Monday, December 31, 2007

Home again

We're home!

We never did see Dr. M, the neuro-oncologist. She had patients with more urgent needs today. So, Steve was discharged and was told to expect a call from her in the next two days.

We are frustrated that Steve stayed in the hospital for three days to wait for a doctor who never came. But we are thankful to be home now.

Discharge instructions include an MRI in three weeks and an appointment with the neurosurgeon in four weeks. We're not very comfortable with that lag in time and will try to sort out the reasons why on Wednesday when the neurosurgeon's office is open again. Of course, if Steve's symptoms worsen or he develops new symptoms, we'll seek treatment immediately. And we're still considering other opinions.

Happy new year to you all!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Twists and turns

The less complicated news first:
Andy, Julie and Adam brought Cooper and Katie to Zale for a fun visit this morning. Cooper and Katie loved "bed rides" (at the direction of our friend David who had been visiting when they arrived). Steve raised the bed as high as it could go then tilted the head then the feet up. The kids also watched part of the new Veggie Tales DVD that Mike and Berta delivered yesterday.

Will, Holly and Conor arrived with boxes of Sal's pizza, enough to feed our hungry crowd. We had a great time in the nearby living area, 10 of us taking over, pushing tables and chairs around to suit our needs, eating, laughing and playing.

The more complicated news:
We think Steve will be released tomorrow.

Dr. M, the neurosurgeon who we first saw at UT-SW, has told Dr. W, the neurosurgeon who can do stereotactic biopsies, not to do the biopsy this week.

Dr. M isn't convinced that Steve has a high-grade glioma despite the MR spectroscopy results. (A neuro resident accidentally told us today that the MR spec results indicate -- though don't prove -- a high-grade glioma. We hadn't heard the "high-grade" description before this morning.) He's not convinced because of Steve's paucity of symptoms. He just doesn't look or function like a patient with a high-grade glioma in his brain stem.

Instead, he wants Steve to have a follow-up MRI in two or three weeks, followed by a biopsy if necessary.

Are you confused? We are a bit puzzled. I think it would help if we were actually talking with Dr. M, instead of hearing the information from Dr. C (the attending neurologist). Dr. M apparently is still hopeful that Steve's lesion is demylination. But even if it's not, Dr. M thinks there's time to be conservative -- to wait on all the spinal fluid studies to come back, to watch for signs of the tumor responding to the steroid treatment -- before exposing Steve the risks associated with a stereotactic biopsy of the brain stem.

The plan now is to continue to wait for the neuro-oncologist to come by for an initial consultation. She should be here tomorrow (we're guessing she won't be here this late on a Sunday). Then Steve would be released to go home.

1. The MR spectroscopy indicates, but doesn't prove, a high-grade glioma.
2. Dr. M has called off this week's biopsy.
3. The neuro-oncologist is expected to stop by tomorrow to begin discussing possible treatment plans.
4. We may go home tomorrow. (We're learning that nothing is definite, though.)
5. Follow-up appointments will include another MRI, consultation with Dr. W (neuro-surgeon for biopsy) and follow-up Dr. M (original neuro-surgeon).
6. We're conflicted with news that the tumor is a suspected high-grade glioma (very gloomy finding) and that Dr. M, who is highly regarded and backed by years of experience, thinks it's not a glioma at all.

Great spirits

Steve's temporary home was a joy-filled place to be the past 32 hours or so. He is handling Friday's news remarkably well, no doubt bolstered by the support, prayers and good wishes from you all. Just about every nurse and tech remarks on Steve's awesome support network, and they witness only a fraction of your love.

Thank you to:
  • Jim & Betty's pastor, David, and his wife, who visited Friday.
  • Mary MT, who delivered a home-cooked dinner and served Steve with china, linen and silver.
  • Jim & Betty for sitting with Steve while I spent time with Katie & Cooper.
  • Will, who spent the night here in my absence and kept Steve laughing until 3 a.m.
  • Lori, who arrived in time for Will to go home, took charge of notes and questions, room changes and lunch.
  • Meghan & Jeff, who spent Saturday morning with Steve and helped with the room move.
  • Al & Nancy, who visited Saturday.
  • Debbie, our music minister, who visited Saturday and led a beautiful prayer.
  • Uncle Jim, who flew in from Houston for the third time in three weeks, helped Jim with a project at our house and connected our little DVD player to the TV in Steve's room. (And thanks to Layne for the cables.)
  • Mel & Greg, who were here twice in two days, bringing our nieces Brooke & Molli for a fun Saturday afternoon/evening visit, more art for Steve's growing gallery of cheer and a new backgammon set.
  • Mike & Berta, who visited Saturday afternoon, bearing a huge basket designed to make us feel more at home and leading us in prayer.
  • Wendy, who delivered homemade comfort food, including a pecan pie, Steve's favorite dessert.
  • Everyone who has called, sent notes or shared stories of great hope and miracles.
On the homefront:
  • Andy, Julie & Adam, who have grown from a family of three to a family of five for the weekend, taking care of Katie & Cooper and all other kinds of household needs.
  • Amy & Justin, who fulfilled Cooper's request for a burger and chocolate shake Friday night, helped me pack for these next few days, washed clothes, walked Margie and kept me company.
  • Meghan & Denna, who gave up their Friday night to help me prepare for the week.
  • Justin H, who continues to take care of Margie.
  • Allison, who filled my car with gas and ran errands Friday night.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

