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Stroke or Brain Tumor?

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Aunt Virginia died of a brain tumor at the age of 72. She was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma on February 2, and survived only until July 1. Looking back, Uncle Terrell now recognizes the symptoms she had in December and January. Her left arm and left leg were weak. She complained about the car “thumping” while she drove. Uncle Terrell thinks she was drifting on and off the road, hitting the bumps that are meant to alert drivers. And when she held the phone in her left hand, it slipped down away from her face so that the person on the other end had trouble hearing her. Uncle Terrell helped her reposition the phone, without realizing how serious her impairment actually was.

She fell down twice in the two months before her diagnosis. The first time, she didn't tell anyone. The second time, she went to the hospital hoping for a diagnosis of stroke. Stroke is certainly more common than brain tumors, and stroke patients who are conscious on the way to the hospital have a good chance for at least partial recovery. Maybe she thought she just had a minor stroke when she fell the first time.

Aunt Virginia was not so lucky. She had the most common type of primary brain cancer, which is also the most aggressive. Her doctors said it would not be possible to remove the tumor completely because it was too close to a major blood vessel. They recommended a combination of surgery and oral chemotherapy. Aunt Virginia and Uncle Terrell were both skeptical, but they felt they had to try.

An MRI scan in April (two months after surgery) showed something abnormal. Her doctor said it could be just a “hollow place”.

Aunt Virginia kept most of her cognitive abilities until the last few weeks before her death, but she did not want to hear about hospice care. Uncle Terrell told her hospice takes all kinds of cases now, to persuade her to accept the nurse's services. Hospice care is available for patients who have a prognosis of less than 6 months to live, if the disease follows its normal course. Uncle Terrell now says the surgery and chemotherapy were probably worthless, since Aunt Virginia suffered a lot of pain from treatment and lived only 5 months. Early detection might have made some difference. I hope others remember that stroke symptoms can also be brain tumor symptoms.

Not all brain tumors are so deadly. The American Brain Tumor Association offers ongoing news and support on its web site, http://www.abta.org/.

Linda Fugate is a scientist and writer in Austin, Texas. She has a Ph.D. in Physics and an M.S. in Macromolecular Science and Engineering. Her background includes academic and industrial research in materials science. She currently writes song lyrics and health articles.

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Glioblastoma Multiforme

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