Monday, April 13, 2009

BRAIN CANCER at 22 years old?

BRAIN CANCER at 22 years old? Does this really happen? Not only does it happen it happened to me. March, 2004 my world came to a screeching halt. I began having severe pain on the back left side of my head and became increasingly dizzy. After being misdiagnosed 3 times, I had an MRI that showed the orange sized tumor rapidly growing on the back of my brain.

I was immediately rushed to the hospital. On Sunday, May 21st, 2004 I had a successful 7 ½ hour brain surgery removing the entire tumor. I was in the Intensive Care Unit for 2 weeks following surgery. Doctors told me there was a less than 5% chance the tumor was cancerous. A week and a half later I was given the devastating news. I had cancer!

Because the type of cancer I had, Medulloblastoma, is most commonly found in children I was referred to a doctor at Children’s Hospital in Washington, D.C. There, I was treated by the guru of Medulloblastoma’s and a wonderful team of Pediatric Oncologists. Along with my neurosurgeon, they are the reason I am alive and doing so well today. I was given a plan of action and began cranial/spinal radiation shortly there after. Radiation is the most important key in fighting this type of cancer in adults, but it took a huge toll on my body. I was nauseous and tired all of the time. I lost all of my hair. I stayed with my parents during treatment and visited my husband of 1 ½ years on the weekends. We had just moved into our new house a week prior to my surgery and I was always happy to go home!

Radiation therapy does not take long (about a minute). For me, that minute was pure hell and seemed like forever. I would lie on my stomach with my head clamped into a device that should only be used on criminals as a form of torture. Three weeks into radiation I developed appendicitis and had surgery to remove my appendix. As a result, this delayed radiation a week and sent my doctor’s into a tailspin. Radiation is never supposed to be interrupted…especially for an entire week. Chemotherapy was an option, but, to me, the risks outweighed the benefits. I declined chemo treatment.

The vast amount of radiation I received has caused problems that I still battle to this day. About three years after treatment was completed I developed cataracts in both eyes. They grew very quickly, so I had surgery to remove them. The spinal radiation caused my stomach to become paralyzed, so this makes it very hard for me to digest food. I take medicine that helps, but I have to be very careful with what I eat. To me, these are just minor problems that are under control and I’m thankful to live a relatively “normal” life.

I will be five years cancer free this May! I was told after my treatment that I would never have children. My son turns 2 in June. I’ve learned that doctors are great in many ways, but they do not know everything. Having an unwavering faith, supportive husband and family is the reason I am as strong as I am today. I am truly lucky to be alive and I am thankful that I’m able to be a part of an organization as wonderful as the Ulman Cancer Fund. I felt very isolated going through cancer at 22 years old. As a result, my goal is to work with the Ulman Cancer Fund to be a friend and advocate for as many young adult cancer patients and survivors as I can.

Kelly Ruszala

Young Adult Cancer Survivor

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