We'll be hearing and reading a lot more about brain tumors in the next couple of days, after Sen. Edward Kennedy's diagnosis. News of any new cancer diagnosis hits me and Steve hard these days, as we've gained some first-hand understanding of some of what the person and his or her family and loved ones are facing. News of another glioma (about 9,000 diagnosed in the U.S. each year) is even harder. Empathy hits overdrive.
Kennedy has a malignant glioma in his left parietal lobe. The parietal lobe is the top center of the brain.
For comparison, Steve has a malignant glioma in his brain stem, which is in the deep center of the brain.
So, they have similar tumors but in different locations and with different symptoms. For example, Kennedy's most obvious symptom, apparently, was the seizure he had this weekend. In Steve's case, the brain stem doesn't seize, so for now we don't have to worry about seizures. Some tumors of the parietal lobe are operable (though I'm not sure about Kennedy's). Most every expert agrees that tumors of the brain stem are inoperable.
I've already read a number of news stories about Kennedy's diagnosis. Every story includes the same statistics we've known for months -- patients with grade 4 gliomas have a grim outlook, about a year of life after diagnosis. Those are based on statistics and averages, and many doctors will tell you that statistics currently quoted don't reflect the most recent life-extending advances in medicine.
I'm sure we're among many families coping with brain tumors who hope for good to come of Kennedy's tragic condition. We hope that his doctors and other health-care providers find the right mix of treatment to kill those awful tumor cells and to extend his life long past the quoted statistics. And perhaps his brain tumor will increase awareness of brain cancer and possibly even funding devoted to researching cures.