Tag Archives: tumor

Five Month Radio Silence

From Family 2011

It seems I suddenly became a terrible blog administrator. I was doing fairly well for quite some time, only missing a month or two every once in a while, but then 2011 happened and it’s been five months since my last post (almost to the day!). I did do one little post on my personal blog in April, but that one wasn’t a very good one. So within the next couple of days I hope to have this one and my personal blog updated.

Going off our Family 2011 photo album, I can see that we’ve done quite a few things already this year. We’ve been to the tunnels of Crystal City, we went ice skating in Pentagon City, we’ve been to the Smithsonian, the Supreme Court, the National Air and Space Museum Udvar-Hazy hangar complex, and we enjoyed a visit from Grandma and Grandpa Haddad for Micah’s baptism. We all enjoyed our birthdays (they are all within the first four-and-a-half months of the year), Rochelle’s family had a wedding and a funeral (both of which she attended), and I may have finally decided on a career path (this is a big deal). Some friends of ours left the area, some came to visit, and we’ve made a few new ones. Overall, everyone has enjoyed good health, and we are doing well.

Oh, and I got to ride in a helicopter.

Books We are Reading

Brian

Despite the recently circulating rumors, I can read. In fact, I recently finished a book, and afterward decided it was time to catch up on the last eight months worth of magazines I had been letting pile up.

I’ve always been an avid reader of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics, the former being my favorite, and the latter having several practical elements that prevent me from being able to ignore it entirely. As a subscriber, upon the arrival of either, I would have it finished before the day’s end under normal circumstances, but with work being as stressful as it has been, I began piling them up back in August and hadn’t gotten around to reading them until this month.

For more about the book that I read, you’ll have to wait to read about it at my personal blog (that post is up now).

Rochelle

Rochelle just finished reading the Harry Potter series again. This is something she does regularly.

After finishing that, she began reading The Poisonwood Bible. It took until about the  halfway point before she really got into it, but she seems to be enjoying it quite thoroughly now.

How the Kids Are

Micah

From Family 2011

While many of you share our religious views, much of our family may not be familiar with our beliefs.

In an attempt to quickly and briefly address any questions, I will share our views on what I think are the most common differences between religions when it comes to baptism: how to do it and who should do it (at what age).

We believe in baptism by immersion for the remission of sins, as taught in the New Testament. We also believe that the ordinance should be performed by one holding the authority of the priesthood, that same priesthood that John the Baptist held (he being a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses).

Finally, we believe that young children, before they are accountable for their own actions, have no need for baptism since they are not yet in need of a remission of their sins. Yes, we believe that baptism is a necessary step in our journey to Heaven, but small children are innocent before the Lord. Therefore, only after they become accountable for their own sins, knowing and choosing their own actions, are they able to make the decision to be baptized.

Micah, having reached the age of accountability, decided that he wanted to be baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He made this decision knowing that it was not something we required of him and knowing that he could wait to make the decision later if he should so choose.

The photo above is just moments after coming out of the chilly water.

I have to tell you, I felt bad for him. That water was cold. Preparations had been made so that the water would be warm. They filled the baptismal font earlier that morning with nice, warm water. Before dunking him in the water, we had a small service in which we prayed, sang and listened to some remarks about baptism from my father. He smeared peanut butter on his face. The children loved it. Then we all went into the room where the font is located and were shocked to find that all of the water had drained!

So, with only a little water in the hot water heater’s tank, they began to fill the font again. Of course, rather than wait several hours to fill it full of warm water, we had to settle for a little hot water and mostly cool water. We didn’t even wait for it to fill to the optimal depth. Having served a mission for our church and having done a few baptisms before, I knew that I could get him under water no deeper than my knees. So we filled the font until just after my mother’s remarks (she spoke about the Holy Ghost, a gift we receive after baptism as part of our confirmation into the Church). Then we all went back in to the font room. The water was pretty cool. Micah shivered pretty hard. With just one good dunk though he was baptized.

Because the immersion under the water must be complete, people often have to be dunked more than once if any part of them fails to submerge. Micah only had to endure the biting cold water for one submersion though. He was glad.

In addition to his baptism, he has enjoyed seeing the museums with us, he enjoyed the ice skating, and he’s been doing well in school.

Sophie

From Family 2011

Whether she’s cracking her mother up with the angry mean face, getting an MRI, or hanging out with me after work, Sophie is the brightest star in our home. She can cheer anyone up with a hug, melt anyone’s heart with a smile, or make even the angriest parent crack a smile with her antics. Undeniably, she has the cutest toes in the house, and she gives the best hugs.

Obviously, with five months having gone by, a lot has happened to tell about, but I can’t possibly remember it all. I’m really terrible about keeping a journal (these blogs are the best I can do most of the time, and we all see how well that’s working out).

In February she turned three. She is very aware of how old she is, and she knows she’ll be turning four next. She tells people this from time to time. Also, she understands relative age fairly well, tagging anyone younger than her as being one or two years old, and anyone older as at least four or five. Just recently she informed me that I am older than her, estimating my age as being four, then (seeing that I am obviously more than just one year older than she is) changing her guess to five (with an “oops, silly me” giggle).