New room

Lori decided that Steve's room wasn't nice enough for his extended stay, so she and Meghan walked around the fifth floor and took note of the nicest available rooms. Lori asked the nurse if he could switch, and just a little bit later it was done.

So now we're in Room 513, which is a little bigger and has carpet.

Friday, December 28, 2007


I've dreaded typing this post. Writing this for you all to read makes it too real.

Dr. C, her residents and an RN came to the room this afternoon to tell us that the MR spectroscopy results show that the lesion is a tumor.

The neuro team wants to keep Steve admitted for now.

We expect the neuro-oncologist to come by sometime Saturday, Sunday or Monday. She will have studied his case and will start laying out a plan as best she can.

The neurosurgeon who specializes in deep brain cases has reviewed Steve's films and says he can biopsy the area (tentatively scheduled for Jan. 2 or 3). Getting a tissue sample will better define what kind of tumor it is and help determine the best course of treatment.

In general, the treatment would be radiation and chemotherapy. I don't know more details. And the neuro-oncologist requested that we not use the Internet to get more information. I am going to do my best to follow that advice. We are focused now on fighting this awful thing and getting Steve back to 100% health. In my mind, there is no other option, and I'm not interested in reading the statistics. I welcome the success stories and positive outcomes.

We have asked Ray, one of Steve's co-workers, to pull together information on the centers that can best treat this tumor. We may stay here, of course, but we don't want to miss the best option.

Steve's parents are with him now. I left this afternoon to pick up Cooper & Katie, bring them home and have a somewhat routine night. Jim & Betty will stay with him until Will arrives after his late shift at the News. Will will stay until morning, when more reinforcements arrive.

Cooper & Katie will be with dear friends this weekend and back with Jim & Betty next week.

When Cooper learned that his Daddy wouldn't be coming home from the hospital today, he cried and said, "It's not fair." He's right.


Steve is feeling great again today. He just returned from a solo walk around the fifth floor, and he was so speedy! His head hurts, but the pain is back at its "normal" level, which we assume will be there until his little pontine "friend" is taken care of.

We are waiting for someone official -- a resident or attending or someone -- to stop by with a plan for today. Until then we'll try to relax and enjoy some quiet time.

Catching up

I've fallen behind on thanking all the people who have made this process so much easier. I'm sure this won't be an inclusive list -- so sorry! But know that we appreciate and value every call, note, visit, gift and prayer. There are countless offers of additional help out there, and while we hope we don't have the need for more help, we are indescribably comforted knowing we can rely on you all.

Jim, Betty & Uncle Jim: Most important, they have taken over care of Cooper & Katie. My job right now is to take care of Steve, and I couldn't do that if I were worried about our sweet babes. They've also delivered anything we ask for and anticipate what we don't think to ask for. And they're doing all this while also worried about their own sweet Steve.

Greg: At the direction of Mel, he surprised me yesterday with a midday food delivery and kept me company while Steve was at the imaging center.

Julie: She looked like Santa when she walked in with a bag of goodies -- two comfy pillows for Steve, photos and pictures for the wall at the foot of Steve's bed, a bag of treats, some work papers for me and prescriptions for my nagging upper respiratory illness. She also helped me stand in line with the kids to see Santa and helped pull together gifts on Christmas Eve. We can't forget Andy, who takes charge on garbage day, finds answers to questions quickly and helps in any other way he can.

Andy & Zita: They delivered a full dinner that Steve called "magical," a bag of surprises and cheerful drawings from their sweet girls. Their company was magical, too.

Will & Holly: They brought us dinner our first night home last week, brought extra gifts for the kids and helped us take our minds off everything for a bit. Will visited this week with extra jokes for Steve, who laughed harder than he'd laughed in at least a week, and a Starbucks for me.

Meghan & Denna: They apparently have cleaned the house in our absence and are taking care of Margie (our dog). Actually, all of Denna's family is helping with Margie, most notably our reliable sitter Justin.

