Thursday, April 21, 2011
Do YOU have a brain tumour?
Yes, you. The last thing you want to think about or know? Oooo-er.... maybe I don’t want to read this, you say. I might give this a miss.
Statistically, the chances that you do have a brain tumour are small, so don’t get too agitated. Small, yes, insignificant, no. The stats do show that brain tumour detection is increasing in our society, right across the age spectrum. I hate to say this, but children are getting them too, at an increasing rate.
It just may be that some of the things I say here might strike a chord with you, and save your life - or if not your life, that of someone close to you, so it’s worth thinking about. If there is a problem, the earlier you know about it, the better chance you have to fight it.
Just this morning, I was woken by a fairly strong tremor in my right arm. This wasn’t a seizure, just a tremor. It was painless (as they always are), but odd-feeling, just as everyone gets once in a while when they’ve overdone some exercise, or sat in one position too long, or for no apparent reason at all.
It wasn’t the first time it’s happened to me lately, but it reminded me of something that meant little to me at the time, and looms rather larger now. I’m talking about early signals that mischief is brewing for you.
The first real indication that something might be amiss for me came not from anything I was aware of, but from Tracey’s observations. Sometimes in the night, she would be woken by a tremor or vibration in my right leg. As she put it, rather unattractively but accurately, it was a bit like you see when a dog is sleeping and having a dream, and its leg starts to kick.
It could go on for some time – minutes, and started to increase in strength and frequency as well. That was months before I got that first violent seizure in the right arm while pruning the hedge that told me I was in trouble.
It never occurred to me when Tracey mentioned these leg tremors that this might be a sign of irregular brain activity. And even if it had, I doubt I would have thought it could be life threatening.
Even before that, maybe a year or more earlier, I had a permanent sensation that the surface or skin across the whole band of muscle across the top of my right leg felt numb. It never interfered with sport, or walking or anything like that as far as I am aware; just that it was like it had been coated with anaesthetic.
I still have it, though the sensation is much milder since what could be removed of the tumour was destroyed 17 months ago. This change of feeling in those muscles might have absolutely nothing to do with my present condition; I’m just throwing it out there.
Since the first treatment of Avastin last September, we’ve had good control over the seizures that have done so much damage to motor skills down my right side. My fears always were that exercise set off seizures, because so often I had done some form of exercise just before a seizure happened.
So potent was this fear for much of last year that I allowed the strength of the muscles on that side of my body to deteriorate, to the point where the right arm and hand became worse than useless – they were a hindrance. Though the oncologist doesn’t think there’s any relationship between physical activity and seizures, I still do, but the difference is that the seizures are pretty much under control now, when they weren’t before the use of Avastin. Now I can exercise strongly with only minor fear of precipitating a seizure.
Why I mention this here and now is that with the exercise I have been doing to restore the arm’s usefulness, the tremors may actually be due to the fact that I have regained the strength to have the tremor in the arm. You don’t get tremors in a paralysed limb.
You’d think that the tremors I’m now experiencing might be because of increase tumour activity recently, rather than this more innocent explanation. Either or both might be true. Maybe neither, but from my experience I don’t think you can discount one or the other.
The thing is, everyone is so different. The moment you start making brain tumour rules, they tend to fall apart. Something happens to defy them and you have to think again.
The only reason I got these sorts of warnings that something was going awry was that the tumour was located in the left motor centre of my brain. If it had been elsewhere, the indicators would have been different. Somewhere else may have given earlier warning, or much later, when the tumour was out of control already.
The early indicators are often benign. Painless. That’s the case with a lot of different types of cancers in the early stages, and that’s both a curse and a blessing. A curse for detection, a blessing that there’s no immediate pain. With brain cancers, the added difficulty in detection is that the brain doesn’t have pain receptors in the way other parts of our bodies do. Were it not for the fact that the cranium has to be opened to perform brain operations, you could probably have brain surgery while conscious and not feel a thing.
I feel a bit queasy about that!
We only get the warning that something is amiss when other factors come into play. If, e.g., the tumour starts doing damage in the cranium then there will be inflammation, and pain and/or seizures may develop.
In other words, it’s the secondary symptoms that often give us the clue, not something primary. If you get something out of the ordinary starting to happen to you or a member of your family, anywhere in the body, think about it and get it checked out if possible. Your GP is the starting point. Document these odd events by time and date and symptoms. At some stage, this recording of symptoms over time might prove to be crucial to the survival of the person affected.
Just don’t ignore it (he said, believing at the time that, as he had had no real medical problems in over six decades, such signals meant nothing worth worrying about!)