Every now and then Rochelle and I share short little blurbs about Sophie on Facebook. Here are a few from each of us (more recent ones come first):

Rochelle:

I was watching a movie with Sophie. Two people started kissing in the movie and she said, “Look at those two people kissing.”
I asked her how that made her feel and she said, “Huhuhu, jealous.”

Sophie: Don’t sing anymore. It’s my turn to sing.
Me: Okay, you sing it then.
Sophie: I don’t know how to sing this song!

Me: We’re going on a toad trip tomorrow.
Sophie: Rearry!?!
Me: Really.
Sophie: Rearry!?!
Me:Yes. Really.
Sophie with a wistful look in her eyes: Can you take me to see the lanterns?

Brian:

Sophie (playing by herself) – “I did it! I am AWESOME!”

Sophie (holding MY flashlight): “I’m going to play with it.”
Me: “Can I please have it back? It’s mine.”
Sophie: “No, it’s mine.”
Me: “No it’s not.”
Sophie: “I’m Sophie and I’m the lost princess. It’s mine.”
I took it back. She’s getting better at this.

Rochelle: Sophie, say Wild Thornberrys.
Sophie: Wild Thornbabies. Wild Thornbabies to the sky!

As you can tell, we thoroughly enjoy having her in our family. She can be difficult, but it’s worth it.

Oh, and she’s in this video.

Also, her latest MRI looked clean again, so we won’t be going in for an MRI after three months like we had been. We get to wait six months instead.

Until Later

Despite five months worth of activity to report on, I wanted to keep this post short-ish to prevent you from taking one look and turning back out of fright. I promise I’ll try to be more regular than I have been so far this year. If you have anything you’d like to tell us, leave a comment or contact us using the contact information on the blog’s main page.

We love you all and hope you’re having as awesome a year as we are so far. Be sure to check out our Family 2011 photo album to see a few of the things we’ve seen thus far.

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Christmas is Coming

From Family 2010

While there may have been no excuse for my negligence in posting here during the month of September, I hope that all of you know by now that I do not post normally during November. November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and I have participated for the last three years (and finished a winner every time).

Be sure to visit our Family 2010 album as the year is drawing to a close. There you will find photos from our recent date (no kids!) to an ice skating rink at the Pentagon Row in Pentagon City. Also be sure to visit our YouTube channel where you can see three videos that were uploaded since the last post.

Books We are Reading

Brian

I just finished NaNoWriMo. Give me a break. I’m still looking with guilt at my unchanging pile of books to read, and every day I feel that I inch closer to actually reading one. However, in the short term I really want to see if I can edit my NaNoWriMo novel into something bearable to read.

On a nostalgic note, I’d like to add that I’ve been enjoying playing an updated version of an old game I loved when I was younger. Nintendo recently re-released GoldenEye 007 for the Wii. It was originally one of the best Nintendo 64 games ever made, and they did a wonderful job refreshing it for the new system. If you ever played and loved GoldenEye 64, you must try it on the Wii.

Rochelle

Rochelle is currently re-reading “Reading Lolita in Tehran” for the third time. Reading has been relatively routine for her during the last several months, so she doesn’t really recall anything worth sharing. Keep watching this space for something interesting though, because I still haven’t been reading squat.

How the Kids Are

Micah

From 020

For the time being, I am giving up on trying to get Micah to write anything for this thing. Maybe it will be a summer only event. Until then, I’ll just fill you in on what he’s been up to.

He won three awards at school today. One for attendance because he thinks we’d sell him if he ever skipped school, one for being nice (while he is nice most of the time, we are a little surprised he got that one), and one for getting a 4.0 (the one in the picture, where he’s posing with his teacher, Ms. Reynolds).

He is both excited for and dreading Christmas, mostly because he really, REALLY wants a Nintendo DSi, but we’ve made it very clear to him that they are way too expensive for us to get right now, and we constantly remind him that he has a history of abusing electronics, and we wouldn’t want to let him have a DSi unless we knew he could handle it without breaking it. Plus, he manages to convince himself every year that he’s getting coal (and someday we’re going to get it for him as a prank, but when he’s older and won’t be scarred for life). Overall, he’s absolutely sure he’s not getting a DSi, but he’s still holding on to a last shred of hope that Santa will put one under the tree in spite of all we’ve said.

What he doesn’t know is that we have had a DSi for him sitting in my closet for over three months. We’re really excited about giving it to him, and we REALLY hope he doesn’t break it. We also got him a certain Pokemon game that he wants. I’m going to try to get good video of him getting this gift, because we’re sure he’s going to freak out. We are hoping for a reaction like this kid (YouTube Video), but it’s probably going to be more like this kid (YouTube Video).

I was going to just let you be excited with him, but in this case I decided to take you on our journey as the parents who are waiting as patiently as we can to give our child a gift he really, really wants.

Sophie

From Family 2010

No news for Sophie. She’s still just being cute. She now finds interesting words to append, “ies” to the end of (“pearsies for pears, “friendsies,” and many more). She has become quite a funny little girl. She even gets a lot more jokes now, and her little, “I get it” laugh is super cute.

Sophie has learned how to button buttons, and she helped extensively with the tree decorating (which happened almost two weeks late this year).

