The Difficult Road of Brain Tumor Diagnosis
Brain tumor may by far be the scariest health condition someone could have to face. It not only is located on the most complex and least understood part of our body but also is a form of cancer. Worse yet, the brain controls all of our bodily functions and thus a tumor can cause a problem in one or many of these functions. While patient experience differs from case to case, most patients will experience a mixture of brain tumor symptoms such as loss of hearing, sight, and balance, along with unexplained pain, dizziness, and nausea are the general symptoms.
However, all of these symptoms are so broad, different, and the duration time differs greatly for everyone making it almost impossible to diagnose a brain tumor early. Patients suffer nearly for years at a time before they are diagnosed. During this time, it is very distressful to be suffering from fits of severe pain or sudden loss of hearing, sight or balance and not know what is happening. The physician too is unsure and tries several treatments before going deeper into the diagnosis.
Sometimes, there aren’t even any real symptoms. Headaches and dizziness are there but those can be an indication of migraines and lifestyle-related issues like not eating or sleeping well. Sometimes, patients don’t show any symptoms until it is too late and then endure a serious symptom like a seizure or stroke.
Some even feel heart-disease like symptoms with palpitation, swelling of the aorta etc. until a major episode which confirms the diagnosis of a brain tumor. In some strange cases, the sense of smell has been heightened, where either the patient has a heightened sense of smell or smells something that is not in their immediate environment but form their past. Overall, brain tumors are generally difficult to diagnose causing the patient great distress and fear.
Any major medical diagnosis brings many changes in a person’s life and the people surrounding him/ her—it is only normal. The patient can end up feeling lonely, scared, anxious, angry, bewildered, depressed etc. The people surrounding this patient as in family and friends may also experience these emotions because it is after all difficult to cope with a serious diagnosis.
Sometimes it is possible that in any relationship, spouses, lovers, partners, friends, family, roles of provider/ caregiver and dependent may change. While the patient figures out how to be dependent, the other figures out how to become a supportive caregiver. Neither of these roles is easy to manage but in this time, it is important to communicate to each other exactly how you feel about the situation. Communication helps to relieve stress, avoids emotional breakdowns and can pave the path towards finding solutions.
Other than personal relationships, the patient’s professional relationships also change. Before a diagnosis is made certain, it is our tendency to write off symptoms as smaller issues and blame them on eating or sleeping, but once the diagnosis is made, the patient and their co-workers may start to create distance, feel uncomfortable around each other etc. However, this may not be the case. With a simple acknowledgement and supportive attitude from both parties is enough to get past hurdles. However, in case the symptoms worsen, it may become increasingly difficult to perform your job. For example, some patients suffer smaller seizures without knowing they are seizures, but after diagnosis, it becomes noticeable for all.
Moreover, if the tumor is operable, then the tumor and symptoms have a chance to disappear, however, if the tumor is not operable, symptoms may worsen and cause more problems with more senses and bodily functions. Some smaller changes, that soon become very irritating can be losing the ability drive, losing motor function ability required to do everyday household chores, even impacts on the memory.
Brain tumor Treatment
Treating a brain tumor is difficult to say the least. The neurosurgeons, as experienced as they might be, are treating the most important and least known organ of the body. Traditional methods include surgery (craniotomy) radiotherapy, chemotherapy, steroid therapy, or any combination of these depending upon the tumor .
Surgery is only possible if the tumor is located in an operable area. Because this method involves cutting into the brain, it carries high risks because in case surrounding tissue is damaged, it can cause unknown and devastating results.
However, surgery does offer the hope of a complete cure if the tumor is operable and removed without any damage. For other tumors, it may not possible to operate because they may be located in a deep or critical area. In this case, several treatments are combined to shrink the tumor and lessen the swelling in surrounding tissue. This option may or may not provide full relief because the tumor is nonetheless, still there.
Newer and more advanced options include Cyberknife surgery, which uses x-rays delivered to the target area via a robotic arm for precision and accuracy, Proton beam therapy, which makes use of protons, and the Gamma knife surgery which uses gamma radiation.
Drugs are also prescribed to control the symptoms like pain relievers for pain, corticosteroids for swelling, and medications to control seizures. Commonly used steroid include dexamethasone and temozolomide.
Brain Tumor Financial Assistance
With lifestyle changes, perhaps the most impactful are the financial changes. As symptoms worsen, the patient may or may not be able to contribute to the household income. This may or may not affect a family’s standing, depending on the other partner, however, generally does have a huge short-term impact. In case the tumor is operated upon, the patient may be able to go back to work, which could bring some relief.
The surgery along with treatments and medications is an additional responsibility and may put a significant strain on the household. A previous health insurance provider may also pose problems with continued coverage and if the insurance provider does agree to provide insurance, monthly costs and premiums definitely rise with the risk of a major health condition in view.
In addition, sometimes it becomes necessary to appoint a caregiver or hire a maid to take care of the patient, which can again add to the costs. It is also advisable in some cases to opt for therapy, either family counselling or such to help with the reactions and changes in family relationships of the patient. Depending upon whether these are free groups that meet and discuss or if they are professional therapists, it could add additional costs.
However, these therapy sessions are important to create a sense of understanding and community. It helps rid that additional burden of isolation, fear, anxiety, by making the patient and their family come to grips with the tumor and move forward. The constant MRI and CAT scans along with other medical treatments and medications result in a mounting debt to the patient and their family.
If you are or know someone who is suffering from a brain tumor and require brain tumor financial assistance, there are a few options available to get financial help. Other than government support which can at times be limited, there are a handful of organizations and non-profits that provide general assistance to cancer patients and to brain tumor patients. In addition, you can also try fundraising online for brain tumor financial assistance using a free service at no cost to you. This can be helpful in reaching out to family, friends and the general community for financial assistance.
1) Patient Comments: Brain Tumor – Symptoms: http://www.medicinenet.com/brain_tumor/patient-comments-55.htm
2) About brain tumors: a primer for patients and caregivers: http://www.abta.org/secure/about-brain-tumors-a-primer.pdf
4) Treatment: https://www.curebraincancer.org.au/page/9/treatment
5) Steroid treatment for brain and spinal cord tumors: http://www.cancercouncil.com.au/94717/b1000/brain-cancer-brain-tumours-12/steroid-treatment-for-brain-and-spinal-cord-tumours/#R73Vow4MhDRvWY6f.99