Liz & Layne: Liz drove with us to the ER on Christmas morning, leaving her family behind to sit with me during the trying experience. Layne later joined us and helped us settle in at Zale. Layne stopped by yesterday on his way home from work and met some of Steve's closest co-workers.

Chidren's family: Lori, Ray, Wendy, Karen, Leti and more -- they all miss Steve around the office and have been great about stopping by, e-mailing and calling to check on him. They are a tremendous resource as we continue to navigate the medical field.

Kelly S: She adopted Cooper for most of the day Christmas Eve, allowing Steve to rest and Katie & I to get ready for Christmas.

Kerri: She delivered dinner and flowers and provided welcome company.

Bill & Kathy: They walked in just before Steve left for his scan yesterday and brought with them their characteristic aura of faith, peace and sincere concern.

The Walls family: They delivered treats before we left for church Christmas Eve. We can't wait to get home to see them and the rest of our amazing neighbors, who continue to remind us that we live in the best neighborhood and dispel the notion that new suburban neighborhoods are cold and impersonal.

Mystery neighbor: Someone left in our mailbox a Christmas ornament with a Damm family photo.

Mary S: Steve started to feel very ill during Christmas Eve services. I couldn't help him right away, though, because Cooper -- all 60 pounds of him -- had fallen asleep and was draped across me. Mary missed the candlelight part of the service to take care of Steve, and she, Kevin and Alex helped get us all to the car.

Flowers from: Children's ENT & audiology, DMN Editorial department, the Crumb family, the Tarun-Stogsdill family and Linda Swift

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Test is done

Steve was wheeled away this afternoon for the MR spectroscopy and returned about 90 minutes later. He said he was in a vessel like an MRI but the sounds were completely different. He returned in great spirits and to a roomful of visitors.

We expect to leave tomorrow unless an early reading of the test indicates something that requires immediate attention.

Good morning

Steve is feeling so much better. He still has a headache, but the pain is much less. He's eating, walking around more, joking.

Dr. A, the resident who has been with us since the St. Paul ER experience on Christmas Day, was just here. He better explained the MR spectroscopy, which I'll try to do here.

The two-to-four-day wait is for scheduling. The test isn't done very often, and imaging has to pull in the appropriate personnel in the middle of the holiday week. The RN and I both politely urged Dr. A to call radiology to get the process moving.

For some context, an MRI offers a 3D image of the brain (or whatever body part is being scanned). An MRI can show you the structures inside -- bone, nerves, masses.

An MR spectroscopy looks at the chemical makeup of the brain. During the procedure, the imaging would focus specifically on the area around the lesion and inside the lesion. There are certain chemicals that are expected in an infectious area; other chemicals are expected in a tumor. The results of the spectroscopy will point them in a direction, not necessarily provide a definitive diagnosis.

Dr. A says when he looks at the MRI image and sees how well Steve is functioning (notwithstanding the awful rebound from the steroids), he thinks Steve has some kind of demyelination -- a condition in which nerves are damaged -- that is perhaps just a one-time condition. (If before we were rooting for lymphoma, we're now really rooting for a one-time condition!) And, like every other doctor, he acknowledges that it could be a tumor, perhaps one that is wrapping around the nerves but not damaging them. Again, tumors in adults in this area of the brain are extremely rare.

Dr. A and Dr. C both now have mentioned that a biopsy would be the next diagnostic tool if necessary -- after the spectroscopy results are in and all the studies are back from the spinal fluid tests. The hope is we don't have to get to a biopsy, that they're able to determine something before then.

Next steps:
1. Steve continues to regain strength at the hospital.
2. He'll undergo the MR spectroscopy whenever all the people and pieces fall into place.
3. We'll go home and wait for results from the spectroscopy and the spinal fluid studies. Those results will determine the necessity for a biopsy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Settling in

Now it looks like Steve will be here a bit longer. The neurologists are ordering an MR spectroscopy of the brain. This sort of imaging can detect more precise cellular abnormalities than an MRI.

The resident said the testing would keep him here two, three or four days. I think I was so taken aback by that that I didn't think to ask if the length of time is for the actual testing or if it will take that long to get the test scheduled. I've searched online to learn more about the test and quizzed the RN, but neither method has given me the answer. So, if any of you out there have experience with MR spectroscopy, please let us know! In the meantime, I'll keep trying to decipher medical journal articles.

The nausea is still at bay, though he wasn't able to eat much for lunch. He's on a new pain medicine that makes him feel foggy but doesn't get rid of the pain, so he may request to get back on the old one that didn't have quite the fog effect but did dull the pain a little better.