A long while back, when Sophie was learning not to be afraid of water, we used to have her lie down in the tub with a little water and we’d move her around “like a mermaid” (in her own words). I took a video with my phone, and finally posted it to YouTube. Yeah, it’s got a naked girl in it, but it doesn’t show anything she’d be too embarrassed about later in life, I hope.

She has had a strong interest in letters recently, learning to spell her name and recognize most of the letters in her name. Of course, when she spells her name, she goes through the, “S – O – P – H – I,” then she gets distracted by the “H, I” and continues with, “J, K, L…” She recognizes the “S” the “O” and the “P” most of the time, though sometimes “corrects” herself and says that the “O” is a circle (which it is, but not when that circle is being a letter).

For Sophie’s gifts, you get to be with her on her journey. I’m not telling what we got her, but it’s going to be good.

Oh, and in November we took Sophie in for yet another MRI. Things are looking great in that little girl’s head. No new tumor growth, and her brain is finally starting to look more like a normal one (some of the cavities that expanded when the fluid built up and where the tumor was may never go completely away, but they are minor and hardly noticeable now). Also, the one year anniversary of her surgery is this Saturday (the surgery was on a Friday last year). We are full of gratitude this year for all that happened last year and we are looking forward to spending the holidays with that beautiful little girl again.

As for what lies ahead, we still don’t know. We’re waiting to get an appointment with the man who can help determine what to do from here. We’ll let you know as soon as we know anything.

Until Later

Well, that’s it for this month. Shortly after Christmas I’ll make an effort to get all of the videos and photos we take posted. Thanks in advance to all of you who may or may not have sent or are sending gifts, money or love. We appreciate all that you do as our cherished and beloved family, friends and blog readers.

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Filed under Exciting, Holidays, Milestones, Sophie PMA

New Biopsy Information

We met with Dr. Packer today. Without going into too many of the grueling details, let’s just say our appointment was riddled with hard evidence for Murphy’s Law. It started with us needing gas and finding the closest gas station completely shut down, and it only got worse from there.

After stumbling through the obstacles and afflictions, we finally got to see Dr. Murphy, I mean Dr. Packer (I actually typed “Dr. Murphy” the first time, almost deleted it, then decided to keep it that way). He was a really nice guy, and Sophie liked him a lot. At first he examined her. He said she looks great. Then he pulled up her recent brain scans and showed them to us. He also relayed the official radiologist’s reading of those scans – all clear.

In looking to get more information about PMA, the type of tumor that we were told was removed from Sophie’s head, I asked a few questions. His response to my questions was simple and it was unexpected.

Sophie didn’t have a pilomyxoid astrocytoma removed. We had been misinformed. Dr. Packer pulled up a document that resembled a long email exchange. It was the pathology on Sophie’s tumor. In it were notes, comments and explanations bouncing back and forth between the Children’s Hospital biopsy lab and Dr. Burger (the man who, with his team, named PMA as a new type of tumor over a decade ago). Last we were told in January, Dr. Burger believed Sophie’s tumor was a pilomyxoid astrocytoma. Dr. Packer told us that Dr. Burger had not been happy with the result, and had gone back to have another look at her slides.

It turns out Dr. Burger couldn’t place Sophie’s tumor squarely into any category. He ended up making something up.

Now, before you cry foul, remember that pathology is more of an art than a science. To categorize a tumor cell, you have to look at it under a microscope and decide how mutated it is compared to the healthy cells it originated from, then rate the level of mutation on a scale of one to four. This is a highly subjective and imprecise process – an art form. If anyone is going to make up a category to put a tumor in for my daughter, I think Dr. Burger is a good candidate. I’m not one to say who the best is in his field, but Dr. Burger has literally written the book on the subject, and I’m feeling rather inclined to believe him in these matters (Dr. Packer appeared to have the same level of confidence in the new pathology from Dr. Burger).

Essentially, Dr. Burger is now saying that Sophie’s tumor (if I recall his words correctly) was a grade two pilocytic astrocytoma (PA). The explanation was that the tumor appears to be a typical PA (the low grade form of which is the most common pediatric brain tumor and is generally harmless once removed) with slightly more aggressive mutations, which is why he is calling it a grade two PA. This is also why we will still be getting MRIs every three months this year rather than every six months (as would be the case in a normal PA patient).

Of course, I may not have understood exactly, but that is what I took away from the meeting.

As time goes on and each time we meet with the doctors, we will continue to learn more. For now, I’m relieved that her tumor was (probably) not PMA. PMA sounds a little frightening as there is evidence it may have a higher mortality rate than other astrocytomas.

I should also note that the Children’s Hospital biopsy lab was thinking her tumor may have been some kind of glioma (I think, but I can’t remember), but they were so uncertain that they deferred to Dr. Burger – the expert.

On a personal note, judging from his photo, I think I would like to meet Dr. Burger. He seems like a very interesting man.

Finally, I asked about the research opportunities that were taking place where Sophie’s tumor cells may be of use. Dr. Packer told us that, just recently, an agreement was made between several large hospitals regarding pediatric brain tumor studies. In the agreement, the Children’s Hospital became a major supplier of samples, and another hospital (I can’t remember which one for sure, may have been Johns Hopkins) will be conducting in-depth genetic and other analysis of the cells. In fact, if Sophie has a recurrence, they will immediately perform a detailed genetic analysis of her tumor cells and, in Dr. Packer’s words, “they will find [Sophie’s] cute gene in there somewhere.” For now, we were assured that her samples are already part of the studies.

