floors when our daughter had been diagnosed with a brain tumor. I mean, didn't they know?!
We were finally allowed to go to our patient room (with nice shiny floors) where we waited for Hannah to be brought up from her MRI. The chief resident accompanied her as she was rolled in. He shared with us that the MRI showed that the tumor had not seeded (of course not ... I had already dismissed that possibility!). He explained that the location of the tumor on her pineal gland blocked the flow of cerebrospinal fluid when she was lying down ... which is why her headaches and nausea were so much worse in the mornings.
He talked with us a little bit about what to expect with the surgery. They would begin with a less invasive procedure in which they would open up her skull, remove some cells from the tumor and test them to see if they were a type that responds well to radiation. If that were the case, they would close her up, and just treat her with radiation. If the cells were some other type, they would need to do a full craniotomy and remove the entire tumor.
He prescribed doses of steroids to be administered which would decrease the swelling in her brain and relieve her headaches. He also ordered an emergency shunt kit to be kept on the table beside her bed at all times, "just in case." More words for me to dismiss. We weren't going to need that. Hannah was going to be fine.
Two of Hannah's uncles arrived that evening and hung out with us. Hannah adored her uncles and enjoyed their company. The steroids were already making her feel better, and we were grateful for that. Brad went home to get some sleep and to spend time with Bethany, and Hannah and I settled in for our first night in the hospital.