Katie and Cooper are enjoying the company of Grandma and Papa and their new Christmas toys. Favorites include a whole litter of new Webkinz, a pink princess gown with matching conical, Little People airport, a new Leapster cartridge and a marble labyrinth.


Steve is feeling much better today. The anti-nausea medicine worked well, and he has been able to drink water and even eat some breakfast this morning. His head pain, which in the past few days was a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10, is back to its routine 2 to 4. He's sleeping now after a busy morning of exams, blood draws, vital checks, a walk around the fifth floor etc.

Dr. C's resident stopped by a couple of hours ago and said a repeat MRI doesn't seem necessary today. Because Steve responded well to the anti-nausea meds, they are less concerned that the lesion caused the nausea and vomiting. The resident thinks Steve could go home today. We're waiting for an official plan from Dr. C.

It's fitting that he's in Room 503 -- the room was donated by the late Arthur Andersen Co., Steve's former employer.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Back at Zale

Steve had a rough day and a half at home, and now we're back at Zale (Room 503).

He's had increased head pain, nausea and vomiting at home. Dr. C was on call this morning and advised us to come in. He had a CT scan of his head at the St. Paul emergency room. (It's part of the UT-SW system, and they were staffed well enough today to take care of a scan quickly. After a few hours in the ER, he was transferred to Zale in an ambulance.) The scan showed nothing different than what we knew was there.

His heart rate is low -- in the low 40s -- though I did see it spike to the 60s at one point. His blood pressure is high. They had him on oxygen at the ER. They have run EKGs and blood work.

It sounds like the best guess is he had a bad reaction coming off the steroids. He'll stay at least overnight at Zale. They're treating his symptoms -- nausea and pain.

I'll update more later with Christmas details. Please continue to pray for Steve, his family and his doctors. He particularly needs a renewal of emotional strength -- he's had such a rough couple of weeks and has done so well, but the process and uncertainty is wearing on him.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Going home

Dr. C, the lead neurologist, stopped by and told us we'd leave tomorrow, not today. Pulmonology has still not consulted, and she wanted to give them a chance to review the CT scan before he leaves. Clinically, though, she agreed there's no reason for him to stay. And if pulmonology wants to run more tests or procedures, they probably wouldn't do so until after Christmas on an outpatient basis. After more discussion, she decided Steve could leave today. I think she realized the emotional benefit of Steve being home.

While she was here, she reviewed the MR images from last night/this morning. Last night's RN wheeled him out about 10 p.m. last night for a brain and spine MRI, and he returned about 12:20 a.m. Dr. C found nothing obviously wrong on the spine MRI and no change in the lesion on the brain MRI. Neuroradiology will formally review the films.

Next steps as far as we know:
1. We wait for the discharge process to finish and we move out of 530.
2. We head home and watch closely for changes in symptoms or new symptoms.
3. We wait to hear if pulmonology wants Steve to return later this week for tests or procedures related to the opacity on his CT scan.
4. We wait to hear results from the studies of his spinal fluid.
5. We head back in a couple of weeks for another MRI.
6. We see Dr. M (the neurosurgeon) for a follow-up appointment in mid-January.

That's a lot of waiting! But they did prepare us for the fact that we would be leaving without answers.

We have been so thankful for the excellent care provided here on the fifth floor. Steve never failed to praise the nurses, techs, housekeepers, nutrition staff and doctors for their help. He was particularly effusive during the first 48 hours of steroid treatment. Sometimes people get mean or grouchy while on medication; Steve just gets nicer.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Social Saturday

There's little medical news to report from Room 530 today.

Steve received another blood thinner shot this morning and the fourth steroid dose from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. We visited with the neurology resident and another neurologist who has been following the case and is filling in for Steve's lead doctor. We're still hopeful he'll be able to leave tomorrow, though he may return after Christmas for some outpatient tests or procedures.

We are certain we won't be leaving with answers, but the neurologists have assured us that they'll continue to investigate Steve's case until we have a diagnosis -- or they'll refer us to someone who can. The neurologist called him "an enigma."

The effects of the steroids on his mood and emotions have lessened dramatically. His headache is more painful now than when we first arrived Tuesday. And yet he just reported: "All things considered, I'm feeling much better tonight." Isn't that great?! This process is teaching us both to celebrate each little victory along the way.

This hospital is quiet on the weekends, but Steve's room was hopping. Visitors included Uncle Jim, who flew in this morning from Houston; Jeannie, representing the delightful Dewar family, with a beautiful ornament; Jennifer and Leti from work with flowers and a box of pastries; Jim, Betty, Cooper and Katie; Michael from D.C. with lunch; and Swati and her mom with homemade Indian food for dinner and more magazines. Yesterday Andy from church stopped by with muffins from Zita, one of the world's best bakers. And last night Layne brought pizza and magazines, called bingo numbers for a competitive game between Cooper and Steve and watched part of Water Boy with Steve. (I sure hope I'm not forgetting anyone -- every one of the visits, calls, notes and gifts have cheered us.)