Sophie liked Dr. Packer so much that by the time we made it to the car to leave, she was chanting, “Doctor … PACKER!” Eventually she said it so smoothly, it sounded the same as if you or I said, “Dr. Packer.” It’s really cute to hear her say it. If you ever call, be sure to get her on the phone to say, “Dr. Packer” for you.

As always, watch this space for updates when they come.

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Filed under Sophie PMA, Supplemental

New Feature

Well, in the technology world this wouldn’t qualify as a “new feature,” but for this blog it’s a significant bit of information.

I’ve begun categorizing posts separately that contain significant information or updates related to Sophie and her Pilomyxoid Astrocytoma (pediatric brain tumor). If you have come looking for information related to her journey, please use this link to view only those posts:

https://brhaddad.wordpress.com/category/sophie-pma/

I’ll add a link to the side bar for quick reference.

Keep in mind: When using this category link, only the summaries of the entries will be shown. To read the full entry you will need to click on the title!

Thank you all for the immense love and interest you’ve shown through our rough times.

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Filed under Site Changes, Sophie PMA, Supplemental

Sophie’s Tumor: Supplemental Information 2

I wanted to get this information written down while it was still fresh in my mind.

Pilomyxoid Astrocytoma

Pilomyxoid Astrocytoma Cells

The degree of our good fortune seems to increase every time we meet with a doctor. The things we learn continuously make the divine guidance we’ve experience on our journey more and more apparent.

Today we met with Dr. Suresh Magge, the surgeon who performed Sophie’s operation. One of the first questions he had for us (other than, “How is she doing?”) was if the metal detectors at the airport had indeed failed to detect her titanium brackets. It seems that he has never actually had one of his brain surgery patients go through airport security between appointments with him. He had always heard that the brackets shouldn’t set off the metal detectors, but our case was the first opportunity for him to confirm that bit of information. Understandably, most of his patients simply avoid travel for the first year or so after their operation.

He had a look at her scar, and remarked that it was healing very nicely. Out of curiosity, I had him describe the size and location of the slab of bone he removed for the surgery, as well as the number and placement of the titanium brackets that hold the bone in place while it heals. He described a hole circular in shape and approximately two inches in diameter, close to the base of her skull. He couldn’t remember if he used three or four brackets (it’s always three or four), but after feeling around a bit he found one of them for me to feel under the skin. It protruded out just a little further than I had expected it to. We’re not talking about a huge bump, but it surprised me.

We showed him how well she’s running and walking around, and he checked a few other indicators of her neural health. Overall, he was impressed with how quickly she had returned to normal operational capacities.

Dr. Magge brought up that he would like to have Sophie in for her first MRI before we meet with Dr. Packer. His remarks about Dr. Packer quickly led both Rochelle and me to conclude that this man is not only important, but is viewed with a kind of awe and reverence by his peers. He is very difficult to schedule for appointments, and it is noteworthy that he is interested in seeing Sophie. Usually he doesn’t concern himself with brain tumor patients who do not require chemotherapy or radiation treatment (these cases represent the vast majority of all cases studied). However, he has requested to see Sophie. So, our appointment with him is on the 15th of March (that was the soonest available when I made the appointment a week ago on the 19th of January).

Next we talked about the pathology report, which is one of the reasons Dr. Packer may be so interested in Sophie’s case. What everyone initially presumed had been pulled from Sophie’s cranium was a PA (pilocytic astrocytoma). PA is the most common type of pediatric brain tumor, and is given the lowest grade in the World Health Organization scale (that 1 to 4 scale I discussed last time). Thus it is considered the most benign (only slightly mutated cells), the least aggressive and subsequently the least likely to reoccur. PMA (pilomyxoid astrocytoma) is a newer type of tumor that is only recently being separated from that grade one PA classification.

Sophie’s tumor, as we previously learned, is indeed a PMA. I mentioned to Dr. Magge that I had found and read a paper on PMAs from the Johns Hopkins staff. He immediately asked if it was written by Dr. Burger. I replied that I couldn’t recall (but I have now confirmed that his name does appear on the paper). Dr. Magge explained that the paper was likely written by Dr. Burger because this man is the leading authority on PMA. Not only did he write that paper, he wrote the text books on the subject. He was also more than likely the eyes at Johns Hopkins that viewed Sophie’s slides and identified her tumor as a PMA. If you read none of the information in that last link, note this tidbit:

Pilomyxoid astrocytomas were first described by Dr. Burger and his colleagues in 1999. They recognized them as relatively rare tumors with some features of pilocytic astrocytoma, but a distinctive microscopic growth pattern, as well as a higher recurrence rate and chance of spreading within the brain.

This type of tumor is still considered largely benign and less aggressive, but it represents its own category because the data suggest that PMAs are (for some unknown reason) slightly more likely to return after removal. While the cells may have most of the qualities of a nearly harmless PA, PMA tumors, when not identified properly, can often return undetected and cause serious problems. Dr. Magge stated that the only difference going forward between a PA patient and a PMA patient is that Sophie will have MRIs slightly more frequently to watch for any regrowth.

