When they told us that they found a massive tumor in her brain, we were thinking “massive,” as in, the size of a golf ball, perhaps.
As they pulled up the scans so we could see the MRI results, we sucked in a deep breath. I felt like someone had just kicked me in the gut.
The “massive” tumor was just that… massive. The size of a grapefruit, it took up nearly half the space in her skull. There was a grapefruit-sized mass in my little girl’s brain!
Surgery would be imminent. It had to be removed, no other option. She was immediately put into ICU for monitoring. Given the size of the tumor and its location, there was a chance it could grow or shift slightly and cut off the flow of cerebral fluid, causing swelling and other problems.
The next few days were tortuously slow as we tried to adjust to what we were facing. A tumor… but that didn’t necessarily mean that it was cancer. I knew that there were two types of tumors: cancerous, and benign. There was still hope.
Surgery day dawned early. At 7 in the morning, they guided us down to the OR on sixth floor. Leaving family in the waiting room, I went the rest of the way to the actual operating room. They directed me to the narrow bed in the center of the brightly lit room. She cried, reaching for me, as I laid her down. It didn’t take long for the sleeping gas to set in, and she fell into a deep sleep.
That was my cue to leave. On my way out, I stopped at the desk to pick up the pager that would be our lifeline to our daughter. Every couple of hours, a nurse would page us, signaling us to call the number provided for an update.
Finally, the pager beeped once again. We rushed to a nearby phone and got the update – she was out of surgery, and they were just waiting for her to wake up. In the meantime, we were to go downstairs to meet with the surgeon.
Dr. Richard Ellenbogen is a kind man. Clearly, he is in it for the passion of the work, not the paycheck. He is the sort of man that as soon as you meet him, you know he would do anything, going above and beyond, to save your child. You instantly trusted him with your child’s life.
We met him in the waiting room on sixth floor, just outside the NICU. Dr. Ellenbogen, an older man, was obviously weary after twelve hours of surgery.
The surgery went well, he said. No complications. They were able to get a good portion of the tumor out. It was twisted and wrapped in blood vessels, so difficult to tell for certain. She did lose a lot of blood, but it had been expected, and they had blood on hand to make up for it. By the grace of God, her vitals did not drop once. To put it in perspective, he said that had she been in any other hospital, they would have lost her on the operating table. Once again, we were thankful that we just happened to live near one of the best hospitals in the country.
Although it was really too early to tell, he was confident they’d been able to get it all. It was a long surgery, and at one point he wasn’t sure if they would be able to finish – her vitals had been good so far, but who knew how long that would last? The team that was working with him encouraged him to proceed, assuring him that they had this.
“Choroid plexus carcinoma.” At the time, we didn’t know what he’d just said. It was a foreign language to me, but I would soon become very familiar with it.