Friday, December 21, 2007

Very best medicine


Steve is napping for the second time today -- yay! His dad, Jim, who has been out of town for work this week, sat with him in cozy Room 530 this morning while I was at home and at Cooper's winter party.

Steve's loopiness (he says he feels like he's at happy hour) is slightly less loopy today. His head pain is worse, though, and radiating down his neck. We hope it's just the steroids causing the extra pain. This strong dose apparently can do strange things to the body.

He received a shot of blood thinner in his stomach. Doesn't that sound awful? He says it didn't hurt. The blood thinner is a precautionary measure against blood clots for patients who are spending a lot of time in bed.

Jim walked him around the floor this morning, and the two of us walked around again this afternoon. I'd like to get him out in the sunshine soon. We can open the window here a bit for fresh air. His view includes some parking garages, UT-SW's Seay building and stretches of North Dallas. Depending on the direction of the wind, we can see jets leaving or landing at Love Field.

Neurology has ordered an MRI of his spine. That should happen today. I don't know what they're looking for. We're still waiting for the pulmonology consult to address the small opacity from the CT scan.

Visitors today included Lori and Ray with chocolates, Sarah with lunch and Ami and Sasha on their way back to Austin. We apparently missed a visit from Chris, another fraternity brother from Michigan who now lives in Dallas (Steve was sleeping). Allison visited last night with yet another thoughtful care package. (I really need a separate post to fill you all in on the creative, helpful ideas that we've discovered from Steve's support network.)

The room is filling with flowers and plants. We need more shelving units to accommodate the growing floral and food deliveries (all so appreciated), linens, clothes and electronic devices.

Jim and Betty are bringing Cooper and Katie up for a visit tonight. (Pizza provided by the Smith family.) They are so looking forward to seeing their daddy!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Another possibility

The attending neurologist (who ordered the steroids) just came by while Steve was asleep. We stepped outside so she could review the current situation.

Steve is now completely under neurology (instead of neurosurgery, as there's no surgery case right now).

The CT scan did show two small areas, one that needs to be investigated, one of no concern, apparently. They're not worried about a small cyst they found in one of his kidneys. Neurology is consulting pulmonology on a 5-mm opacity in the upper quadrant of one of his lungs. (I didn't have my notebook, so I didn't write down which lung.)

Pulmonology may order additional tests while Steve is here. They'll be looking for something called sarcoidosis, which is inflammation of clusters of cells in various parts of the body -- most commonly lungs and lymph nodes. It less frequently affects other parts of the body, including the brain. It's often treatable with prednisone. As with MS, when I read about sarcoidosis online, it doesn't seem to match Steve, but I'm not a doctor! I'm pleased that they seem to be pursuing every significant clue that may solve the mystery of the angry invader.

Steve has had very little sleep since we arrived Tuesday morning, a problem exacerbated by the steroids. His speech is markedly more slurred, and he's repeating himself often. He's already a sweet, sensitive sort, and right now he is super emotional. I've let the neurologist and RN know, and they asked me to keep track of the symptoms.

Medical recap:
1. Neurology, not neurosurgery, is now the lead.
2. The CT scan indicated a small spot on his lung that may require further investigation.
3. The steroids seem to be affecting his behavior and mood -- not out of the ordinary from what I've gathered.

The rest of the day so far:
1. Our minister, Don, visited and brought a prayer shawl, rubbing cross and hand-folded origami peace swan.
2. Other visitors included Betty, bearing slippers and new PJs; Lori, with beautiful flowers; Wendy from Steve's work, with fun conversation; and David, one of Steve's fraternity brothers from Michigan who also works for Children's (and Scottish Rite) and has been a trusted resource during this process.
3. Katie performed in her preschool's Christmas musical this morning. She was so animated and happy.
4. Cooper was thrilled to come home from school to find Aunt Mel, Brooke & Molli visiting.
5. My dinner tonight will be delivered by Sharon. (Dinner at home will be delivered by Amy -- those bunco girls have been taking care of the Frisco branch of the Damm family all week.)

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Extended engagement

Steve is going to settle in to Room 530 for a little while.

They're going to start treating him today (actually right now!) with a high dose of IV steroids (Solu-Medrol) to address the swelling in the pons. He needs one dose for five days, which keeps him here until Sunday. It takes about one hour for the 1-g dose to make its way into his bloodstream.

The steroid is often used to treat MS patients who are experiencing a flare-up. This doesn't mean he has MS, but I get the feeling they're treating him as if he does until they know otherwise.