While the Johns Hopkins Neuropathology Division seems to be doing most of the major research into PMAs, the Columbia University has set up an entire website resource with tons of information (I haven’t even looked over it all yet).

Remember, every link I provide in the text leads to additional information and reading. If you are interested or need to know more, please follow the links. I make every effort to present the information I gather in as clear and simple a manner as possible while maintaining the integrity and truthfulness that it contained when I found it, but I am not perfect. Please leave comments to add your information, ask questions, and share your stories.

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Sophie’s Tumor: Supplementary Information

From Cell Phone Photos

I’m not following the normal formatting for this entry because I am only posting this to provide you with the information I received yesterday regarding Sophie’s tumor.

Some of you may recall that the biopsy report we heard a couple of weeks ago was unsettlingly inconclusive. The doctor who relayed that information to me was unaware that her tumor samples had indeed been sent off to another facility for further review, and those results came in a few days ago.

Yesterday, Sophie’s surgeon called to deliver the new pathology report.

The official word is that her tumor was a pilomyxoid astrocytoma, a relatively new classification. A quick Google search revealed a lot of the same information that Dr. Magge shared with me on the phone. The best summary (that I found) can be read in the “abstract” section of this paper. I’ve copied and pasted it here for you:

Pilomyxoid astrocytoma (PMA) is a recently described type of brain tumor. PMA shares similar features with pilocytic astrocytoma (PA), the most common central nervous system (CNS) tumor in the pediatric population, yet displays subtle histologic differences. Previous studies have shown PMA to behave more aggressively than PA, with shorter progression-free and overall survival as well as a higher rate of recurrence and CNS dissemination. These findings suggest that PMA may be a unique and distinct neoplasm. This review summarizes the histologic, clinical, and radiographic characteristics of PMA. In addition, the current treatment options and research endeavors involving this disease are described. Increased recognition of PMA within the medical community has the potential to affect the treatment and prognosis of pediatric low-grade astrocytomas.

Interestingly, this paper was written by doctors at the Johns Hopkins University, the same place that Sophie’s tumor sample was sent for the second biopsy.

The tumor is considered a grade two tumor. Essentially, this is grade two in the four-grade scale that is most commonly used to grade tumors. Grades one and two are considered benign, and three and four are considered malignant. However, benign and malignant are not generally used to refer to brain tumors, as those words tend to be separated into “good” (benign) and “bad” (malignant) categories. In the brain, it does not matter if the tumor is benign or malignant. There are many benign brain tumors that can kill, and many malignant tumors that are easily treated and pose minimal risk to the individual. This is especially true in children.

The main thing to gather from the fact that hers is a grade two tumor is the likelihood that it may recur. Grade one is the least likely to return, and grade four, being the most aggressively mutated type of tumor, is the most likely to return – but chemotherapy and radiation treatments can often prevent recurrence. Dr. Magge consulted with their tumor expert and their joint review of Sophie’s files concluded that she should not need any type of treatment or radiation for the tumor as there is only a small chance that her tumor will grow again.

We will still be meeting with Dr. Magge on the 26th of January, and we may come away with more information then, but the basic plan from here on out is to have her in for an MRI once every three months for the first year after surgery, then depending on how the first year goes, we will generate a schedule for subsequent, regular MRIs. I asked him if those would be once a year, or more or less frequent, and his answer (though not specific) seemed to indicate that they would be less frequent than once a year. Again, we’ll know more after our meeting with him. Dr. Magge has also given our number to their tumor expert and we will be meeting with him (I can’t remember his name) as well.

If you have any more questions, please leave a comment here and I will do my best to answer them (you can expect an email as well if you leave a comment with a question). Most likely, I won’t have an answer, because everything I know for sure is right here. However, we will know more and continue to learn more with time. Thank you for all of your prayers, concerns and support.

**Edit**

We had our appointment with Dr. Magge, and a lot of new information is available.

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Sophie’s Adventure

From Cell Phone Photos

Let me tell you. This has been one heck of a month. Our little family has been changed forever. Mostly, our faith has been strengthened and our hearts are full of gratitude in ways they never have been before. You’ve become accustomed to me giving a brief overview of things up top then getting into how each of the children are doing in the “How the Kids Are” section. However, because all of us went through the same stressful events last week, I will give the details here, then give a post-mayhem view of how the children are down below.

What Happened

A couple of months ago Sophie reached the pinnacle of her walking ability. I looked through our YouTube channel and found this video from the middle of October where she jumps at the end. I uploaded three videos that day in which she showed remarkable balance and willingness to run, dance and jump.

I looked for a video of her walking just before last week, but couldn’t find one. What I found was that shortly after those videos from the middle of October, when she began to fall over more often, wobble and refuse to walk without holding a hand, we stopped taking video of her walking. Almost all of the videos of her between the middle of October and now are of her sitting down. The one exception shows a wobbly Sophie walking while holding Mommy’s hand, two and a half weeks ago. At first you might see that video and think, “she’s just unsure of herself because there’s snow on the ground.” The sad truth is, she had lost her balance due to a physical problem in her brain cavity.

