Sinuses can have cancer, too

Today I met Mark — he arrived via transport provided by the skilled nursing facility — at the hospital for his outpatient medical oncology appointment to prep for round two of chemo next week. (Did you know that you have to add a descriptive word in front of the word “oncologist?” Me either. Mark has to see a radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, and dental oncologist).

We also met with neurosurgeon who rounded on Mark when he was inpatient. I asked a lot of questions. The more I learn, the more questions I have. I learned a few more things today. So on the one month anniversary of his surgery, I thought I’d give a brief recap and include more details now that I’m more knowledgeable. Keep in mind that that’s not very knowledgeable, relative to what I now deeply understand about the massive complexity of the human body.

Mark’s tumor started in his sinus, so it’s considered a sinus cancer. From there it marched through his skull and into his brain cavity. I say brain cavity rather than brain because it didn’t make little roadways into his brain, it just grew in the space normally reserved in our skull for only BRAIN. So imagine something wedged into your head like, say, a baseball, where there was no room for a baseball per se.

When did it start? We don’t know. It’s an aggressive cancer so it’s hard to say. I spend an unnecessary amount of time trying to recall the signs of this coming. We’ll never know when it began.

I learned many more details about the surgery, and you can ask me if you’re into learning about brain surgery. As a science teacher and a generally curious person, I am. And learn I did. Let’s just say that Mark will probably need to carry a card that says “body contains metal.” Which is kinda cool, if you think about it in a space odyssey kind-of-way. If you think about as someone who mostly likes life to make predictable sense, it’s a bit more challenging. And yes, I went home and watched a YouTube video of a bilateral craniotomy. I suggest caution if you choose to do this.

The tumor, in addition to exploring his eye orbitals and sinuses, pressed into his prefrontal cortex and eventually caused swelling of his brain. The prefrontal cortex does a few important jobs for us, and when it gets fussed with it can lead to some problems. These include impaired judgement, memory loss, reduced motor skills and spatial reasoning (see our van as evidence), inability to understand/interpret social cues, impaired language skills, loss of empathetic reasoning, reduced impulse control.

Given all that, one month into the repair effort on this problem, Mark is doing remarkably well. He’s quite agile, but not yet consistently so. He’s regaining memory, but not yet consistently so. He’s apt to suddenly make decisions, some good (used a wheelchair at the hospital today! Yay!) and some not (suddenly standing up to get out of the wheelchair and stumbling before nearby hands catch him). He’s good with some numbers (Yay! I now know how to check messages on the house phone!), and not with others (being at the hospital from 1:15 – 3:15 pm is two hours. I’m pretty sure. I’m tired, but I’m pretty confident on that one). The docs say, and I understand and agree with them, that we just have to wait and see. Mark has to do the work — OT, PT, speech, chemo, radiation — but we have to wait and see.

So today I waited. 4 hours at the hospital today = 4 hours getting to talk with Mark, hold his hand, rest my head on his shoulder. We found things to laugh about. He teased me and I teased him back. He drank a diet ginger ale even though he’s skinny as a rail. I got him to eat some peanut butter and crackers. He wheeled himself along stubbornly until he got tired of running into walls, and then I stepped in and straightened his path. I’m reminded of this Bible verse: two are better than one… if either of them falls down, one can help the other up. And so, together we keep going.
Ever onward, D.