From the little bit of reading I've done, he doesn't have the classic symptoms of MS, though the disease acts differently in each patient. Common symptoms are blurred vision, loss of muscle strength, numbness or tingling, difficulty with coordination -- none of which he has now, thank God. Other symptoms can include slurred speech and difficulty swallowing, but they are less common. (Of course, there's not much common about Steve.)

The lumbar puncture's early results -- what they could determine right away -- indicated no problems.

So, he'll get the steroids once a day until Sunday and hopefully go home that day. We'll be able to enjoy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day outside of the hospital. Then we'll wait to hear results from the other spinal fluid studies. And he'll go back to the neurosurgeon in mid-January for an office visit and repeat head MRI.

1. He's staying here until Sunday to receive the IV steroids to help reduce the swelling, which may reduce the symptoms that started us on this journey in the first place.
2. We'll wait for the studies to come back over the next few weeks. The results may tell us what has caused the lesion or will rule out conditions and diseases.
3. He'll return to the neurosurgeon in mid-January for another head MRI and follow-up.

Other news:
1. Visitors and gift-bearers today included Mary from church and Karen, Ray and Leti from Steve's work.
2. Betty kept us company for a few hours and brought welcome treats.
3. Will, Conor & Holly will visit later tonight.
4. Thanks to Aunt Ami, Katie finally realized her dream of a peanut butter and jelly AND honey sandwich at lunch today.


Steve took the field vision test at Aston (a building connected via hallways and tunnels and ramps to all the other UT-SW-affiliated buildings) and was then wheeled back to Zale for the lumbar puncture.

The LP process was much smoother today. The X-ray helped the doctor (a different one than yesterday) find just the right spot, and they filled four tubes of cerebrospinal fluid. The fluid is clear and almost the same consistency as water.

He's trying right now to fall asleep, which he desperately needs. He must stay flat for at least two hours to help avoid an awful headache. (Poor guy certainly doesn't need another headache!)

We expect to hear later this afternoon if we're going home today.


Steve slept for maybe three and a half hours. He's exhausted, but his trademark Steve sense of humor is intact.

We've seen two neurosurgeon residents this morning. The senior resident told us that Steve's CT scan was clear -- good news, of course, though we were kind of hoping they'd find something that would indicate a treatable condition.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Ups and downs

Two neurologists examined Steve today -- a resident and his attending. They took Steve's MRI scans from last week, huddled outside the room and returned.

The attending said she saw two or even three lesions, not the one lesion that five doctors have reported. She said this could point to multiple sclerosis. She thinks it doesn't look like a tumor. The resident and attending left for a while.

Then the resident returned to let us know he was going to do the lumbar puncture soon. I asked him how so many doctors could have missed an additional lesion or two. Without blatantly saying so, he said he disagreed with the attending's reading.

The resident returned in a bit to perform the puncture. Steve at this point was very anxious and needed some extra comforting. The RN and I held his hand, rubbed his shoulders, smoothed his hair and talked him through this rough patch. He relaxed and did a great job staying still and calm while the resident tried to get some fluid.

After two needle sticks in Steve's lower back, though, the resident stopped. He was not able to reach fluid. Instead, Steve will go to radiology in the morning for a fluoroscopy -- an X-ray guided lumbar puncture.

Before the lumbar puncture attempts, the RN gave Steve a little morphine. There's a reason folks like this drug. For the first time in 6-7 weeks, Steve felt no pain in his head. He had about three hours of complete relief.

To recap today's medical news:
1. CT scan (looking for possible primary tumors) was performed this morning. We don't yet have those results.
2. For the first time we heard that there may be more than one lesion, which could indicate MS, which is a treatable, manageable condition.
3. The first spinal tap attempt failed.

Looking ahead to tomorrow:
1. Steve has a vision test at 9:30 a.m. at the Aston building.
2. We think his new lumbar puncture appointment is at 11 a.m. back at Zale Lipshy.
3. We don't know if they'll keep him beyond the LP appointment and the requisite 2-hour recovery period.

In other news:
1. Four of Steve's co-workers (Ray, Lori, Sondra and Kathy) stopped by for a fun visit. His hospital room was like a little party for a while.
2. Betty & I discovered that the cafeteria here should be visited as a last resort. Our lunch was really awful.
3. Sarah saved us from a night of hunger with a delivery of great Vietnamese food.
4. Ami & Sasha report that Katie & Cooper are doing well.

I'm staying the night here at the hospital. There's a sort of bench/sofa that will serve as my bed, just a few feet away from brave Steve.


The RN who works with the neurosurgeons stopped by to tell us about Steve's upcoming adventures.