Being the wonderful mother that she is, Rochelle was far more alarmed by Sophie’s walking problems than I was. I maintained that there could be less harmful explanations for her problems, but Rochelle feared the worst and insisted that we take her in to the doctor for evaluation, despite a lack of other, (and in my mind) more serious symptoms.

On Wednesday last week (the 16th of December) we went to see our family doctor at Malcolm Grow Medical Center on Andrews Air Force Base. Rochelle’s motherly intuition was right in line with the doctor’s impression of Sophie’s situation, and we were referred immediately to a pediatric neurologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center (thirty to forty-five minutes away) with an appointment for the next morning (Thursday).

We spent a very long time at Walter Reed having Sophie’s blood drawn, having a CT scan done, and waiting around to find out more. Eventually, they called us in, sat us down and showed us a scan of Sophie’s brain. In the right hemisphere of her brain, down in the area called the cerebellum, she had a frighteningly large black oval area. CT scans have a low resolution, and all they could be sure of was that this dark “mass” wasn’t supposed to be there and it needed to be removed at once.

Sitting there in that cramped office the news that Sophie’s brain had a large dark mass affecting her coordination and balance hit me like a truck. However, in my usual, stoic-t0-a-fault manner, I assessed the situation logically. My conclusion? Our whole family was about to change forever. Nothing would ever be the same. My wife’s reaction was more motherly and woman-like. She had to fight off a strong compulsion to break down in tears. She found the strength to keep the tears back because she didn’t want to stir up distress in Sophie. Rochelle managed to keep the tears back until Friday afternoon after three pm.

Because the dark area in the CT scan of her brain was the same color as the other dark areas that are supposed to be dark, they guessed it was cerebral fluid that had formed into a cyst somehow. They speculated it was probably a blood clot of some kind, but it could also be a tumor. If it wasn’t a tumor, all that she needed was for them to stick a straw in there and let it drain, they said (not in those words, of course). She would need an MRI to rule out a tumor. The neurologist arranged for us to be driven out by ambulance to the Children’s National Medical Center in D.C. for the MRI where there would be pediatric neurosurgeons, something Walter Reed does not have on hand, in case she needed full-blown brain surgery. Also, they had us make Sophie fast in anticipation of the surgery. That fast ended up lasting over forty-eight hours. It made Sophie very, very angry.

The ambulance didn’t arrive until late at night. I met Rochelle and Sophie over at the Children’s Hospital where we were put up in a room until the next morning when they would sedate her and take her in for an MRI. I went home that night, but in the morning I took Micah to school and went back to join Rochelle while Sophie was in her forty minute MRI.

The MRI was over around eleven in the morning on Friday the 18th of December, and she went in to surgery with Dr. Magge (pronounced “Ma-gee”) at 1:30 PM. After the pre-surgery preparations, they officially began the operation at 2:10. It was then that it hit me: my little girl was having brain surgery. That’s a big deal. Knee surgery is bad, open heart surgery is significant. Brain surgery is huge.

So in three days we went from, “Let’s have the doctor check her out just to make sure there’s nothing life-threatening going on,” to, “They’ve cut a slab of her skull out and they’re scraping a tumor out of her brain.” Rochelle and I both shed tears, finally, and we found great comfort in prayer.

My mind went over the events between the MRI in the morning and the surgery in the afternoon over and over during the surgery. An hour and a half after the MRI, Dr. Magge had come to meet us in the room where we were waiting with our baby, who was hooked up to four IVs, a breathing tube, and a zillion sensors for everything from heart rate to blood oxygen levels. He told us that the MRI revealed what the CT scan couldn’t – there was a thin layer of non-brain material (a tumor) surrounding the cyst of cerebral fluid. They needed to get in there to drain the fluid and scrape out as much of the tumor as they could safely get to without poking around too much in her brain. The area of operation was close enough to the spinal column that there was a terrifying list of possible side effects alongside the surgery.

The possible problems that could come up during surgery were worth it though, considering the fact that if the cyst continued to grow, it would continue to squeeze her brain until the pressure would one day become “incompatible with life,” according to one of the neurologists.

Sometime around six pm we were waiting to hear an update from the nurse who was in the surgery. She had been coming out every once and a while to tell us how things were coming along in surgery. However, she hadn’t been out for a few hours, and we were getting anxious. When we least expected it, the actual surgeon walked in to the waiting room. That meant he was done. I had to remind myself to keep breathing. What had happened? Did he have good news or bad news? The look on his face didn’t alarm me, it must be good.

He said that they had been able to remove all of the tumor that they could see, and she had been fine the whole time with no complications. We wouldn’t know if all of the tumor was out until they did a second MRI at a later time, but they had secured the piece of skull with titanium brackets and sewn her up with a single suture that would dissolve in three or four weeks. When Sophie woke up from the surgery she was mad at the world. She was still groggy and cranky, and she was hungry. The first thing she asked for was chocolate milk and bananas, and after a while she began demanding an apology from the hospital staff (“I want say sorry,” she said through sobs and tears).

That night a friend of ours from Church came out to get Rochelle and take her home, and I stayed with Sophie. The evening brought the beginnings of a terrible snow storm (not so terrible for me being from the Rocky Mountains, but terrible for the East Coast). At first the snowfall was slow and beautiful, but by the morning when they began to sedate Sophie for her post-operation MRI more than a foot of snow had accumulated on the roads.

