Brain Surgery for Cervical Cancer?

Warning this post contains medical photos and talk that may not be for everyone.

Yes… it’s not common, but true, cervical cancer can metastasize like any other cancer. I was originally diagnosed, with stage 1b1 cervical cancer 2 years ago. I had an almost 10-year history of normal paps. Please, get your well-woman exams, vaccinate your children, I beg you, no one should go through this.

My whole brain radiation setup includes a very tight hard plastic/mesh mask to hold my head perfectly still. The radiation itself is quick (~10min), thankfully, the mask isn’t very claustrophobic. l have 3 weeks of daily radiation to keep the small lesions in check.

This all started with a swollen lymph node in my clavicle a few months ago, it came up during my routine oncology follow up, after a biopsy, it turned out to be recurrence; of my cervical cancer. I started chemo and after only one round, the node pretty much disappeared. Good news my oncologist was ecstatic. I decided to seek a second opinion at MD Anderson in Houston they agreed with my treatment plan, which was a relief. They are also going to genetic test my tumor. This is where the plot thickens. While there I developed vertigo and had a hard time moving my head or keeping my eyes open without the world spinning. And my balance was terrible, then I started vomiting with small head movements. Somehow we flew home to Portland, Oregon from Houston thanks to United for helping with wheelchairs and pushing me around airports so my husband could tend to our 2-year-old.

Hospitals are boring, so good friends help make sure your nails still look good!

The next day, first day home, I was worse, my husband went to work and I rolled over in bed and vomited all over myself. I called him, he rushed home cleaned me up, and I rested, he’s a primo man. I got worse as the day went on, called a friend to sit with me, not many people would want to hang out with someone that vomits every time they move. After she arrived we decided 911 was in order, I couldn’t move without emptying my stomach contents. Those poor paramedics. Getting me into the ambulance was a bit like the exorcist, but not pea soup. I just wanted the world to stop spinning.

Benign vertigo was the original diagnosis but a neurological exam revealed weakness on my left side so they decided to do an MRI. The ER doctor with the results was waiting for me before I made it back to my room after the MRI, not a good sign. I had a <3CM tumor on my cerebellum causing inflammation, likely the cause of my issues, they also found multiple smaller lesions in my brain, they had already contacted the on-call neuro team. I was moved to the neurological ICU, I had 2 options, hit steroids hard with hope that controlling the inflammation will lessen the vertigo symptoms or major brain surgery to remove the tumor on my cerebellum, we chose to get it out.

My “brain drain”.

The next 24 hours are a blur, I remember little. The surgery was successful, they got it all, I had an amazing surgical and nursing team. My primary oncologist even sat in on the surgery. I came out with a six inch, 15 stitch incision on the side of my head and an EVD (external ventricular drain) Google it if you’d like to learn more, but I just called it my “brain drain”. It had to be aligned at all times to my ear to drain cerebral spinal fluid and prevent too much pressure on my brain so its maintenance/care was a constant box to check by my nurses. I spent a week in neurological ICU, regaining strength, practicing walking and getting my balance back. Fortunately, the surgery brought sweet relief of my symptoms, but with brain surgery comes new issues, I have left sided ataxia/weakness. Walking was challenging initially, I needed assistance to do everything including going to the bathroom. I am walking independently now, I can do most daily self-care tasks, including showering, but recovery is tough. My fine motor skills still need work. This took about twice as long to type as pre-surgery.

My son, Wayne playing doctor. The wonderful hospital provided us with toys for my son to play with while he visited.

So my next step, I’ve already started whole brain radiation to control my brain lesions, they are too small for focused radiation. I’ll restart chemo, Carboplatin/Taxol/Avastin when radiation ends, October 18, the day after my 34th birthday. I’ll likely remain on Avastin, indefinitely. I’ll also start neuro-physical therapy and occupational therapy soon. But I’m on the road to recovery!

Learn more about my story here:

Radiation: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

My radiation oncologist once told me that radiation is the gift that keeps on giving. I’m finally beginning to understand what he meant. Three bouts with cervical cancer, radiation, chemotherapy, and multiple surgeries have left my body with a major issue…bowel obstructions. I had my first one in September 2016, and since then have had four more, each one requiring hospitalization. My last one was in July 2017 and it was the worst one yet. It came on with no warning at all and I have been told it will continually get worse.

I’m not an easy person to get an NG tube down. It’s a very traumatic experience for me and anyone involved. It took my general surgeon six tries to get it down the last time. He has come to the decision that I can’t tolerate NG tubes. What does that mean? What will we do when I have another bowel obstruction? Which, by the way, he says another one is inevitable. He suggested a PEG tube, better known as a feeding tube, to be used for decompression. Next time, instead of trying to put a tube down my nose, they can use a small tube on my abdomen that is coming from my stomach. YES! No more NG tubes! He actually wanted to wait until I have another obstruction to do it. I, however, decided to be proactive. Why wait until then? Let’s schedule surgery and do it while I’m well. So, I made an appointment to see him in his office. He and I had a good talk that day, and he agreed to schedule me for surgery and do the procedure. Yay me… I think?!

He is not my original general surgeon and is not the least bit excited to operate on me due to my extensive history. He actually told me the first time he met me that he wouldn’t touch me with a 10 foot scalpel. My body is so damaged. He also said that a bowel obstruction will probably be what kills me. WOW…REALLY??? Deep down I knew this, but to have him hold my hand and look me in the eyes and say that made it all very real. He had no plans to do the procedure if I had plans to use it for feeding purposes later on if needed. He got no argument from me in this. I have no desire to be kept alive by tubes and machines. My surgery is scheduled and for some reason I am having mixed feelings about it. I know I need it and I am not about to change my mind. However, isn’t it ironic that I’m getting something that can help me, but in the end won’t save my life??

In reality, I wish people had a better understanding of what this cancer and its treatment can do to our bodies. I can tell you from my own experience that it’s not easy at all.

Laura Fletcher is 44-year old, 3-time cervical cancer survivor from Leachville, Arkansas. Read her Cervivor Story here.