He's just left and returned from a CT scan. Those results should be read and available later today.

The lumbar puncture will be performed in his room by a neurologist sometime this afternoon. It will take a couple or few weeks to get all the results from the studies they'll do.

Tomorrow he'll head to another building for a formal visual field exam.

We may be able to go home tomorrow.

His room is filled with a cheerful, talkative group right now -- four of his friends from Children's, his mom and me.

In the room

We're in room 530 at Zale Lipshy. Steve's friendly nurse is taking vitals. Then we'll wait on orders for the day's activities.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Zale Lipshy on Tuesday

Steve just heard from the RN who's been helping him at UT-SW. He'll be admitted Tuesday morning at Zale Lipshy Hospital in Dallas for diagnostic tests. We think he'll be there for two days but aren't sure of that yet.

My Aunt Ami and her older daughter, Sasha, were in town this weekend to visit one of Sasha's friends. They extended their stay past the weekend and are now at our house taking good care of us. So Cooper & Katie will be able to sleep in their own beds and continue a mostly normal routine while Steve & I are at the hospital. How perfect!

In fact, yesterday I told Cooper that Steve would be going to the hospital for a couple of days. He said he was sad about that. Then I told him that Ami and Sasha would be here and that two amazing Bledsoe moms would take him to and from school while we were gone. He brightened immediately and said, "This is going to be the best week ever!"

Saturday, December 15, 2007


We've decided to stay close to home and go to UT-SW to start the diagnostic process. So, Steve will wait for a call Monday or Tuesday and we'll head that way. We feel very comfortable with the decision and realize how fortunate Steve is to have two excellent options so quickly in this process.

He's very tired today but overall feeling OK -- spirits lifted by a group of neighboring friends who outlined our house in Christmas lights this morning (and Cooper & Katie's reaction to the lights), a friend who spent a couple of hours with me organizing the kitchen, a visit from his family, a small Christmas party with friends and continued notes and calls of encouragement.

Perfect timing

(From my kitchen calendar this week)

Friday, December 14, 2007


The M.D. Anderson staff looked at Steve's scans and said they want to see him. (We were certainly hoping they wouldn't want to see him because that would have meant they didn't see a tumor or the possibility of a tumor. But they did see enough on the scans to warrant their time.) He has an appointment with a neuro-oncologist on Monday and a neurosurgeon on Wednesday. Tuesday would be used for testing.

At the same time, UT-Southwestern called to say they can admit Steve Monday or Tuesday for diagnostic testing.

Obviously, he can't be in both places at once. We need to choose one system for the diagnosis and follow one system's plan and protocol. We have made lists of pros and cons. We have asked a number of people who we trust for their professional and personal opinions. We still aren't sure of what is best for Steve.

Steve did go to work today and had a great day. Getting back into a routine is helpful.

We'll update again when we know what we're doing.

Thursday, December 13, 2007


We met with the UT-Southwestern neurosurgeon today. He said he would bet that Steve's lesion is not a tumor. He says it's unlikely that Steve could have a tumor and look so good. That said, he doesn't know what it is. And he's not ruling out a tumor.

He would like to admit Steve for in-patient care to run diagnostic tests. It is easier to take care of everything that needs to be done if Steve is a hospital patient, as opposed to an outpatient. That allows all the doctors to come see him in one place, and we don't have to go back and forth. We are working on scheduling admission for next week, though that depends on whether we head to Houston next week (more to come on that later in this posting).

The tests would include the lumbar puncture (spinal tap) and a chest scan. The scan would look for other signs of tumors. We need to be sure that the lesion isn't a metastasis (a secondary tumor, which would indicate cancer elsewhere in his body). They'll be looking for signs of infection or anything unusual that could explain what that unwelcome intruder is.

His plan would call for a biopsy, if necessary, after the results of all those tests are available. The surgeon we met with today would not perform the biopsy. There is someone else at UTSW who specializes in deep brain stimulation who would do the biopsy.

To recap the UTSW experience:
1. Steve needs more tests before a biopsy.
2. The surgeon is hopeful it's not a tumor.
3. A biopsy, if necessary, is possible.

Now, in the middle of this we're also working with M.D. Anderson's brain and spine center. We're sending an overnight package with his brain images to Houston. Tomorrow morning, M.D. Anderson will look at the images to determine if they want/need to see Steve. M.D. Anderson treats only cancer. If they look at the images and can determine right away that it's not a tumor, they won't treat him. If they think it is a tumor or think there's a good chance it is a tumor, they'll see him.

So, we have a 9:15 a.m. Wednesday appointment in Houston. (We'll cancel it tomorrow if they rule out a tumor after seeing the images.) We've been told to be prepared to stay a few days if necessary, depending on what they find.