Saturday morning she had her second MRI, then we went back to our room and waited. Sophie was cranky and hungry after waking from the sedation, but I was happy to see her recovering so well from the surgery. She wanted all sorts of things she couldn’t have since we were still introducing her back into a diet of solids. They couldn’t find a sippy cup for her to drink from, so we cut the tip of a bottle nipple wide open for her to use.

From Cell Phone Photos

As you can see from the photo, she was still groggy and angry. She also refused to give up the bottle, probably out of fear that we would make her fast again. Slowly, they began removing IVs and sensors as she proved to them that she didn’t need them. At first she was hesitant to walk, probably because of the IV still in her foot, but once that was removed I let her roam around the room a bit, watching closely to make sure she wouldn’t fall down.

Sometime Saturday afternoon Dr. Magge (the brain surgeon who did her operation) had seen the MRI images from that morning and came by to share them with me. While Sophie slept and a nurse watched her, the doctor took me to a computer to show me what he could see. He reminded me that the radiologist was the expert who would analyze the images and declare the final “reading.” However, being a surgeon with lots of experience in these things, he felt confident that the radiologist wouldn’t be able to find any tumor left. He showed me the before and after MRI scans, and the difference was staggering. There was still a cavity where the cyst had squished the brain, but that would slowly return to its natural form over time, he assured me. The channel that normally drained the fluid that had caused the cyst had opened back up to its original size, and that was the important thing for recovery. He assured me that she probably wouldn’t need any additional surgeries for this instance, and as long as the tumor was benign (as had been his impression when he held the mass in his hands in surgery), she shouldn’t require any additional treatment in the future.

I breathed a sigh of relief, but anxiously awaited the same news from the radiologist.

By Sunday, she was more stable on her feet than before the surgery. We arranged to have someone experienced with winter driving bring Rochelle to the hospital along with her mother, who had flown in Saturday from Mississippi. Sophie had been asking for mom, but the snow storm had closed most of the roads all day Saturday, and even the hospital staff had to sleep in the hospital Saturday night.

From Cell Phone Photos

The visit with mom went well. Sophie held her and hugged her for a long time before falling asleep on her. By later that evening when someone else came to pick mom up, Sophie was much more content (and mommy had painted her nails, so she felt prettier).

Just as a side note, brain surgeons are probably all wonderful people, very intelligent and capable at what they do, but I would never recommend letting one of them cut your daughter’s hair unless it’s absolutely necessary. 😀

By the evening that day, the doctors were talking about possibly discharging her on Monday, as long as she continued to recover so quickly. The only problem was that her last IV in her hand was beginning to hurt. After an hour of working with the nurses I urged them to remove it. They agreed and Sophie felt much better. Also that evening, the official reading of the MRI from the radiologist came in. From what his expert eyes could see, all of the tumor had been removed.

I called my wife and my mother. A wave of relief could be felt rippling throughout my world, in and out of homes everywhere we had family or friends. Through the magic of smart phones and Facebook, I had kept people up to date with as much news as I had, but this was the best news I had shared so far.

The rest of her recovery was still going perfectly. She held down all of the foods we had fed her, and she had plenty of energy between naps and sleeping at night. She didn’t sleep all through the night, but she also didn’t wake up more than should be expected. She was filling all of her diapers with copious amounts of urine, but she still hadn’t had a bowel movement, which was my only remaining concern (and it was minor).

That changed Monday morning. Take a look at this face:

From Cell Phone Photos

She was horribly constipated and required some assistance getting the feces out. I had to call in a nurse after looking under her diaper and seeing what was trying to get out. Without being too gross, let me just say that the process more closely resembled child-birth than a normal defecation, only without all the blood.

After that she felt noticeably better and she was exhausted. I’m getting ahead of myself though.

The best part of Monday was when the doctor visited in the morning and he mentioned that she would “possibly” be discharged that day. When I asked him what made the discharge possible rather than definite, he said it would be up to me. So, knowing that Sophie was recovering nicely and she seemed to be mostly back to her old self without showing any signs of being sick or having additional problems due to the surgery, I said I wanted to take her home as soon as possible. He said he could have the paperwork done in half an hour.

I rejoiced. So, after the laborious bowel movement, the nurse brought us the discharge paperwork, loaded Sophie into a wheelchair, and we went down to the parking garage where I couldn’t find my car. A kind parking attendant walked all over the garage in the cold winter weather pushing buttons on my key fob looking for my car. By the time he found it, Sophie had fallen asleep. I drove her home, expertly navigating the snow and ice-covered roads like anyone who grew up in the mountains should be able, and at long last we arrived at our home. Sophie was so excited she exclaimed, “yeah!” louder and with more enthusiasm than I had ever heard her do it before.

Rochelle had wanted me to take a picture of the view from our window in the room, but without seeing the full resolution image you might not be able to tell that we could see the capitol and the Washington memorial (among other landmarks) from the large windows. If you want to squint at the photo and try to see what we could see, check out the Cell Phone Photos album, or click on this direct link for the maximum resolution.

How the Kids Are

Micah

Micah handled it all very well, but we’re not exactly sure he fully comprehended the gravity of the situation. He did ask a few questions that indicated his concern, but he didn’t seem to be too upset by the whole ordeal, despite our explanations and descriptions of the operation.

In fact, he didn’t miss any school due to Sophie’s hospital stay. We had to have people pick him up from school Thursday and Friday, but on Monday and Tuesday school was cancelled due to snow, and their winter break began Wednesday (today).

In news specific to Micah, he is doing pretty well. Yesterday he broke down in tears when asked about a book he had left on the floor in his closet rather than returning it to its rightful place in the bookshelf downstairs. After several specific questions it turned out he was so upset because he had the intention of lying about the location of the book before I stumbled upon it during a routine check of his closet’s cleanliness. He knows there are severe consequences for lying, but he was equally upset by the possibility of consequences for intending to lie. I assured him that there were no consequences since he didn’t actually tell a lie, but that this was a good lesson on deciding ahead of time to always tell the truth.

From Cell Phone Photos

Sophie

Sophie is doing very well. She’s laughing more, talking more, walking better and still a picky eater. She’ll repeat just about any word she hears, and is learning a lot of new words. She ate snow for the first time yesterday, she likes wearing bows on heard (present packaging bows) and can say, “bow.” She loves saying, “bless you” (buss-oo) when people sneeze, “excuse me” (a-mee-mee) when people burp, and saying “eyebrow” while touching your eyebrows. Also, she loves zippers, and is obsessed with operating them, no matter where they may be located (such as one’s crotch).

My favorite: Despite all the “bad” things the doctors did to her, she will tell you, “I like doctors.”

She came home to several new items mom and grandma had picked out for her, including a table place mat featuring the face of Sponge Bob Square Pants. She loves pointing to and naming the various parts of his face, and she even put a bottle of children’s Tylenol where the nose goes saying that it was his nose.

We’re really looking forward to watching her continue to gain her balance back and get back to where she can dance, run and jump. Her brain was squished pretty bad, and as it expands the capabilities that area is responsible for may get slightly worse before getting better (two steps forward, one step back, repeat). So far, though, she has made steady progress, and she has a prescription for physical therapy to give us an opportunity to work with professional children’s therapists to help her get back to where she was before the incident.

From Cell Phone Photos

The back of her head should heal quickly, but this was not what we were expecting for her first haircut. When a nurse began to remove little patches of her hair to make bald spots to place markers on her skull for the MRI, I informed her that she was the first person to ever cut Sophie’s hair. The poor nurse nearly died. She felt so bad, but I assured her it wasn’t a problem. We are looking forward to the day when we can even out her hair with a nice haircut that won’t look so odd. Luckily, the rest of her hair is long enough to do a kind of “comb-over” to nearly hide the large bald spot. It just makes her hair look really thin there.

The final chapter in this story will be written when the pathology of the tumor comes back in the coming week. Tomorrow I can call their office to check and see if the results are in. If the tumor was benign and harmless, then we will be mostly done with the whole ordeal and we can begin to move on with our lives without worrying too much more about this issue. If not, we may have chemotherapy or some other form of radiological treatment to overcome before completely leaving this behind.

Until Later

I didn’t think to bring our regular camera to the hospital (it didn’t feel like a vacation), so all of the photos I took are in the Cell Phone Photos album. I’ll take more photos with the regular camera for Christmas though. Also, you can find at least one video of Sophie at the hospital on our YouTube channel. I uploaded two, but only one is available because of some digital errors in the second video. There is a fourth video, but it is impossibly long to upload from the phone, and it may have errors as well.

In case you’re wondering, Rochelle and I handled the whole thing rather well, considering. While it was happening, I didn’t have time to stop and think about it, but when strangers began commenting and offering their condolences, I realized that brain surgery on a little girl not even two years old isn’t something people take lightly. Rochelle and I received a lot of strength and support from so many directions, I can’t possibly thank them all. Of course, the largest source of strength for all of our family has been the Lord and His gospel. He has blessed us greatly. There are a number of amazing facts associated with what we’ve gone through that, summed up, point to only one conclusion – we were highly favored of the Lord in this matter.

The care we received at the Children’s Hospital was superb. The nurses were all wonderful people who genuinely cared for our daughter and even for our own wellbeing. On several occasions the nurses cared for my wife or me with the same tenderness as they tended to our little girl.

A representative from Tricare (our military insurance company) called today and assured us that everything would be paid for and that if we needed anything else just to be sure we went through our primary care provider for a referral. Even my military unit has offered their support in anything we needed.

Geographically we couldn’t have been in a better location without living across the street from the Children’s Hospital. This, of course, is due to when it happened. Had it happened any other time, we would have been in a less convenient location. Where we were living in California the nearest facility that could have helped Sophie was over three hours away.

I could sit here and type about the many blessings we received through all of this, but I’ll spare you the word count. Regardless of whether you helped by prayer or by driving us through the snow, putting yourself and your property in harm’s way, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. This holiday season, this Christmas, our family is celebrating Thanksgiving. We are full of gratitude beyond what we have ever felt before both to the Lord and to our friends and family. So before I run on and on about this, I’ll just leave you with one final thank you.

Thank you.

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Filed under Celebrations, Exciting, Holidays, Milestones, Sophie PMA