Because we're still in the gathering-information stage, UTSW won't admit Steve for tests until we know which system we're working with. If M.D. Anderson tells us Friday that they don't/won't need to see Steve, we'll work on scheduling further tests with UTSW and commit ourselves now to their directives for care.

To recap the M.D. Anderson possibilities:
1. They'll receive Steve's images Friday morning.
2. They'll review the images and decide whether or not they can help Steve.
3. If they'll see Steve, we'll be there Wednesday. If they won't see him, we'll commit to UTSW for care.

One of the many struggles with this experience is receiving so much information, some of it conflicting, and having little clarity. My sense -- or desperate hope, at least -- is that at some point we'll receive just the right amount of information and will be able to make the best possible decision at that time. I'm finding that my journalism experience is coming in handy -- taking notes, interviewing people, reading documents quickly to find the most essential info. But this is the most personal assignment ever, and the stakes are so much higher than anything we've ever tackled. And, of course, our ability to control or influence the situation is limited.

Thanks again to all of you for everything. The notes have been great comfort (and in some cases welcome levity!). We are surrounded by the best support network, which seems to grow every hour as you all reach out to others. We are forever grateful.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Update on Steve

I'm so sorry that some of you are getting this without previous knowledge that anything has been going on. It's been a rough week, and I haven't yet contacted everyone I had planned on writing or calling.

Steve has had a constant headache at the back of his head for more than a month. He also has had trouble swallowing some foods and has developed some slurred speech. An MRI yesterday showed a 15 mm lesion on the right side of his brain stem, mostly in an area called the pons.

We spent today driving around the Dallas area, seeing doctors and seeking advice. We have some answers but not enough.

Here's some of what we do know:
1. The lesion, which some doctors are calling a tumor, is mostly round with a small handle.
2. It is in the part of the brain that controls the body's ability to speak and swallow.
3. There is swelling around the tumor. As one doctor said today, his brain is really angry that this foreign matter has invaded.
4. It is probable that the tumor can be biopsied using a stereotactic method, which I think means drilling a small hole in the skull, maneuvering to the area and taking a small tissue sample, all the while avoiding damage to the brain, nerves, etc.
5. It is unlikely and probably impossible that the tumor can be surgically removed because of its location in the brain. Treatment would be medical (chemo, radiation, steroids, etc.), not surgical.

Throughout the day we met with Steve's internal medicine doctor, the neurologist he recommended and a neurosurgeon recommended by more than one friend. Tomorrow we see another neurosurgeon, the best in Dallas, according to at least 10 people I spoke with or heard from through friends. Both neurosurgeons specialize in unusual cases, which is great for Steve, as his case is most unusual. Tumors almost never appear in the brain stems of adults. And they almost never appear in this position. Because it's not a textbook case, we have hope that it's not actually a malignant tumor.

So what else could it be? The surgeon today said it could be lymphoma, a much more treatable and sometimes curable disease. Actually, he said we should root for lymphoma. Because a glioma in the brain stem is really bad news. The chance of survival is horribly low. Or it could be some other unknown mass.

Here are our next steps.
1. We see the second neurosurgeon Thursday morning.
2. Steve will have a lumbar puncture (spinal tap) Thursday or Friday. In addition to basic vital information (red & white blood cell counts for example), they'll be looking for MS (very unlikely) and evidence of lymphoma.
3. We will decide which surgeon to work with, perhaps continuing to seek advice from other centers. (Dallas is apparently a good place to have a brain tumor, according to Rodger Jones, a brain tumor survivor and Dallas Morning News colleague. But we want to be sure we're getting the best care.)

We are holding up as well as we can, I think. Steve and I are overwhelmed by the support, prayers, love and advice that have flooded our in-boxes, phones and doorstep. In the midst of the most trying episode of our 13-plus years of marriage, we are constantly reminded of how blessed we are. We have already been served delicious dinners. Katie and Cooper have been cared for by the very best moms and dads. Not a single person has hesitated to help research the best options of care. There were at least four people calling the neurosurgeon on Steve's behalf today. And I know we'll never even realize all the prayer lists that already include Steve.

We sat down with Cooper tonight to tell him some basic facts. We told him that Steve is sick, that he will be seeing lots of doctors and that he may need to go the hospital. We don't want to give him more than that do deal with. He was quiet and cuddled with his Daddy for a few minutes. Katie is too young for such a conversation to have the same meaning. Our goal is to keep life as stable as possible for our sweet babies.

If you're wondering what you can do, I have a couple of requests. Please include Steve, his family and his doctors in your prayers and good thoughts. I know he's also appreciated the e-mails he's already received. His address is stephen.damm(at)